The strength routines of Killian Jornet, Keira D’Amato, Eliud Kipchoge, and Emma Coburn
The key takeaways you can apply to your own training
Read on for more!
Let’s dive in:
“Elite runners all have different strength routines, though a few share some key similarities. Sometimes I see an article come out on an elite runner and some runners want to completely change up what they’re doing because of one article. That’s why I felt it was important to write on this topic. You’ll see that sometimes one article or post doesn’t paint the full picture of what someone is doing and that different things can work well for different people.
I’ll be discussing three main types of strength training: weight training, core workouts, and plyometrics. Weight training involves exercises with any type of weight. When referring to core workouts, these primarily consist of bodyweight or resistance band exercises targeting the abs, low back, glutes, and hamstrings. Plyometrics, on the other hand, entail jumping or bounding exercises that necessitate muscles to exert a significant amount of force, thereby enhancing power. Let’s delve into each of these.
KILIAN JORNET’S TRAINING:
In the realm of training, there has been considerable discussion lately about Kilian Jornet’s training methods following his detailed article. He mentioned not engaging in traditional strength training. However, despite not incorporating gym workouts, he is actively involved in strength training. In a video posted in April this year, he showcased hillbounding, emphasizing that running up slopes with over a 20 percent incline demands considerable strength and cadence. This hillbounding session lasted for 15 minutes, constituting a robust strength workout.
It’s important to clarify that hillbounding falls under the category of plyometrics, representing a specific form of running strength work. Even more specialized are hill sprints, a practice he has previously documented. Kilian also underscores the significance of rehabilitation or strength work during injury periods. In a 2018 YouTube video during his recovery from a fibula break, he demonstrated various strength exercises, including calf raises, step ups, pull ups, push ups, and more. Despite the severity of his injury, it’s likely that if he experiences discomfort while running, he seeks expert advice and follows recommended rehab exercises.
Taking care of your body during injuries is crucial; your body works hard for you, so it’s essential not to neglect its needs. Climbing steep and technical terrain demands considerable strength. For those unfamiliar with technical mountain running, likening it to running on flat ground versus ascending stairs can provide insight. Running stairs requires more strength from your muscles, and Killian, engaged in frequent big mountain days, is naturally developing strength.
Two noteworthy points about Killian and mountain running are worth mentioning. Firstly, Killian possesses good biomechanics, facilitating strength development in the right areas. Individuals running mountains without optimal biomechanics are more prone to injuries, necessitating strength training to cope with the demands of mountain running. Secondly, Killian’s residence in the mountains allows him to run uphill and downhill at will. In contrast, an ultra runner in a flat city, accessing mountains only weekly, may benefit from incorporating strength training to ensure their body can endure the stresses of mountain races.
In essence, if you don’t reside in mountainous terrain but aspire to run races like UTMB, incorporating strength training is likely beneficial. Before proceeding, it’s crucial to highlight Killian’s point that excessive strength training can lead to fatigue. This holds true; if your primary goal is to become an exceptional runner, ensure that strength training complements your running rather than detracts from it.
KEIRA DE AMATO
Next up is Keira De Amato, who has a marathon PR of 2 hours 19 minutes and 12 seconds. Keira has a more traditional approach. She does some exercises with weights like squats, deadlifts, step ups.
Then she does body weight and resistance band core exercises like glute bridges, side planks, and leg lifts. On Keira’s Strava and in different articles, she mentioned targeting her glutes. She was having some hip and hamstring issues in 2021, and her physical therapist believed it was from her glutes not being strong enough to take on the load they’re supposed to.
What I couldn’t find out is the specifics of her weight training. I’m not sure if she’s using lighter weights and doing more reps, or if she’s lifting heavy and doing fewer reps. I also want to mention this quote from her: “I see an amazing physical therapist through VCU Health twice a week, but when I’m not with them, I found an amazing app called ‘Recover for Prehab’ and or ‘Rehab Routines’ to keep running pain free.” I’m noting this quote because seeing a physical therapist twice a week sounds like a lot to most people. However, when you’re asking a lot of your body, it’s important you’re giving your body the care it deserves. As a coach, it’s always hard for me to see someone run through pain and never ask for help. It’s kind of disrespectful to your body and goals, and can lead to a lot more issues down the road.
Lastly, Keira also does some Pilates. If you’ve never done Pilates, it’s a great way to promote good posture and build core strength and endurance for runners, and it can actually be quite challenging. Here’s a link to one of Keira’s Strava strength activities so you can get a better picture of her strength routine. I think her routine is simple enough that most people can find time for it and do the exercises from home if they wish.
Elliot Kipchoge, the (now former) Marathon world record holder, incorporates a multifaceted approach to his strength and mobility training. According to an Outside Magazine article from about two years ago, twice a week, Kipchoge and his training partners engage in a 60-minute session of strength and mobility exercises using yoga mats and resistance bands. This program specifically targets the posterior chain, focusing on the glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles. The routine includes glute abduction moves using resistant bands and body weight, bridges, planks, single-leg deadlifts, proprioception and balance exercises, and gentle stretching for completion. The overarching goal of these exercises, as stated by physiotherapist Mark Roig, is primarily injury prevention, with an emphasis on creating a basic balance in the body without causing excessive strain.
While the Outside article suggests that Kipchoge doesn’t lift weights, there are conflicting reports. Kipchoge posted pictures on Instagram on both November 27th and November 15th, 2019, showing himself using weights. In an Instagram post on December 15th, 2020, he mentioned that gym sessions form the foundation of his training cycle, strengthening muscles before putting them to the test through running. A video shows Kipchoge using light weights with high repetitions and using a step for consistent up-and-down movement. Moreover, in a 2019 video, Kipchoge mentioned engaging in two and a half-hour gym sessions three times per week during the initial phase of his marathon buildup. It is suggested that this intensity may be reduced later in the training cycle, potentially transitioning to the core routine outlined in the Outside article.
In these lengthy sessions, Kipchoge and his team run steps while carrying weights, proceed to the gym for more traditional weight exercises, incorporate aerobics, and conclude with flexibility exercises. This comprehensive training regimen underscores Kipchoge’s commitment to a holistic approach that combines strength, balance, and injury prevention to enhance his performance as a marathon runner.
Emma Coburn, Olympic medalist and 10-time U.S. steeplechase champion, and the entire Boss Team (including Emma Bates), incorporate a comprehensive strength training regimen that encompasses core work, plyometrics, and heavy lifting. This team is known for lifting substantial weights, with some members deadlifting around twice their body weight using 70-pound dumbbells and performing pull-ups with a chain around their necks. This approach to heavy strength training is particularly noteworthy, as it involves lifting heavy weights with low repetitions.
The use of heavy lifting and plyometrics in the Boss team’s training is aimed at improving running economy by engaging more muscle fibers during running and enhancing the rate of force development, emphasizing explosive movements. Additionally, heavy lifting and plyometrics are recognized for their potential benefits in promoting muscle mass and bone density, especially as athletes age.
While some runners focus on strength training primarily for injury prevention, it appears that the Boss team employs heavy lifting to optimize performance. Although the gains from heavy lifting may be relatively small, even minor improvements can be crucial in races that are decided by seconds.
It would be intriguing to understand how the strength training routines of the Boss team evolve throughout the year and whether there are variations between the marathoners and track runners. Typically, strength training is emphasized during the off-season or base phase when speed work is limited. As the training progresses towards higher-intensity speed work or key races, adjustments are made to prioritize running performance and ensure that athletes are fresh when it matters most.
Considering the differences in weekly mileage between Emma Coburn and Emma Bates, with Coburn topping out at around 90 miles per week and Bates at 120 miles per week, there’s a question about whether their strength programs differ. While it might be theorized that Emma Coburn can handle more strength work due to running fewer miles, the actual relationship between training volume and strength program specifics remains uncertain and would be an interesting aspect to explore further.
HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOU:
It’s worth thinking about for your own training though. Here are the key points I want you to take away:
Running comes first. I’m all for strength training, but too much can sacrifice the quality of your runs and even lead to a decline in performance. Ensuring your core is strong is always going to be important for runners.
Then, make the most out of your strength training by ensuring you have good form and you’re engaging the right muscles. If you’re doing strength training with bad form, all you’re doing is ingraining bad movement patterns.
This is why our Higher Running Ultimate Running Course offers a whole strength and movement assessment where you can learn to assess your own movements. It also comes with short core and strength routines that will complement your running. Then consider if your strength routine needs to change throughout the year. The base phase might be about increasing strength, while the key training phases might be about maintaining strength and also about injury prevention.
Whenever you look at the training of elite athletes, it’s important to understand they have a big team around them to help keep them healthy. Running is often their main job, so they have more time to dedicate to both training and recovery. Additionally, all the information for this newsletter was from articles, videos, and social media posts. So, what are your takeaways from these Elite Runner Strength Routines? Are you considering adjusting your own strength routine? We hope this helps and we’ll see you next week!