Many runners steer away from lifting weights because they believe that strength training will not improve their running economy or performance. However, research has shown that lifting weights can help runners reduce their risk for injury, improve their running economy and correct muscle imbalances.
Here are five reasons why runners should add strength training to their exercise regimen:
1. Correct Muscle Imbalances – Jon Erik-Kawamoto (2010) discussed the common myths that runners often believe about weight training. He says that runners often feel that they don’t need to do leg strength exercises because running works their legs. However, he says that runners need to do corrective strength exercises to fix muscle imbalances. Runners should also focus on leg exercises that use body weight and free weights rather than machines to effectively train.
- Prevent Injury – Buns and Harle (2014) state the injury rate for runners is high (2.5 to 12.1 injuries per 1000 hours of running), however most running injuries are a result of muscular imbalance. Also, 50 to 75 percent of running injuries are overuse injuries due to constant repetition of the same movement. Weight training can develop stronger muscles, tendons, fascia and ligaments. By strengthening these areas, runners can prevent injury. Strength training has been shown to reduce the rate of shin splints, lower back discomfort, knee problems and stress fractures.
- Improve running economy – Buns and Harle (2014) found that plyometric training exercises improve force production and stride length, which are the two greatest factors in running economy. For a runner to improve their performance, they need to apply more force during foot contact, rather than increasing their stride frequency. Therefore, plyometric strength training using a full-range of movement can improve running economy.
- Improve aging – Researcher, Gary Dudney (2004) says aging brings a natural tendency to lose muscle tone and strength. Therfore, older runners tend to develop imbalances, especially in their non-running muscles, such as their upper body. Weight training can offset this process somewhat and preserve the balance of muscle mass needed to ensure proper running form. Strength training the muscles around the knees and upper body also help runners with stabilization and stress on connective tissues and tendons.
- Faster race times – Horowitz (2011) recognizes that many runners avoid weight training like the plague for fear of bulking up and slowing down their race times with bulky muscles. However, weight training can actually improve running times. Horowitz (2011) state, “work the movement, not the muscle,” (p. 62), which is great advice for runners looking to add weight training into their routine. You don’t have to lift heavy, just focus on your range of motion and moving through the movement. Runners should combine a variety of body weight, resistance, push, pull and free weight exercises for a well-rounded routine. A combination of these can help strengthen a runner’s body and help them prepare for a faster speed on race day.
All studies do agree that strength training does not necessarily improve a runner’s ability to use and deliver oxygen, which is a key component of performance in distance running. Strength training also does not improve VO2 max. However, running does offer a myriad of other benefits to runners and it should be included in a well-rounded program.
Do you strength train? How many days a week do you dedicate to strength training?
Buns, M. T., & Harle, J. W. (2014). Strength Training For Distance Runners. Track Coach, (206), 6559-6563.
Dudney, G. (2004). Run for Your Life!. Marathon & Beyond, 8(6), 64-72.
Horowitz, J. (2011). Hitting the Gym. Marathon & Beyond, 15(3), 58-73.
Kawamoto, J. (2010). Run Strong: Effective Strength, Power and Core Training for the Endurance Runner. BC Coach’s Perspective, 15-17.