If you’re a runner, particularly if you’re a long-distance runner, running takes up most of your exercise time. Maybe you fit in some yoga, or a spin class as a form of cross training, but when you’re in the middle of a training schedule for a race or event, are you prioritizing lifting weights? From my experience of working with many clients and knowing a lot of runners, strength training is the first thing to take a backseat when mileage increases.
This is something I also struggle with. The last time I was training for a marathon, I did have time to work out between client’s training sessions, while I had a sitter for my son. Even so, I still found it hard to fit in strength training around the amount of running I needed to get done in the week to stick to my training plan. This time around, with two kids and way less time to schedule my running priorities, I know I’m going to have to get creative to make it work.
It would be easy to not worry about it, to just get my running done and make sure I stretch and roll and rest appropriately after each workout – but I know my body and I know I can’t get away with that. Marathon training without strength training will lead to injury for me.
As a reminder of why it’s so important to stick with resistance training when time is not on your side, I wrote this list of 5 reasons runners need to strength train. If you’re tempted to skip your next strength workout because of your running schedule, read this to remember why it will help you nail your running goal if you pick up some weights instead:
1. You Can Avoid Injury
Strength training is the best way to avoid injury for runners. Lots of runners use static stretching or rolling out after their run as an injury prevention tactic. While I love stretching for runners, I have several different foam rollers and sticks and if I could afford it I’d be getting sports massages on the regular, I know strength training is even more important to correct imbalances and strengthen key muscles to keep your joints safe and injury-free.
It’s obviously not foolproof, as anyone who has had a major injury regardless of diligently strength training and doing everything right will tell you, but it is your first line of defence against minor injuries becoming major. And I will take all the defence I can get!
2. You Will Get Faster and Fitter
There’s a fallacy that only cardio can improve your Vo2 max (in layman’s terms, this is your body’s rate of oxygen uptake – the higher it is, the higher your cardiovascular fitness). But a systematic review of five studies regarding resistance training and distance runners refutes that idea. These studies found that speed and endurance in runners are both improved by strength training. Two of the five studies actually found that runners’ times in a 5K improved significantly (by 2.9%!) when strength training was incorporated into training and all of the studies showed nearly a 5% increase in running economy (Vo2 max).
That’s a huge advantage for a relatively small time commitment. Current ACSM guidelines for strength training recommend 2 sessions per week of at least one set of 8 -10 repetitions. (If you’re confused about where to begin with sets and repetitions, check out my guide to sets and rep here.) That’s probably one hour a week, which could be split into two half hour sessions, four 15 minute sessions, or really, whatever works for you.
3. You Will Get Lean
Note that I didn’t write ‘You Will Lose Weight’. From the scale’s perspective, you may not lose any weight when you begin strength training. But the scale is a bit of a shady character, anyway. Don’t believe everything you think it’s telling you. Most people have heard that the less you weigh, the faster you are at running, but the more specific finding is that the lower your body fat percentage, the faster you will be. Guess what efficiently lowers your body fat percentage? Strength training.
What many runners discount is the big advantage having strong muscles will give you during a race, hard running workout, or pushing through fatigue on a long run. Don’t equate strength with bulky muscles and limited range of motion of, say, a 1970’s era bodybuilder.
4. Your Form Will Improve
The longer you run, the more your form suffers. We’ve all seen the runners who are hunched over, shoulders rounded, looking down at the road in the final stages of a race. We’ve all also probably felt our own muscles tightening and had to shake it out at some point when we’re running. Focusing on strengthening your postural muscles will help you keep better form for a longer period of time when you run.
For a breakdown of what exercises you should be focusing on as a runner, check out my post on how to strength train to be a better runner (with exercise suggestions) and you can also try this upper body workout for runners I wrote for Christine at Love, Life, Surf.
5. You Will Be More Flexible
I hammer this point home to my clients, because it seems counterintuitive to them – lifting heavy weights will make you flexible? But isn’t that what stretching is for? I’ve never met a runner who doesn’t complain they have tight hamstrings. So they stretch out, or foam roll to try to improve their flexibility. And those can help to an extent. But strength training will actually improve flexibility far more efficiently than stretching or rolling alone.
If you’re thinking, “Oh yeah? Then why is yoga so good for flexibility? It’s basically stretching!” Well, yoga is really strength training, when you think about it. They are bodyweight strength movements, some in isometric form, but all definitely a weight-bearing form of resistance exercise.
The key is to use a full range of motion when you lift weights. You want to ensure your muscles are getting stronger and more efficient through a greater range of motion, which will also mean you will be able to exert more force when running.
I’m making an effort this training cycle to ensure I’m getting strength training done. It may be in my living room and it may be often interrupted by mama-duties, but it’s so important to keep up resistance training if I want to achieve my running goals.
What’s your motivation to strength train?
If you’re a runner, have you noticed a difference between how you run when you’re regularly working out with weights or not?