Q: I want to go to the gym, but I’m not sure what exercises I should do to improve my lower body strength. I’m afraid of bulking up. What would you recommend?
Soh Rui Yong: It’s important that marathoners are strong yet lean, as every extra kilogram of muscle requires more energy per step. In a 42.195km race, that is a lot of steps and energy required!
I avoid bulking up too much. I go to the gym at least twice a week for weight training, and some of the lower body exercises that I like to incorporate are the Romanian Deadlift and the Pike. These work both the hamstrings and the gluteus muscles, which increase efficiency and reduce the risk of injury.
When I first started running competitively, I ended up bulking up too much because I wasn’t sure which muscle groups to target and the intensity and frequency that was needed - I did a decent amount of bench presses, push ups and pull ups, and bulked way up! Being too bulky and heavy made a big difference in my performance by slowing me down, and it was only after my coach Steven Quek pointed this out to me that I realised I had to work on being strong, yet lean.
Chung Tze Khit, Founder and Managing Director of Gold’s Gym Singapore
Gym workouts are a tricky business for serious marathon runners, but bulking up isn’t the result of hitting the gym alone, it’s also very much about your food intake. I’d recommend a protein-rich diet from good sources such as meat, seafood, eggs and dairy.
For endurance athletes, strengthening your posterior chain isn’t an option, but a necessity. It helps to overcome possible muscle imbalances caused by strong, powerful quads, for instance. Training the chain can also help reduce possible injury caused by weak or improperly functioning muscle groups.
Specific to the lower body, the Romanian Deadlift that Rui Yong incorporates into his workout is a great exercise to do just that. I’d also recommend incorporating a few sets of kettlebell swings, which will not only strengthen your lower back, glutes and hamstrings but also build explosiveness in your hips.