All you’re doing is putting one foot in front of the other, but running offers your body (and mind) a number of benefits. It’s excellent for your cardiovascular and lung health, it builds endurance, and it strengthens your muscles and bones. Whether you use it as a standalone workout or it complements your other programming, understanding strength training for runners will keep you safe and healthy while you do it, as well as help you maximize its benefits.
Strength Training for Runners: Why Does it Matter?
“Hold on. If I want to get better at running, I should be doing something other than… running?”
Strength training matters for runners. Some are hesitant to even try out of fear of getting bulky or gaining weight. Since runners need to be quick and light on their feet, staying lean is usually of importance.
Fun fact, though: Strength training will not only improve your skill but can actually keep you leaner while you do it since muscle burns more calories than fat. It’s a win-win.
Let’s talk a little more about the two main benefits of strength training for runners.
The Carryover Effects of Strength Training
One reason why strength training for runners is so important is because of the carryover of the benefits.
While hitting the pavement (or treadmill or track) is, of course, crucial in improving your running, that’s not all you should be doing. As another example, look at an Olympic weightlifter. Because explosiveness is so important to be able to lift more, lifters do a lot of exercises that demand they be explosive — even if they don’t involve a barbell.
This might mean a lot of sprint-style training, jumping, or banded exercises — like banded sprints and kettlebell swings.
It’s the same story for runners.
Runners can do outside training that will translate to their running, even if it’s a different exercise entirely. It’s hard to argue that being stronger is ever a bad thing. And because it’ll make your muscles and bones healthier and more durable, strength training for running will complement your programming perfectly.
You can expect to be not only stronger but faster and more efficient since it improves your form, encourages full-body coordination, and betters your stride efficiency.
But that’s not all. Strength training also helps keep you safe.
Injury Prevention and Recovery
The second reason why strength training for runners matters is because it helps prevent injuries.
The reason why is simple, at the root of it: A strong runner is in a better position than a weak runner.
But why, exactly?
Believe it or not, running can cause a lot more wear and tear than you might suspect, especially when you factor in the surface that you’re running on. For instance, grass and woodland trails are gentle on your body, whereas pavement is pretty harsh.
This means that under less desirable circumstances, your muscles, joints, and ligaments might be taking a beating when you go for a run. Common running injuries include shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, and runner’s knee.
We don’t say any of this to discourage you from running but rather to help you prepare to run safely.
Strength training for runners plays a pivotal role in keeping your muscles, tendons, and other tissues healthy. Because it strengthens your muscles and connective tissues, it helps to limit the damage you sustain and encourages recovery.
Plus, consider that running is one-directional. It works some muscles a lot more than others, which leads to imbalance. Imbalance can be a major cause of injury, and strength training can mitigate this.
Even if your athletic endeavors have nothing to do with strength training or weightlifting, if you’re a runner, it would behoove you to incorporate strength training into your regular programming.
Next, let’s talk some more about how you can do that.
Creating Your Strength Training Program
We can’t tell you the exact strength training workouts that will be best for you, as programming is highly individualized. There are too many variables at play for there to be a single, one-size-fits-all approach.
For instance, a sprinter will likely need different strength training workouts compared to a long-distance runner.
Rather, our goal is to give you a few general rules of thumb.
Make Time for Upper-Body Movements
Yes, your upper body plays a role in running! A stronger upper body is better able to minimize side-to-side movement, maintain form even when fatigued, and put more power behind your stride.
Think movements like:
- Tricep dips
- Bench press
- Strict press
Paying special attention to your core is of importance since an ill-prepared body can sustain lower back pain after a grueling run. (P.S. A strong core is also important for tasks as simple as sitting up straight and getting out of bed.)
To improve core strength, try:
- Planks/plank variations
- Back and hip extensions
- Side bends
- Russian twists
Yes, You Still Need Lower-Body Strength Training
It’s understandable why runners might think that running is the only lower-body training they’ll need. However, as you now know, strength training, in particular, offers its own benefits.
Try out exercises like:
- Good mornings (also great for your core!)
- Deadlifts (truthfully, a full-body exercise)
- Glute-hamstring raises
Combine these various elements into a well-rounded strength training workout and you’ll find that as a byproduct, your running is going to significantly improve, too.
The Bottom Line
No, the goal isn’t to be as strong as possible. The goal is to be a better runner. But as we’ve now explained, improving as a runner takes more than simply running.
Make time for strength training in between your treadmill workouts and trips to the track. You’ll find that you’re becoming a faster, more efficient runner while maintaining good health and warding off injury and strains.
Wanting more tips about how you can run safely long-term? Learn more about how to improve your joint health.
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