Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
There is a consensus that strength training has many benefits for all athletes and strength training for runners is no exception. However, in the running community, there is a bit of skepticism about lifting weights to improve running.
I used to be a non-believer myself. Runners don’t want to lift weights because they don’t want to bulk up or gain weight. These are common misconceptions that will be discussed in this article. The reality is that strength training will improve a runner’s mobility, strength, flexibility and balance. From my perspective, that means running will be even more fun!
Why Runners Need Strength Training
The number one reason that runners need to supplement their running workouts with some strength training is to bring their body to balance. Running is a full body workout; therefore, one needs full body strength from all the muscles and joints to provide support and power to the movement. In other words, your body cannot run at its full potential unless you take a comprehensive approach to your training.
Running is also a high impact sport of repetitive motions. Your ankles, knees and hips can take a beating from the stress of long runs or sprints week after week. Strengthening these areas and the surrounding muscles will increase your running efficiency and prevent injury. Nothing is more detrimental to a runner when they are training for a race than to take time off for an injury. So, it is super important to make sure your body is strong enough to take on the miles and terrain during your training.
Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
Your goals and approach to strength training will reap a variety of benefits. I will list some of the most common.
Weight Loss—As you build muscle, your metabolism will increase. This means that you will burn more calories throughout the entire day not just during your workout but even while you sleep.
Increased Endurance and Reduced Fatigue—Stronger muscles will be able to facilitate oxygen at a steady rate which means the muscles can work harder and longer. This will help your body handle the stress of running while maintaining proper form and persevering much longer distances.
Faster Pace—As your form improves, so will your speed and efficiency. Strength training forces your body to push, pull, press, and lift a weight of resistance and support the weight. Over time and continued training, your body will adapt, and this will translate into more speed and improvement in your running mechanics
Reduced Risk of Injury—Runners are always moving in one direction—forward. The muscles that propel you forward as you run obviously get worked much more that the muscles used when moving sideways or backwards. The body becomes out of balance and susceptible to injuries, especially knee and hip injuries.
Bulk Up vs. Tone Up
If one could simply add weight training to their workout routine and bulk up from that alone, we would never hear about the struggles and sacrifices that body builders experience. There is a definite science to building a lot of muscle that involves diet, amount of weight to repetitions, rest between sets and workouts, supplements, etc. In other words, bulking up must be intentional.
A runner does not need to worry about bulking up from a few weight training sessions a week and rather focus on toning their muscles. While toning, a runner may gain more muscle during weight training, but it will doubtfully increase body mass due to all the calories burned during a run. If you do put on a little weight from strength training, you probably need it to support your metabolism.
Types of Strength Training
Strength training is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The best types of strength training for runners include endurance training, functional training and plyometrics.
Endurance Training—This type of training involves lifting light to medium weight but performing more repetitions in a set to enhance muscular endurance. Circuit training is a popular type of workout where the exercises are completed in groups with little to no rest between exercises.
Functional Training—This type of training focuses on balance and muscle coordination. The target is to have groups of muscles working together as they would during a daily activity, such as sitting down. For example, the same groups of muscles used to sit down are also used in lunges and squats.
Plyometrics—This type of training involves explosive movements and jumping which is extremely beneficial for runners since running is considered a plyometric exercise. This training can be done with little to no weights.
Running is one of the best forms of cardiovascular fitness; however, strength training can be a beast of its own. Adding too much weight training or too much weight too soon is a very common mistake for runners.
It is also important to choose a strength training program that is in line with your level of fitness. Endurance training and functional training exercises can be modified, as needed, so they are great for all fitness levels. Plyometric movements are more advanced. Therefore, your body is at more risk for injury so ensure you have the balance developed and the strength to minimize the stress to your joints and ligaments before adding too much plyo to your workouts.
Starting a weight training routine but only sticking to it sporadically may not affect your running too much but it could put you at risk for injury or lost days of running because of soreness. Start a program that you can maintain 2-3 times per week for 30 minutes depending on the intensity of your training schedule.
Train with Purpose
Add strength training workouts to your schedule that compliment your current goals. If you are training for a marathon, focus on endurance training so you can finish the 26.2 miles without injury and still have energy in the tank. If you are training for a PR, plyometrics could enhance your speed and agility.
Not only are there many benefits of strength training for runners but in turn, running will feel easier because you will be stronger.