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.
Strength training is a broad term that can encompass anything from core work and bodyweight exercises to more complex, compound weightlifting movements at the gym. If you’re a new runner or new to any strength work, it’s best to ease your way in so you don’t get hurt.
As a runner, your primary focus will always be to train in the most race-specific way possible. Whether it’s 40–80 miles per week, running will always come first. So it’s essential that anything you add to your training regimen needs to directly support your running and racing goals.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but strength training helps you run faster! Strength training places stress on your body in the form of resistance (weights), which prompts your body to adapt and make changes in order to increase its ability to withstand that stress. Over time, these physiological adaptations can have a huge impact on your running speed. This is why it’s important to train on a comprehensive program designed specifically for running performance—in other words, you can’t do a few random strength workouts and expect to see results.
Not only does strength training increase your body’s fat-free mass (bone and muscle mass) while decreasing your body fat %, it also increases the amount of force your muscles are able to exert into the ground with each step during your runs. This helps to make each stride more powerful, increasing your maximal speed and improving your ability to maintain high submaximal speeds for longer. Strength training also increases your muscular endurance and anaerobic power, making it easier to tackle that final kick in a race.
Simply put, most runners want to get faster. A new PR from a 5K or marathon is always a worthy goal. Much of your training plan is geared to help you work toward this through a balance of long runs, easy efforts and targeted workouts. But building strength also helps you get faster and make the effort feel a little less taxing.
Weight training, especially compound movements like the dead lift or explosive movements like the clean and jerk, helps make you a more powerful, efficient runner. Studies show explosive strength training makes your 5K faster by improving your economy and muscle power. This allows you to develop your speed and gain a strong finishing kick, both essential to faster racing.
Lifting weights also makes you more economical (or “efficient”). This can translate into the “real feel” of a run — does it feel easy and smooth or awkward and hard? The more efficient you are, the less you have to work, and you can run faster for longer periods of time.
While other factors such as running volume can contribute to your running economy, weight training has a direct impact. Consistent weight training improves neuromuscular coordination, which means better running economy becomes more ingrained and more natural over time. Resistance training has been shown to improve a trained runner’s economy by as much as 8%.
Runners usually get hurt because of structural weakness, meaning cardiovascular fitness will often improve before your joints, muscles and ligaments are prepared to handle the extra volume. Neglecting your structural fitness is a quick route to injury. But weight training is an efficient way to prevent these issues.
The most perfect training plan is of no use if you’re injured and can’t follow it. With the incredibly high injury rate among runners, just about every runner benefits from adding weight training to their regimen. The evidence is plentiful, from strength training helping to cure IT Band Syndrome to women getting injured more frequently due to hip weakness.
Strength training in all of its various forms is one of the best ways for runners to get strong, fast and stay healthy. The evidence in support of this continues to grow.
If you’re struggling to taking your running and racing to the next level, make the commitment. Add weight training to your regimen and you’re likely to see impressive results!
BETTER RUNNING FORM
The human body is a pretty amazing machine. Most of us have a dominant side that is more muscularly developed, and most of us have stronger anterior muscles (on the front of the body) and weaker posterior muscles (back of the body)—and these strength imbalances can create some imperfect movement patterns.
Ever wonder why only one knee will hurt after a run, or one side of your back and not the other? It’s not hard to imagine that if your right glutes are twice as strong as your left glutes, it will alter the way you move. If you do have some funky movement patterns, your body—smart animal that it is—will use other muscles to help out, like recruiting your left lower back muscles to help your weak left glutes extend your hip.
A strength training program designed specifically for runners will focus on correcting the muscular strength imbalances that cause bad movement mechanics. This is especially important for your quadriceps and hamstrings—most runners have super strong quads (front of the body) and super weak hams (back of the body), which can alter your stride and cause injury.
By evening out these imbalances, you can “turn any” any inhibited and weak muscles and achieve better, more efficient running form. Better form means less risk of overuse injury from bad movement patterns, and more effective running.