Strength training is something that I have been neglecting but as I progress with running it’s also something that has started entering my mind more and more. Should runners be strength training? Honestly, after doing some research it seems like we should be. Although some runners shy away from the prospect of strength training, afraid that too much bulky muscle might slow them down this is probably more of a myth than reality. It would be extremely difficult for a long distance runner to become muscle bound enough that it affected their running.
I admit that I have always been slightly against the idea of lifting weights and strength training. Maybe it’s because of old stereotypes against strong or muscular women, maybe its because I was forced to do it in school and hated every second of it or maybe its just because I find the repetitive actions boring and dull. Add on the fact that I am terribly self-conscious and have never been comfortable in a gym and you have a perfect recipe for avoidance.
But then my husband bought a weight bench and I became aware of just how much running relies on strong and healthy muscles. suddenly all my excuses went out the window and I was forced, at long last to sit down and really ask myself…
Should Runners be Strength Training?
Benefits of Strength Training for Everyone
It’s a well-known fact that strength training is healthy and good for you. People flock to gyms on a regular basis because they like the way it makes them look and feel. But besides the nebulous ‘I feel great’ responses you get when you ask someone why they do it, what are the actual scientific health benefits? Turns out there are quite a few!
- Increased Strength and Fitness Levels – Seems to be somewhat of a given but important none the less!
- Increased Bone Health – Just like muscles get stronger as they adapt to increased use so do your bones. This can be especially important for women who are more prone to losing bone density as we age.
- Increased Dexterity, Endurance, and Hand-eye coordination – This seems useful for pretty much everyone! No matter what sport or hobby you take part in being able to do it for a longer period with more precision seems like a pretty good benefit to me.
- Heart Health – hearth health seems to be a benefit of almost any exercise but studies have shown that an exercise regimen which includes 45 minutes of moderate intensity weight lifting can translate into almost 20% lower blood pressure.
- Lower Risk of Diabetes – Just lifting weights alone has been shown to lower your risk of getting diabetes by up to 34% – add some cardio (hello runners!) and that number jumps up to 59%!
- Prevent Back Pain – How many of us spend most of our day sitting? It’s probably a lot and it’s really not good for us. Thankfully there are ways to limit the damage we do to ourselves with this lifestyle. You all know I am a strong believer in Yoga now but it seems like strength training is also very good! It makes sense anything which makes our muscles stronger and better able to stabilize us is bound to help!
- Improved Balance – This goes along pretty well with the improved dexterity. When you incorporate strength training into your exercise routine you are not only building muscles you can see but also strengthening the smaller stabilizing muscles that help us function in everyday tasks. This translates to increased balance and that means less opportunity to hurt yourself.
All of that sounds pretty great and it was pretty much what I expected to find when I started researching it. But, it wasn’t enough to convince me to motivate me into actually trying it out. I mean – a lot of those benefits can also be found by doing Yoga and I already like Yoga. Strength Training still had to win me over so I dug a little bit deeper and focused on exactly why should runners be strength training.
Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
I was really hoping that this research would answer my initial question – should runners be strength training? I can honestly say that I was surprised by what I found, along with the benefits listed above the ones below are especially beneficial to runners.
- Run Faster – It turns out that running in and of itself isn’t actually very good at strengthening leg muscles. Crazy right? But it’s the truth according to a lot of studies. Apparently adding lower body strength training to your exercise regimen can help you increase your pace by up to 5% and your ability to hold that pace by 20%. That’s a lot when race times are dictated by mere seconds.
- Prevent Injury – I recently suffered a foot injury that kept me sidelined for a couple weeks. Not only did I go stir crazy but I also know it will affect my times in an upcoming race. There is a small part of me that knows I probably wouldn’t have suffered this injury if I had considered strength training earlier. Strength training is great for addressing issues such as muscle imbalances (we all have one side of our bodies which is stronger than the other) which is a big cause of injury while running.
- Better Core Strength – It’s no secret that core strength is important while running. Your core is what stabilizes you as you move and a weak core means a sore back, hips, and shoulders among other problems. Strengthening your core muscles with strength training will help you run faster as well since a strong core equals a better running economy.
- Raises Antioxidant Levels – Endurance training is hard on the body and over time this can lead to problems such as chronic inflammation due to oxidative stress. Strength training has been shown to increase antioxidant levels which counter this stress and protect long-distance runners from damage.
Should Runners be Strength Training?
Alright, I’m sold.
It seems that numerous sources confirm that strength training should be a part of running. I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the idea of giving this a try but if it helps me become a better runner then I will suffer through it. Of course, I am completely clueless when it comes to strength training so more research was in order.
How to Start Strength Training
The first obstacle I had to overcome was a basic vocabulary one. Most exercise programs I found referred to sets and reps. I had a vague idea of what these were but my brain kept confusing them so I got a straight talk definition to help.
Rep (Repetition) – This is one exercise done from start to finish. Example – One push-up
Set – The number of Repetitions they want you to do of a particular exercise. Normally with a break in between. Example – Two Sets of 12 Reps would equal doing 12 push-ups twice or 24 push-ups in total.
Once I had that figured out my second problem was scheduling. While some people do both running and strength training on the same day most sources I looked at advised against it. Apparently doing both on the same day tends to lower your endurance. Since I am trying this out to see if it improves my running the prospect of lowering my endurance seems counterproductive. So I am going to take the advice and do my strength training on my running rest days.
Run – Mon, Wed, Fri
Strength – Tues, Thurs, Sat
Rest – Sun
With the kids in school and plenty of time during the day, this schedule should work fine!
Building a Workout Plan
The third obstacle I had to figure out was actually building my work out plan. I could not find a runner-specific plan that did not require additional equipment or was full of exercises I felt I could actually hold up to. I’m a weakling! I need that beginner stuff! A lot of the programs I did find had exercises which seemed far too advanced for someone just starting out. The fact that I am even going to try push-ups is advanced enough for right now okay?
It also seemed that I should be doing something called ‘Splits’ which means doing different exercises each day to target different parts of the body while the others rest. This made some sense to me and I followed this in my Yoga challenge. It worked well there so I am going to do it here too.
In order to build my plan, I googled the best exercises for running – lower Body, upper body, and core. I made a list of about 6-9 exercises for each category that I thought I could handle. Some look more difficult than others but that’s okay, I will work up to those ones. I also wrote down the suggested reps and Sets for each exercise, if weights were involved I wrote down the suggested beginner weight.
The plan for strength training is to do three workouts a week, each workout focusing on one category. On lower body day I will do 3-4 of the suggested exercises and rotate them to ensure a balanced result. Repeating this process for upper and core days.
The Game Plan
For the next 60 days, I will attempt to keep to the schedule laid out above. I will run three times a week like I do now and strength train three times a week. I will keep doing yoga as well. Nothing I found said it was detrimental to this test and it’s already a part of my routine.
As a side bonus – because my husband insists that it is great for your back and core I will also attempt to learn how to do a pull-up. I have absolutely no upper body strength at all so If I can accomplish this in a month I will actually be surprised. Yes, I am that much of a weakling haha!
In 60 days I will come back with the results and my thoughts in a second post! Don’t worry I’ll link it here when it goes live!
Do you do any sort of Strength Training? Have any tips?