For most runners, the time spent on the road is very rarely in pursuit of big muscles and a killer six-pack to match but there are 3 reasons to strength train.
Experts say incorporating just 20 minutes of strength training a few times a week can help runners prevent injuries, aid recovery and reach their full athletic potential.
So why don’t all runners strength train?
It may be a combination of feeling like you don’t have enough time and simply not valuing the non-running activities as much as you do the running
activities. With that in mind, runners of all abilities need to be doing some sort of general strength and mobility training every day.
The first step toward integrating strength training into a runner’s workout is to understand why it shouldn’t be viewed as something “extra.” Let’s take a
closer look at the benefits.
Strength Training Builds Muscle Mass
“The more you run, the more you’re breaking down muscle fibers, so you need to build them back up,” says Rich Airey, a running, strength and crossfit coach, six-time ultra-marathoner.
Strength training does just that by strengthening muscles, tendons and bones. Increasing lean muscle and decreasing body fat also allows the body to burn more calories, making it easier to maintain your weight.
It Prevents Injuries
According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, nearly 70 percent of all runners become injured each year. Most of these incidents are common running injuries including “runner’s knee,” shin splints, plantar fasciitis or the dreaded iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS).
Fortunately strength training can fortify these weak areas. Runners should specifically target the abductors and gluteal muscles (especially those who sit at a desk in front of a computer all day), core, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors.
Think about it: If runners are never hurt, then they have more time to train and log miles at a higher intensity. Some athletes can get stronger and end up becoming faster too. It’s a matter of being able to work out harder and recover quicker.
It Challenges Your System
Endurance athletes focus more on muscular endurance, which is high reps of low weight. But, once you learn proper technique, you areencouraged to switch it up with low reps of higher weight. Move more weight is supported by several new studies, which link strength training to improved running economy, or the measure of how much energy it takes to run at a given speed.
Over time, adding anaerobic activity (lifting weights) can make runners more complete athletes.
How To Get Started… Hitting the weights (or simply using your bodyweight) to build strength can be intimidating to beginners and might explain why runners generally shy away from this auxiliary work. Here are a few things to remember before heading to the gym.
Know your goal… The more specific the goal, the more specific the training needs to be.
Take it slow… Learning technique is first and foremost. Practice each move with just your bodyweight first, focusing on good posture and proper positioning.
Be patient… Success doesn’t happen overnight, but you can usually start noticing some results in three or four weeks.
Change it up… The three to four week mark is also when the body starts to adapt to its routines, so you should try to change up the movements, weights and/or reps to continue to see results.
What To Do… To get started, general bodyweight strength moves and calisthenics are recommended, with the addition of weights as you advance. For the serious runners, there is good research that shows that intense power work, such as plyometrics, also improves running economy and performance.
Recommended is doing a five-minute warm up before a run and then general strength and mobility work post-run.
Like any new fitness endeavor, strength training takes some time to get right and make it a permanent part of your routine. But the benefits can be limitless for runners.
If you want to be a good runner you need to run more… But all of this non-running work simply helps you safely handle more running.
As Mo Farah told the Guardian newspaper earlier this year: "I was a lot weaker before. All the core stuff, all the weights? I couldn't lift anything. I just used to run and do a bit of core but I never did specific stuff. That's been the difference for sure."
The science backs Farah up. A study in 2008 by Storen looked at runners who performed heavy squats three times per week for eight weeks alongside runners who performed their normal distance training. They found that the runners doing the squats improved their running economy and time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed, without any change in body weight.
Strength and core work can be very effective for runners. The difficulty is fitting it into your schedule when you could be running five or six times a week already.