Ryan Hall holds the fastest marathon time by an American ever: a blistering 2:04:58 at the vaunted 2011 Boston Marathon, according to USA Track & Field. He was also the first American to run a half-marathon in under an hour.
But even for a marathoner of Hall's talent, all that training took a toll.
"The biggest mistake I made was not listening to my body," Hall tells Men's Fitness. "I trained through tiredness rather than easing up, but you have to explore that if you're going to run at a world-class level. It's part of the job."
Yet once he hung up his running shoes, Hall took up a new athletic endeavor that transformed his physique—he initially gained 20lbs—and gave his body some reprieve from the repetitive toll of running: strength training.
"Whenever people ask me what the best way to get over tendonitis and shin splints is, I always tell them weight training—it's the best thing we can do to prevent and overcome common running injuries," Hall says. "It seems counterintuitive, but I've found when I take time off I usually see little to no change in an injury, but when I do the proper weight training I see significant improvement."
When he started implementing cross training and strength training, Hall says he obviously witnessed the muscle mass and strength benefits. But he also noticed greater sprint speed and power from doing weighted legs work.
"I'm more focused on weight training than running now, so I spend most of my time in the gym and run about three days a week," Hall says. "But when I was training professionally, I'd spend two quality sessions per week doing legs-strengthening exercises," he says.
And like a lot of cross training-focused lifters, Hall still hits the road now and again. Here are Hall's top three tips for runners:
- Gear up. "Wearing reliable gear—specifically finding gear that works with you while training is super important," Hall says. "Whether lifting or running, I look for gear that not only provides support but also gives me better body awareness. When I wear compression gear like Second Skin, I can feel my muscles working—creating a mind-body connection that enables me to get a better squeeze when I’m pumping out reps in the weight room. When I run, it lets me focus on the miles."
- Stop thinking. When you hit that point in a run where your legs feel leaden, you have a side stitch, or a muscle cramp, and you just want to stop: Hall has a trick. "I try and turn my brain off and think less," he says. "That's a mistake a lot of people make: They try and think through pain rather than focus on something that turns the brain off."
- Think small. "The power of small steps taken every day is dramatic," Hall says. If you're just starting off or looking to hit a lofty goal, it can be daunting and all-consuming to look at the broad picture. "Consistency is the most important tool you can use to your advantage," he says. Everything else will fall in place.
The workout that follows is a legs routine example he'd incorporate into his training.
How to do Ryan Hall's muscle-building, joint-strengthening legs workout
As Hall mentioned, if you're a competetive runner, or you're completing a rigorous training program—say, a half or full marathon—add this weighted legs workout into your regimen twice a week on hard workout days. Incorporate cross-training into your training program a couple days per week, too.
"When I was injured and I used cross-training to supplement or replace running, I'd usually bike the same amount of time I'd spend running," Hall says.
Follow the reps and sets as prescribed in the workout routine. Focus on nailing down proper form. Hall likes to err on the heavier side with weights, but, if you're just beginning, use light weight to start and progress to a heavier load as you grow stronger.