Expert Interview Series: Lea Genders, Personal Trainer and Running Coach, About Strength Training for Runners

By Aaron Eisberg

Lea Genders is an NASM-certified personal trainer that specializes in strength training for runners and an adult distance RRCA-certified running coach. We recently caught up with Lea to learn more about runner strength training and how these workouts can lead to noticeable performance improvements.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to become a personal trainer and start a running blog?

I started running to lose a few pounds. I had no idea it would change my whole life. I came down with AOR ("adult onset runner") syndrome in my thirties. 

You see, I never played sports in high school, didn't run track in college, and was never interested in anything that would mess up my hair or make me sweaty.  I was clumsy and unathletic; but luckily for me, running is a great sport for us clumsy and unathletic types.

My love of running led me to create my first running blog in 2011. My blog opened my eyes to the possibility of living out my passions. Running led to blogging and then blogging led to professional fitness certifications. I became a certified running coach and personal trainer. 

These days, it is when my hair is in a ponytail and I am dripping with sweat that I feel beautiful and most like the real me. It's quite a change from that girl who was afraid to break a sweat. Running changed my whole life for the better.

For someone who is just starting to incorporate strength training into their running program, what exercise(s) would you recommend?

Runners only move in one plane of motion (forward and backward). It is important for runners to build hip strength and stability by incorporating lateral moves into their workouts, then adding in some core work to run stronger and help avoid injuries. I recommend all runners do lateral squats, hip adductions, clam shells, planks, bird dogs, and bridges. You don't need to overhaul your whole routine or become a gym rat. Simply tack on 10-15 minutes of two to three sets of 10 reps of these exercises at the end of your easy run days to start.

What is your philosophy when it comes to how often someone should run a race? 

I am a big proponent of listening to your body. There are no hard-and-fast rules because everyone's recovery times are different based on their fitness level, lifestyle, sleep, stress levels, genetics, and other factors. So listen to what your body is telling you. Do you look, feel, and perform your best? If the answer is no, then you need more recovery. If you honestly can answer yes to those questions, then go for that next race.

Based on your experience, how can people who are just starting a workout regimen maintain their discipline and overcome that "commitment" obstacle?

The best way to overcome the commitment obstacle is to create a bare-minimum goal that is so easy it can't be missed. For example, you can commit to just 10-15 minutes a day. Of course, your plan should include workouts that are longer than 15 minutes, but for the days when you really don't feel like doing your workout (and those days happen for all of us), then commit to at least 15 minutes. Often, getting started is the hardest part. Once you get going, you probably will want to keep going; but if that isn't the case, then a 15-minute workout is better than nothing - and it goes a long way in helping establish a habit or routine of working out.

For someone who wants to complete much of their running training at a gym or fitness center, what are some elements they should look for when choosing a facility that suits their needs? 

One of the great things about running is that it doesn't require a lot of specialized equipment. Any gym with a treadmill and some free weights will do the job. Bonus points if the gym has stability balls and suspension straps, like TRX.

To what extent do you incorporate technology into your training or workouts (beyond a simple timer or stopwatch)?

I wear a GPS watch that tells me my distance, pace, time, and heart rate, but it is definitely a luxury. Most people can use an app on their phone to give them similar data. I also wear a FitBit to track my daily steps, because movement outside of exercise is a huge factor in weight maintenance. We may exercise for an hour a day, but we can keeping moving all day to increase our total daily energy expenditure.

If someone has the ability to monitor their health statistics in real time while they are running or training, how can that information improve their workouts or training regimen? 

A heart-rate monitor can help make sure you are working hard enough on high-intensity days and easy enough on easy days. We need both high-intensity days and low-intensity days in order to grow stronger, rebuild, and recover. A lot of people make the mistake of going too hard too often without adequate recovery, which can lead to burnout or injury. It is during the rest and recovery that we get faster and stronger. It is an essential part of the training plan.

Given how the pastime of running has endured throughout the decades, do you expect that to remain the case in the future? How will running (and running training) evolve over the next several years?

As fitness trends come and go, running has stood the test of time for good reason: it is a highly effective cardiovascular exercise. I believe the future of running training is online. The internet has opened up the possibility of "run coaching" for the everyday athlete. Run coaching is not just for elite athletes and school students. Recreational athletes can work with coaches to run faster, get stronger, and stay healthy. Online training uses technology to connect athletes with coaches who can help guide them. We are no longer limited by geographic location when looking for a running coach. 

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