Shrugged Collective

Strength Training For Runners & Run Training for Strength Athletes w/ Nate Helming – Episode 145

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On this week’s show, we take on a fresh new topic, at least for us – Running. That’s right, heel striking, to Pose or not to Pose, the importance of strength training for endurance athletes, we get into a little bit of everything.

As you might guess, heavy barbells are no less beneficial to road warriors, even ultra-marathon wacko’s!

We recently got the chance to chat with Nate Helming in between talks at the National Endurance Sports Summit in Princeton, New Jersey. Nate coaches out of San Francisco Crossfit right alongside some of the best coaches in fitness today, including Kelly StarrettDiane Fu, and Carl Paoli. He also shares his expertise on The Run Experience, a cool online training resource for runners.

Maybe the guy’s just a little unassuming at first, but before our conversation I had no idea he was so skilled and polished as a coach and thinker. More to the point, his talks and running workshops at the Summit were interesting, well-paced and high-value for the audience. You have to take note of folk’s like this when you meet them, because that kind of pace and polish doesn’t come cheap. These are skills you have to earn the hard way, over many years and endless repetitions.

Nate’s central thesis is that a strong runner is a better runner, which is, of course, right up our alley. But it’s not a straight forward idea, at least not as much as you would guess. If asked, Nate will tell you that he doesn’t exactly know what it means to “run strong.” He just knows that more runners have to start acknowledging the health and performance benefits of heavy barbell training. You cannot push strength so hard that it becomes a competing training focus that’s clear. But you have to train with the intent of lifting more and more weight. You have to squat, pull, and push because it’s inherent functional. It teaches you just how you should produce force…quickly, efficiently. That translates to reduced injury risk and improved performance out on the road.

Right, so that much is clear. If you want to improve your running, make sure you are constantly working on your mechanics under progressively heavy barbells. But the line is hard to draw. How much strength is enough? Well, it’s hard to say. There is a line, but something tell’s me that Nate has only begun experimenting with his methods. He will continue to surprise I’m sure as more of his data ripens, and he accumulates more coaching experience.

So much for runners making their way towards the barbell, but what about the other way around? What do/should strength, and power athletes learn from the running world. Which of Nate’s methods might apply to you? Again, it’s hard to say.

He does have one clear bit of advice for the strong amongst us who want to improve their running skills. “Be patient. Have some respect.” Anyone who has suffered for a decade or more in pursuit of barbell glory know’s that the skill of strength takes years and years to cultivate.

Your body must be built up over time to serve that function. Think of endless little waves of construction work, new bundles of muscle proteins piled high and turned over constantly, year after year. Consider your adapted structure, your fascia and skeleton. Be in awe of what your fine-tuned and lightening quick, nervous system can do. The same is true of amazing runners and their earned form and adaptations. You don’t know the work that’s been put in.

Consider optimal pose, the adapted foot and endless bands and  chains of road forged connective tissue. These legs are likely slow and of the slow-twitch variety, but never kid yourself. To run at the highest levels is to suffer, immensely, daily. Don’t underestimate that strength. And more importantly still, don’t underestimate the benefits that would come to you if you would only work on your running, modestly at first and with respect.

I must say, none of this is news to me. Nate is preaching to the choir. I’ve learned an endurance lesson before.

Some twelve years ago I made my first visit to Columbus, Ohio to train with Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell.

I had no business making the trip. At the time, I only had about $200 bucks in my checking account, just enough to pay for a week’s rent at the shittiest local motel you ever saw. But that was fine by me. One, there was a Waffle House located conveniently between my slum and the gym. The waffles and egg’s were cheap, the coffee and syrup, plentiful. But that was just my problem. I was a complete fat ass!

I don’t mind saying so. I had built a life around this culture. “To be as strong as possible, do what is necessary. Grind you bones, stuff your face!” By the time, I made it to Westside I was over 350 pounds in bodyweight. Louie told me exactly what Nate would say today, had I been in similar form.

We didn’t talk about advanced programming ideas, not at the start at least. And no, we didn’t talk about the latest tricks Louie was working on with his chain and band resistance methods. It was none of that. Louie’s first and best advice for me was to get in shape.

“Hey listen, dude. You know, lifting heavy weights is just like fighting…Am I right? You wouldn’t dare jump in the ring with a known killer, would you? No, not now! You gotta get in shape first! You gotta suffer for a while. There are a lot of repetitions that need to take place before you earn the right to fight the champ. So that’s you. You want to lift record weights? You gotta get yourself in proper shape first.”

Starting from that day forward I made hard sled dragging and sprinting a key component of my training, and it certainly paid off. The more time I spent conditioning myself, the stronger and more explosive I became. Even though, I was lifting maximum loads all the time for the better part of twelve years,  I never wore down. I never had a serious injury. I owe that to Louie’s advice. I just wish I would have taken it earlier! 

Nate, I won’t be experimenting with powerlifting and running anytime soon, but maybe we can hook up soon and share some training ideas. Who know’s, maybe there’s a runner inside me still.

Chris Moore

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Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?

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