Runners are some of the most dedicated trainers out there, but once you find your groove, it can be easy to forget there are other types of training your body needs to perform its best.
While endurance is obviously the top consideration for a runner, strength plays a large role in your performance as well. Strength training as a runner can enhance your training and deliver greater support for all your physical activities.
Whether you’re gearing up for your next marathon or just looking to improve your current regime, this guide will answer all your questions about combining a strength training and running program.
Why Strength Training Is Important for Runners
When you run, 80% of your energy goes toward supporting your body’s alignment and pushing yourself forward. To lower the amount of energy consumed, you can integrate strength training that builds a stronger core.
A toned abdominal wall offers greater stability, which means you exert less energy to balance and move your weight while you run.
Stronger muscles and tendons throughout the body also minimize the amount of time it takes for your body to move faster. When you can propel yourself forward while exerting less energy, you may see improvements in both speed and performance.
Another great reason to strength train as a runner is the lower risk of injury. You may already use CrampFix to ward off cramps, but stronger muscles are also great at reducing your risk of workout injuries.
Let’s look closer at the three major benefits strength training provides runners.
Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
While strength training is great for your overall health, there are three key benefits that are specifically advantageous for runners.
Lower Risk of Injury
Stronger muscles and connective tissues means you’re less likely to get hurt. Runners exert three times their body weight onto each leg as they power down the road, which drastically increases their risk of tears and strains.
Strength training helps your body absorb the shock more efficiently while minimizing the overall impact on your muscles. Additionally, stronger muscles are able to carry your body weight more efficiently, which lessens the strain on your joints.
In addition to the benefits of stronger muscles on your performance, strength training also helps runners perform better at a metabolic level. Research has shown that strength training can increase your running speed and VO2 max. The increased output means your body can take in more oxygen while you run, delivering greater support to your lungs and muscles while enhancing circulation.
A higher VO2 score means that you can absorb more oxygen when you run and give your body more energy through adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Enhance Your Form
When your muscles are lean and toned, they can support body weight more efficiently. This enhances the way you carry yourself as you run, which can lead to a better running form, faster speed, and less strain on your hips, legs, and joints.
By focusing on your torso, upper limbs, and legs, you can establish a stronger foundation that supports your best performance on and off the track.
How Do You Start Strength Training as a Runner?
This question is one we hear often. The biggest concern runners have is that strength training will bulk them up too much, which means a higher muscle mass and slower speed. The good news is that runners can target specific areas and perform workouts in a way that prevents undesired size increase while toning and tightening muscle.
It’s important to use a running and strength program that targets the unique demands of your sport.
Typically, runners should focus on low volume, heavy loads that deliver a strengthening workout without leading to weight gain. However, when it comes closer to race day, you may switch to a high load, low weight training strategy that improves strength and muscular endurance without creating additional mass.
Also, bulking up isn’t easily done. Achieving and maintaining those types of results takes hours a week in the gym. If you strength train for 20-30 minutes three to four times a week, you won’t have to worry about developing massive muscles that impact your running performance.
What’s more, running and heavy weight training actually cancel each other out through the concurrent effect. By alternating your strength training and endurance training, you can reap all the rewards without worrying about weight gain.
While reaching out to a running coach can help you build a personalized strength training plan, we’ve got some general tips that can help you get started.
Train Your Legs First
Since your legs take the brunt of force when you run, you want to strength muscles in them as much as possible. This is primarily achieved through squats, lunges, and light weight training exercises.
You can also implement some strength training running workouts to improve your legs. This could include interval runs, high-tempo runs, and uphill sprints. This guide by the No Meat Athlete offers eight awesome running workouts to build strength and endurance simultaneously.
Lifting low reps of heavy weights is the general recommendation for runners, but that doesn’t mean you should start heaving the largest load you can manage. As with running, you want to start small and progressively work your way up as your threshold increases.
Get started with 2 to 5 kilos and work form there. Remember, the goal is overall tone and strength, not gains, so your primary focus isn’t increasing your load. During the first month in particular, you want to focus on toning and strengthening to build a strong foundation.
Lift Before You Run — But Only in the Beginning
During the strength-building phase, you want to train before you run to increase you running economy. This means you can enjoy greater muscle coordination and energy thanks to activating those key muscle groups before your run.
The strength-building phase lasts around eight to 10 weeks. Once you’ve developed a strong foundation, you can start running first and lift weights after. However, it’s best to avoid any strenuous muscle exercise after a running workout to avoid an overuse injury.
You should also wait at least three hours between runs and strength training to promote healthy recovery.
How much weight should a runner lift?
The Stillman height/weight ratio used to be the standard method of determining how much a runner should lift, but now, the approach is far more personal. Every runner is unique, and beyond their individual goals, it’s also important to consider their current body weight, age, height, and sex.
If you have no previous weight lifting experience, then start with a 2-5kg weight in each hand. If you’re comfortable lifting more then, you could lift two 5-10kg weights.
Strength training does not always have to be lifting weights, either. There are plenty of no-equipment strength training exercises you can try, like:
- Mountain climbers
- Calf raises
- Curtsy lunges
- Leg raises
You might want to combine some strength training exercises with your weights. This can give you an enhanced workout with greater results. Feel free to experiment with different exercise combinations until you find a balance that works for you.
As with any type of physical training, you should focus on what works for your body rather than sticking to a particular program. Make modifications as needed, and consult with a personal trainer or running coach if you need greater support.
How to Modify Your Strength Training
Variety is the secret to keeping your workouts effective. Over time, muscles get accommodated to the same movements and weight, so if you want to achieve a greater activation, you can try incorporating modified movements into your running strength program.
There are several ways to modify strength training:
- Increase the Time Under Tension (TUT) by holding reps a little longer
- Add a hold at the bottom of a rep (isometric)
- Add more weights consecutively (progressive)
- Alternate the duration of reps or sets per workout
You should also focus on compound strength training exercises — ones that activate multiple muscle groups and joints simultaneously. These workouts are great for a lot of reasons, including more efficient workouts, greater muscle activation, less fatigue, and improved balance and muscular coordination.
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