Doing gym work helps a runner to improve his power and speed, according to celebrity charity runner Gerrard Lin, 31 and his gym coach and friend, Eugene Tay, also 31.
Lin, a freelance fitness instructor who is more commonly known as Ah Siao, famously dragged a tyre to run during the 2012 StanChart Marathon and also completed 31 marathons in 31 days in March this year.
Eugene, a software engineer, is a gym and running enthusiast who specialises in the 21km distance and regularly engages in his favourite powerlifting workouts several times a week. His favourites are the squats, bench press and deadlifts. In fact, Eugene initially showed Ah Siao the ropes of powerlifting workouts and helped to correct his form.
Recently, I talked to Ah Siao and Eugene on how gym workouts help with running. Here is what I found out.
Ah Siao did most of the explanations, while Eugene focused on the demonstrations – during our discussion.
Helps to generate power in the core muscles
Gym workouts are definitely beneficial to running.
Said Ah Siao, “They help because during running, you want to generate power from your core muscles or more specifically, your glutes – and gym workouts will aid you in this. They also develop a strong butt – which helps with running.”
But the workouts should preferably be done using heavier weights but fewer reps – and not the other way around, like most runners tend to do.
Explained Ah Siao, “If you lift lighter weights with more reps, you will show some improvement but I think it is a waste of time because you will be getting a cardio workout instead. Only by lifting heavier weights but with fewer reps will you be able to gain the strength and power that will help with your running.”
In particular, both Ah Siao and Eugene recommend strength-training workouts, such as squats, bench press and deadlifts to increase your running power. (See video at the end for demonstrations of these exercises).
Explained Ah Siao, “Those are the three most common exercises for runners. For instance, doing squats properly with a good core definitely helps to increase power. These are all about strengthening the body to have the correct form for running. It is easy to have the right form when you are running the first few kilometres, but when you are tired, it is harder to keep it up.”
But doing gym workouts will help you to maintain your correct running form – even if you are tired, according to the runner.
Helps to prevent injuries
He added that the lack of running form is usually how injuries occur in runners. Said Ah Siao, “Most injuries occur because of uneven loading in the stress of the joints of your body. So strength-training exercises will help you to find the correct form and reduce injury, through improving the body’s form and posture.”
According to the marathon runner, it is relatively easy to find out whether you are lacking strength as a runner and therefore putting yourself at a higher risk of injuries.
Said Ah Siao, “One of the ways to find out is to stand in front of a mirror and perform single leg balance squats. If you cannot balance or find that you keep on bouncing on a single leg, you would be lacking strength. “And this would mean that you are not utilising your strength to your potential.
The runner added that if you do hill running, it would help you to some extent in developing strength, but gym work is in a controlled environment so you would know by exactly how much you are improving yourself by – to help with preventing injuries.
Helps you maximise your running timings
At the same time, doing gym strength training will help you to reach your timing goals much faster, as a runner.
Said Ah Siao, “If you can run a lot, you will definitely be able to meet your time running goals, but it will take a much longer time. If you go to the gym and do strengthening workouts though, you can improve your running timing by more than 30 per cent and at a much faster rate.”
But do the workouts gradually
However despite the benefits of a gym workout, the runner points out that you should not launch straight into it. Rather, he advises runners to take it gradually
“Do not suddenly do 20 reps and wait a long time to go again – simply because you are too exhausted. Rather, do five reps and slowly load on the weights before doing another set. The three exercises (squats, bench press and deadlifts) should take no more than 30 to 40 minutes,” added Ah Siao.
And do the exercises correctly
However it is important to make sure that you are doing the exercises correctly during your workout.
Ah Siao said that if you are at least 80 per cent in control of your strength training workout, then you would know that you are doing it right.
“For example, during a squat, if you feel that your bar is too heavy, you are lifting too much weight. Many people in fact, go to the gym and lift very heavy weights but they have no control, no balance and do not squat deep enough. If that’s the case, it’s a bad squat,” he explained.
And balance out hard and easy workouts
According to Ah Siao, it is important to balance out a tough day at the gym with an easy workout the following day.
Said the runner, “You cannot go to the gym every day thinking you can lift the same heavy weights. It will only get you injured, as you are tearing your muscles and destroying your body.”
So after a heavy workout, you should have a lighter one the next day.
Added Ah Siao, “And complement the gym work with your running. If you are doing a high mileage week, cut back on your gym training. But if you are coming down from a high mileage week, you can scale up on your gym training.”
Eugene cautioned that ultimately though, it is important to listen to your body and do not overdo your training.
Weights do not bulk up a distance runner
Ah Siao debunked the myth that doing strength training at the gym makes a distance runner bulk up.
He said, “Take a look at Mo Farah or Sebastian Coe. They were both top middle-distance runners – and they were still skinny at their peak.”
Added the runner, “But Mo Farah could squat in excess of 30 to 40 per cent of his body weight. So it is more about having strength to aid your running, as it is very hard to bulk up as a distance runner.”
Explained Eugene, “As a marathon runner, if you are running 50 to 80km per week, you will not bulk up because you are running so much. But you will become stronger and have more power to lend to your running.”
A Good Tip
And what is a good tip for runners?
“If you want to improve your running, you must hit the gym and carry heavy weights – that is, up to your body weight and beyond. If you are able to do that, you are up to the mark in strength, and only need to work on your aerobic engine,” said Ah Siao.
To see more of his workouts, you can follow Eugene on Instagram @onesidepull.
Catch Eugene and Ah Siao in action at the gym.