Runner’s take note! If you want to perform at your full potential, you need to take a comprehensive approach to your running. That means incorporating areas of fitness you may not normally pay attention to, such as flexibility, mobility, balance and strength. As a long-distance runner, myself, I can honestly say that NOTHING has made me a faster, stronger and better runner than strength training has. I’ve been a runner my entire life and I used to run competitively for the Ottawa Lions Track & Field Club in high school (800m and 400m hurdles were my main events). When I was in University, I stopped running competitively but continued to run recreationally. I first started off with 5k races, then 10k races, and then ran my first half-marathon in 2014. I’ve ran 3 half-marathons so far (PB 1:44) and I keep getting better every year! Although my nutrition has improved over the past few years, the one thing that has made the BIGGEST difference in my running time is the amount and type of strength training I incorporate into my fitness regime. I’ve always been good at incorporating strength training into my weekly workouts, but I find that the more strength training I do, and the heavier resistance I add, the better my running performance becomes.
Many people still believe that strength training can hinder or impede their running performance, but there’s substantial evidence supporting the benefits of strength training for runners. Whether your goal is to simply run with less pain, or to run faster in your next race, incorporating a few strength training sessions every week will be extremely beneficial. Strength training will increase structural fitness – the ability of your bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles to withstand the impact of running. While most forms of strength training can help improve overall performance, adding heavy resistance exercises will make you a faster runner, which can really help during the final sprint of a race! Strength training is especially important for injury-prone runners and those who are putting in a lot of miles (e.g. marathoners or ultramarathoners). While building your endurance through running, it’s vital to counteract all that wear and tear on your muscles and joints with the right exercises.
Unfortunately, it’s common for many recreational runners to have some sort of pain or injury. Any form of pain or injury is a sign that your body isn’t functioning properly. If you deal with acute pain on a regular basis (e.g. a tight hamstring, an achy knee, slight ankle pain, tight hips, etc.) and don’t address the pain properly in the early stages, it can lead to chronic pain and eventually cause an injury. But in many cases, those aches and pains can be fixed simply by incorporating proper strength training exercises. Reason being, acute pain or an injury is frequently caused by lack of muscle mass, weak joints, muscle imbalances or poor posture – all of which can usually be fixed by incorporating strength training into your fitness regime.
The benefits of strength training for runners include:
- INCREASED MUSCLE MASS
– Stronger arms and legs will allow for more stroke and stride power, which results in a faster running time.
– The more muscle mass you have on your body, the higher your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) will be, which means you’ll burn more fat. Thus, resulting in a leaner physique with less stress on your joints.
- IMPROVED JOINTS
– Stronger muscles allow for less impact on your joints as you’re running, which will decrease risk of injury or joint damage.
– Stronger joints improve your stability (e.g. knee stability) which allows for a more efficient running gait and will reduce risk of injury when running on unstable surfaces.
– When compressive forces are the right amount and in the right direction, then the molecules across the joint are stimulated. However, when they’re torqued or overburdened with obesity, then the molecules start fraying and that leads to arthritis.
- IMPROVED MUSCLE RECRUITMENT
– Recruiting muscle fibers more powerfully and efficiently will cause you to run faster and increase your VO2Max.
– Increasing the size of muscle fibers (A.K.A. “hypertrophy”) leads to visible enlargement of your muscles. The combination of stronger and larger fibers allows your muscles to produce more force, while simultaneously increasing their resistance to damage and fatigue.
- INCREASED PROPRIOCEPTION
– Having a better system of receptor nerves (proprioceptors) in the muscles, joints, and ligaments allows for a smoother, more efficient and safer platform for movement and performance.
– Makes you more attuned to the space around you, and ultimately makes you more graceful and aware of your body.
– Improves your balance and sense of awareness which is advantageous when running in certain weather conditions (e.g. winter – uneven footing in the snow, slippery conditions, etc.).
– Proprioception can be lost when you sustain an injury. If a nerve fiber is severed at the same time, damage is done to soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments, then the messages that part of the body needs for protection either go undelivered or get through to the brain with incorrect information (hence why it’s not uncommon for someone to re-injure the same body part multiple times).
- INJURY PREVENTION
– The stronger muscles and tendons help hold the body in proper alignment and protect the bones and joints when moving or under impact.
– Bones become stronger due to the overload placed on them during training.
– The ligaments become more flexible and better at absorbing the shock applied to them during dynamic movements.
Many runners focus on strength training for their lower body but it’s important to strength train ALL muscle groups for 2 main reasons:
- PREVENT MUSCLE IMBALANCES / IMPROVE MUSCLE SYMMETRY
– Perfect muscle balance is about symmetry on the micro level, between opposing muscles (hamstrings/quads, biceps/triceps, abs/back), and on the macro level (the entire body working in cohesion to perform a task).
– A balanced body simply functions better.
– Muscle imbalance can manifest with devastating consequences (e.g. training the quads too much without including your hamstrings often can result in lordosis of the spine).
– Muscular imbalance can torque and pull joints out of alignment as the stronger muscles overpower the weaker ones.
– To use your muscles as a cohesive, united force is to promote optimum health, freedom from injury and better results.
- IMPROVE POSTURE
– Good posture eliminates unnecessary and counterproductive movements, which can improve performance by saving the body’s supply of oxygen for the muscles needed for the running motion.
– Better posture increases your lung capacity, which leads to increased endurance and a more powerful running stride.
– It also helps you to position your center of gravity and maintain proper alignment, which will prevent injuries and allow for more efficient running.
Here’s an example of a typical workout week for myself (this workout was from last week):
– Run outside 35min. (steady-state)
– High Knees 10min.
– BB Back Squat 3×10
– Front Rack KB Step-up 4×10
– Pistol Squat 3×10
– Butterfly Crunch 1×100
– Run outside 40min. (steady-state)
– Skipping/Jumping Jacks 10min. (2min. Intervals)
– DB Row 3×10
– BB Row 3×10
– Pullup 4×4
– Inverted Row 3×15
– Hanging leg raise 3×20
– Crunch 1×50
– Assault Bike 45min. (steady-state)
– TABATA 10min. Burpees/Battle Ropes (20sec. on/ 10sec. off)
– Side Heel Touch 2×20
– BB Ab Rollouts 3×10
– Skipping 10min.
– Assault Bike 10min. (1min. intervals – sprint & slow active recovery)
– Deadlift 3×10-8-6
– DB clean – Unilateral 3×15
– Rings Hamstring Curl – Unilateral 3×15
– Rower 10min. (steady-state)
– Assault Bike 10min. (steady-state)
– Run outside 10min. (fast-pace)
– Clap Pushup 2×10
– Incline DB Bench Press 3×10
– DB Pec Fly 3×10
– DB Overhead Press 4×12-10-8-6
– DB Rear Delt Fly 4×12
– Side Plank 4x1min./side
– CIRCUIT: 3 Rounds for Time
– Goblet Squat 1min.
– Box Jumps 1min.
– Russian KB Swing 1min.
– Burpees 1min.
– Toe Taps 1min.
– Medicine Ball Slam 1min.
– Renegade Row 1min.
– Mountain Climber 1min.
– Jump Squat 1min.
– Jumping Jacks 1min.
- *REST DAY*
*Be aware of your form/technique and get coaching to ensure you’re actively engaging all the requisite muscles. Improper form/technique will only cause more problems and increase risk of injury!
*I have had no access to a treadmill for the past 3 months (our gym currently does not have one), so I’ve only been running outdoors.
As you can tell, I do some form of strength training almost every single day I workout. If you’re a long distance runner like myself, it’s more efficient to focus on compound movements (exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups). Putting more stress on the body with compound exercises has been shown to create higher hormonal responses, which leads to more muscle growth. Plus, it will make your workouts more efficient and save you a lot of time! Whether you want to run pain-free or set a new personal record, strength training will certainly help. There are numerous different ways to incorporate strength training into your fitness regime, so start training harder and SMARTER!
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