Strength Training for Runners: Overlooked or Overhyped?
Neither rain nor snow nor dark of night will prevent a runner from completing his or her run. To know one is to know the familiar phrase that can border on obsession: “I have to get my run in.”
Runners are among the most dedicated of those who regularly work out, and they are forever looking for ways to improve distance, time, and overall performance. Which is why it’s baffling when runners sometimes overlook a key component to maximizing success: strength training.
It is widely accepted that a balanced diet is a key to good nutrition, just as a combination of cardio workouts and strength training is paramount to achieving good overall fitness. Despite that, there are runners who balk at the idea of going into the gym. Some say that they are not interested in “bulking up,” while others simply don’t feel comfortable in the gym or don't know enough about strength training to get anything out of it.
Overcoming such obstacles should be a priority because if you or your client is a runner then including strength training in regular workouts is an extremely effective way to improve performance.
Many runners are used to being outside, running through their neighborhood or on local trails. Heading inside for a workout may seem daunting—it’s a whole new environment to get to know. The intimidation factor though is simply much ado about nothing. The gym that doesn’t have numerous personal trainers and club members who willingly share some knowledge with newcomers is few and far between.
Alternatively, there are those who are able to work on a few simple machines, but they wouldn’t dare find their way to the free-weight area, “where the real lifters work out.” But anyone who is in the gym to get stronger and improve fitness is a real weight lifter—including you. No one should ever think otherwise.
As it is with anything else, familiarity leads to comfort, which leads to success. Take it slow and ask for help, or give your client a tour so they feel comfortable even if you’re not around. And before long, the former newbie is sharing knowledge with someone else new to the gym.
Why Strength Training is Important
Getting into the gym is the first step. Making the most of your time there is the next step. Doing so likely will take a runner to the next level. For starters, adding strength promotes the ability to run at a higher intensity for longer periods of time.
Additionally, strength training improves balance, while also aiding in the prevention of injuries. All of those things rate at the top of any runner’s list when it comes to setting and reaching goals.
Education and knowledge hold the key to getting past all of those obstacles.
The aerobic effect of running combined with the anaerobic effect of weight training balance out, effectively eliminating any chance of becoming overly muscular. Running sprints, lifting weights, and explosive jumping are examples of anaerobic exercises that work well for runners.
While adding leg strength certainly should be a goal, upper-body strength is important, too. Weight training that strengthens arms and shoulders leads to more efficient running and improves power and coordination.
Adding Strength to a Runner’s Workout
It is generally recommended that runners do a weight training program twice a week on non-running days. Workouts need not be any longer than 25-30 minutes. For those who have limited knowledge of strength exercises, the ISSA website is an excellent source for a how-to guide.
In addition, running a series of sprints once a week can lead to major breakthroughs for runners. The purpose is to recruit the growth of fast-twitch muscle fibers that aren’t activated when running longer distances. Adding fast-twitch muscles leads to added strength.
Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and get creative with your workouts, as a trainer or as the runner. Adding strength training to the schedule can help you power past plateaus and maximize your overall performance.
Now if you’re ready to step up your fitness knowledge even more or want to help others meet their fitness goals, check out the ISSA’s Personal Trainer Certification course online.
Click HERE to download this handout and share with your clients!