Runners have finally come around to the idea that they need to do more than just run. With some studies showing the injury rate for runners can be as high as 80%, it’s time to think of strength training as a necessity rather than a form of cross-training.
When we examine the broader picture of training trends, it helps to look at elite runners (they’re the best, after all). Is there anything the majority of them have added to their routine that everyday runners can emulate?
If you ask world-class runners like Mo Farah, Matthew Centrowitz and Jordan Hasay, the answer is simple: weight training.
STRENGTH TRAINING OR WEIGHTLIFTING?
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.
Bodyweight exercises and core work can be a great way to start to build strength. Movements such as planks, pushups and bodyweight squats (among many others) allow you to build a supportive framework that helps you run with less fatigue and risk of injury.
If you are hoping to take it to the next level, however, strength training in the form of bodyweight exercises may not be enough. Whether you are hoping to win your local 5K or crush a PR in your next marathon, weightlifting may be a key component to your success.
BENEFITS OF WEIGHTLIFTING
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.
When mileage increases and workouts get more challenging, it becomes increasingly difficult to fit in additional training. So any weightlifting needs to be targeted and specific to your running needs, and you’ll want to see those benefits as quickly as possible. Runners gain three major advantages from weightlifting, including improvements in performance, running economy and injury prevention.
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%.
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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!