The foundation of great running is strength – at M2M we believe that a strength training program is complimentary to training as a runner, leads to better long-term development, and mitigates injury risk! By popular demand, M2M recently launched a dedication strength training program offering developed and led by M2M Coach Lauren Prufer. Dr. Lauren Prufer (MD) is a running coach and certified personal trainer. She is also certified in gait analysis and is currently working on her postpartum corrective exercise specialization. She works with running athletes of all levels, helping them to get stronger, faster and avoid injury. She loves helping injured athletes get back on track and has a special interest in performance improvement and issues impacting female athletes.
Can you tell us a bit about your background, both academically and in sport?
I definitely came to running at a bit of a later age. I was actually more of a power athlete during my teens – I did competitive gymnastics for several years before switching to downhill ski racing and rugby. I started formal weight training, building speed and power for skiing and rugby, at 14 years old and continued through high school and early university. I played two years of varsity rugby for Queen’s, at which point I was probably the strongest I’ve ever been in the weight room, before pivoting to run cross country at Queen’s. Unfortunately, as I continued running through medical school, my schedule got a little busier, and I let all that strength work fall by the wayside.
By the end of med school, I had a couple of nagging/recurring injuries that kept me from running, or at least running in the way I wanted to. After countless physio appointments, countless hours spent doing clamshells and monster walks, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and apply my med school anatomy and rehab knowledge to getting to the route of the problem and fixing my own body (and habits!). I ended up really enjoying the whole process, and decided to take my personal training certification, and start working with other athletes.
Since getting my strength back, I’ve been able to run more consistently, competing at mountain running worlds in 2019 and more importantly, have been able to return to the sport that I love!
Why is strength training important to you?
For one thing, I’ve come to really enjoy it. I like seeing my gains in the weight room, watching my posture and the way that I move actually improve, and overall just spending less time side-lined by injuries. I’ve gotten my speed back as well and feel a lot more dynamic and agile on the trails.
As an added bonus, it’s nice to actually be able to use my body outside of running. I still definitely lose some power output close to key races, as my program gets more specific to running, but for most of the year I’m confident that I can sprint after my dog or go for a skate or lift a couch or whatever and not have any problems from it.
What are your goals as a coach when adding a strength training program to your athletes training plan?
Typically my goals for an athlete are two-fold: 1. Improve performance and 2. Prevent injury. And, of course, have a bit of fun while you’re at it! But, for all of the programs, about 50% of the work is injury prevention. They also incorporate a lot of mobility and stability work. Extension – both at the hip and the thoracic spine – is crucial for running. Unfortunately, most of us lead a flexion-heavy, sitting at a computer kind of lifestyle. So the plans focus on reversing some of the ill-effects of all that sitting and allowing runners to naturally find their best form. The most important thing for running performance is being able to be consistent, so I want my programs to support my athletes in being consistent and achieving their goals.
What are a few of the benefits runners see when adding a proper strength program to their training plan?
The main, evidence-based, benefits runners will see is an improvement in running economy (the amount of energy it requires to hold a given pace) as well as a reduction in injury frequency.
Strength training helps to improve neuromuscular efficiency, essentially strengthening the communication between the brain and the muscle, thus allowing you to activate existing muscle fibers more effectively. A properly designed strength program also helps to increase running-related range of motion, improving biomechanics and stride length. Finally, strength training can help to prevent or reduce muscle loss occurring during times of intense training (say during an intense marathon build) or as part of the normal aging process, making it particularly important for high mileage and/or aging runners.
How often do you think athletes should be doing strength training in a typical training week?
For endurance athletes, I believe 1-2 x a week is optimal during regular training. Some athletes may opt for 3 x a week if they’re really focussing on strength for that block and only doing easy mileage. However, for the majority of athletes who are also doing 2 running workouts and a long run a week, 2 sessions is ample. I also like to remind runners that their strength sessions should be moderate, they shouldn’t be the most intense sessions of the week. Too much volume or intensity in the weight room will start to interfere with their running workouts, and really the whole point is to run well, so we don’t want that!
What is one big misconception about strength training?
That it will make you bulky! Especially as a female. It’s really hard to bulk up from 2 sessions a week, especially if you’re concurrently doing an endurance program. Running actually can reduce muscle mass, balancing it with strength training (and proper nutrition) can help to prevent that.
If an athlete currently has a different M2M Coach writing their running program, how will the two work together?
I’m always happy to answer any questions, either from the athlete or the coach, and to work with people to make things fit their goals. The programs are periodized to work well with a 16-20 week build, but you can start any time and we can just make adjustments. For non-coached athletes, I also have a document detailing when and how intense workouts should be and how to fit them into their schedule.
If an athlete has concerns about not being familiar with various strength exercises and techniques, how does M2M Strength ensure each athlete is equipped to complete the program in a safe and effective manner?
That’s a great question! The whole point of the beginner program is to teach athletes to perform the movements safely and effectively. Each exercise has a written explanation as well as a quick video demo, so you know what you should be doing. For bigger movement patterns, like the squat and deadlift, the athletes also will have access to longer form video tutorials. If they still aren’t sure, they can always film themselves doing the movement and send it to me through the in-app messaging system for feedback. I’ll be posting video tutorials for various movements as well as some quick and easy mobility screens in the Trainerize groups so that athletes can learn to check themselves and maybe throw in a little extra mobility work before things cause an issue.
Where can interested athletes learn more about your strength training programs?
They can check out the program descriptions and FAQ section on the Mile2Marathon website here. If they still have questions, they can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.