Ultra running and strength work kind of go hand in hand, the former requires the latter.

2022 was a bit hit and miss for strength work for me. Bad ultra runner! I have some equipment at home – a barbell and squat rack in the shed, and dumbbells and bench in my home office. I started out reasonably well but let it slide over the summer with the feeble excuse that the shed was too hot. I mean it was very hot, but I’m sure I would have coped. In September I had a word with myself and got back on it. Even so, I was making it up as I went along, deciding what exercises to do on the fly, usually the same reps and with no real thought to progressing weight. I might have continued in this vein, but happened across a YouTube video which very simply explained progressive overload and how to go about planning it out. The context for this was for building muscle bulk which doesn’t interest me as such, or only up to a point. The approach was simple though and I thought I could apply it to my strength training.

Essentially the principle is to identify a working range of reps, the advice is usually 6 to 15. I’ve chosen an 8 to 12 rep range for most of my exercises, 6 to 10 for some single leg exercises. A typical 8 week training block would start at the low end of this range with a given weight. Each week the aim is to beat the previous week for reps, just by 2-3 reps across 3 sets, until the top end of the range is reached. Once set 1 or 2 is at the top end, it’s time to increase the weight. Again, not by much, just enough to stimulate an adaptive response in the targeted muscles. As the weight is increased, the reps are reset back to the low end of the range and the process is repeated. In order for this to process to work effectively you need to be tracking reps and weight for each exercise each week, something I was not previously bothering to do. Other advice includes sticking to a set range of exercises until you reach the point of a sustained plateau – ie no further progression is possible – rather than chopping and changing exercises the whole time.

I really liked the idea of being more purposeful about my strength training and who doesn’t love a good spreadsheet?

I have to be realistic about how much time I have (and am willing to spend) mucking about with weights, and I’m not trying to become Arnie, so I’ve settled on 4 workouts a week. Two are focused on my legs and posterior chain, with obvious links to running endurance and speed, not to mention injury prevention, the other two are focused on my weedy runner’s upper body.

The workouts are as follows:

For the first 8 week block I started myself off at a weight I was confident I could move for each exercise then planned out the rest of the block, figuring the weight will naturally increase per the progression plan. The full Block 1 plan is shown below, weights in kilos. I’m now in Week 7 of the first block and so far it is going well. I’ve adjusted as I’ve gone along. Where I lowballed weight too much at the start I’ve increased it sooner than I otherwise might, but generally it has worked very well so far. Because the weekly increments are small, it has felt manageable and I’ve enjoyed ticking off the progress each week. In one block like this no huge difference is expected, but if I can string several blocks together this year then I should be noticeably stronger.

The key, as always, is consistency – I just need to show up and follow the plan…