How to Boost Your Running Performance With Strength Training
They believe that running is the only exercise they need, and that strength training is for those who want to “bulk up.” They worry that lifting weights will only slow them down. After all, the more muscle you have the heavier you are, therefore the more weight you have to carry around while running, right?
Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, strength training is not just for football players and weightlifters, it’s actually pretty crucial for runners as well. If you want to perform at your full potential when running, it’s essential that you add strength training to your routine. Whether you want to be able to run further, run faster or run with less pain, a few strength sessions every week will help you enormously.
This article will clear up those myths and reveal why strength training will improve your running – and how to get started.
Table of Contents
Why Strength Training Compliments Running
Strength training will make you a better runner. All of the world class running athletes, including Matthew Centrowitz, Mo Farah and Jordan Hasay do it – so that has to say something, doesn’t it?
Here are some of the major benefits that strength training will offer you:
- Helps Prevent Injury
Unfortunately, injuries are common for runners. Some studies put the annual rate of injuries for runners as high as 85 percent. An injury can keep you off your feet for weeks and stop you from accomplishing your running goals.
After all, running is a high impact sport that requires a lot of repetitive motion – it puts your body under stress that can lead to an injury. Strength work helps to prevent injuries by strengthening the connective tissues in your muscles. If you want to spend more time running and less time on the couch recovering, this point alone should be enough motivation to get started with strength training.
- Improves Your Running Form
- Helps You Lose Fat
- Increases Your Endurance
Weight training also benefits runners because of the way it improves running economy. A good analogy to explain “running economy” is to compare it to the fuel economy of your car. Some cars are able to travel further and faster on the same amount of fuel. When you improve your overall strength, your body will be able to operate more efficiently and you’ll boost your endurance. Studies have shown that resistance training can improve a runner’s economy by as much as 8%.
- Helps You Run Faster
- Fix Muscle Imbalances
- Build Stronger Bones
Strength training can build more than muscles – it actually helps you to improve your bone density as well. The studies have shown there is a direct positive relationship between weight training and bone density. This is very important to your overall health and fitness – especially as you get older.
What To Know Before You Start Strength Training
What To Do Before Your First Weights Session
Ready to get started?
First of all, make sure you are wearing comfortable clothing that allows you full mobility. You’ll need good solid shoes with non-slip soles – the shoes you use for running will be absolutely fine.
The first thing you do before you hit the weights is to get in a proper warm-up. It will prep your muscles for what they are about to do and help you increase your range of motion. Don’t worry that you aren’t breaking a sweat during your warm-up, or that it doesn’t feel challenging enough. You will be getting your blood pumping and preparing your muscles for action.
It’s best to do dynamic stretches before a workout – the types of stretches where you are constantly moving. Static stretches – where you hold the stretch in place – are best for after the workout.
Avoid Injury With These Crucial Safety Tips
- Workout with a trainer or fitness professional when performing an exercise for the first time, as they will be able to tell you if your technique is okay.
- Or, if you’re at home you can watch a Youtube video to see the property technique in action.
- Start slow and increase your weights gradually. If you can’t lift the weight with the proper form, go for a lighter weight and work your way up.
- Don’t hold your breath. Exhale during the exertion phase and inhale during the relaxation phase.
- Stand up straight and pay attention to your posture. Engage your abs during every movement, so that you can maintain balance and stabilize your spine.
- Never throw the weights up and down or use momentum to swing them through a range of motion. Always be in control of the weights at all times.
- Don’t try to train if you have an injury. Stop the workout and seek medical advice.
- Place the weights gently on the floor rather than dropping them, or you could hurt yourself or people nearby.
- Rest your muscles for at least 24 hours before you work the same muscle group again, so your muscles have time to repair and grow.
Why Nutrition Will Help Maximize Your Results
One of the things I want to stress the most is the importance of nutrition. You can run and weight train all you want, but if you don’t have a proper diet it will hold you back from the results you want to achieve. All of your hard work will be in vain if you don’t provide yourself with the right nutritional support.
This is why many personal trainers and coaches often say, “You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
This includes what you eat before and after a workout (make sure you get at least 10-20 grams of quality protein post-exercise) and what you eat on a day to day basis.
If you can reduce your consumption of processed fats and refined sugars and replace them with whole grains, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, this will make an enormous difference in your physique very quickly. Improving your diet is most of the battle.
Maintaining a food diary can be a helpful way to track the food you eat and see where you can make better choices. The best changes are those that you can actually stick to with consistency. Trying to limit yourself too much will not be sustainable, but slowly changing your habits over the long term will have a much more significant effect.
Nutrition is a very in-depth topic and there are many great books and resources out there about it.
Why Compound Movements Are Great for Runners
Squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups, planks: these compound movements are incredibly beneficial for runners and should absolutely be included in your workout routine.
Compound exercises are any movements that involve more than one joint and use more than one muscle group. These types of exercises use your full body, so they burn more calories. For example, compare a deadlift with a hamstring curl. Both exercises target your hamstrings, but the deadlift also requires you to activate your back, glutes, biceps, shoulders, arms and core.
As a result, you get much more “bang for your buck.” You’ll also burn more calories throughout your workout, because more muscles will be working. Compound movements mirror the large, functional movements we do in real life – like bending down, pulling, pushing and picking things up.
Large compound movements also help you to improve muscular balance because they strengthen your muscles appropriately in relation to one another. Also, your core will be activated with every rep because it is keeping your body in the right position. Good core strength will improve your running form, endurance and speed.
Plus, since these large full body movements recruit more of your muscle fibres, your body will release growth hormones to repair your muscles more quickly.
Don’t Make These Common Beginner Strength Training Mistakes
There are a few mistakes that runners often make when they get started with strength training. Make sure you are aware of these errors, so that you can avoid them.
Don’t Forget Your Upper Body
Many runners focus too much on their legs when they hit the gym, as the legs are what propel you when you run. While legs are certainly important, you don’t want to forget about the rest of your body either.
Strengthening your back and core is essential, because those muscles are used when running to support and stabilize your spine. Strengthening your arms is important to, as you still use them while running. When you have strong arms, you can hold the correct arm technique for longer and make your run more efficient.
Don’t Train Beyond Capacity
Another beginner mistake is attempting to train with weights that are too heavy, which puts you at a serious risk for injury. This can sometimes be caused by feeling embarrassed about lifting a small amount of weight. But remember – you’re exercising your muscles, not your ego. So, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks!
It’s much smarter to start with a small weight and work your way up, otherwise you risk halting your progress due to an injury that could have been easily avoided.
Remember, fitness isn’t a goal you achieve and then you are fit forever. It is an ongoing process and a long term habit that needs to be sustainable.
Don’t Forget To Allow Rest Time
There have been many studies that have shown that our muscles need approximately 24-48 hours to fully recover after a strength workout. If you don’t allow yourself this rest time, you will increase your risk of injury.
When you strength train you’re actually causing microscopic tears in the muscle tissue. Your muscles become stronger as they repair these tears. If you don’t give them a chance to fully repair, they won’t be able to build back stronger.
Allow your muscles to rest, as much of the growth will take place during this rest time and when you hit the gym again you’ll be stronger and ready to challenge yourself.
Don’t Do The Same Workout Every Time
It’s amazing how quickly our bodies adapt. If you do the same routine every day, it will become easier and easier for you. If you want to challenge yourself and keep improving, it’s important to start altering your workouts. When you mix it up, you’ll always be working different muscle groups and you’ll avoid hitting a fitness plateau.
This is why it’s beneficial to keep a training log. You can record the exercises you have done and the number of reps, then add weight and repetitions to compete against your own performance. You can also change the type of resistance or the exercises themselves, in order to keep your body guessing.
A more advanced way of mixing it up is to change the tempo. Try varying the amount of time you spend on the up and down phase of the lift, going up and down slowly and then finding a quicker pace. This is a great way to provide different stimuli to your muscles when you have hit a plateau.
Don’t Forget About Sleep
Getting enough sleep every night is incredibly important. It will energize you to complete your strength training routine and it will also keep your hunger hormones low, so you aren’t tempted to binge on snacks.
To help yourself fall asleep earlier at night, break the habit of scrolling through social media at night in bed. (The blue light from the screen suppresses melatonin and makes it harder to fall asleep.) Put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode and curl up with a good old fashioned book instead.
Don’t Forget to Hydrate
You probably already know how drinking water is incredibly important to your overall health. It’s especially important when you are strength training because you will be sweating a lot, so you’ll need to replenish that water. Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day and make sure you are consistently sipping from it.
Strength Training Workouts For Runners
I’ve put together some starter workouts for you which are broken down to target your upper body, core and lower body. I recommend you do three sets of each group of exercises.
The best approach is to vary your workout and do something different every time. When you combine calisthenics and weights you will enjoy the benefit of both and you will get great results.
Workouts Without Equipment
- Push Ups 30 reps(elevate your feet with a chair if you need more of a challenge)
- Plank 1 minute
- Side Plank 1 minute
- Leg Raise 30 reps
- Squat 40 reps
- Walking Lunge 20 reps each leg
- Step Up (using a chair or what have you) 20 reps each leg
This next section is a circuit workout. Each exercise is to be done one after the other for 3 total rounds.
- Squats 30 reps
- Standing long jump 15 reps
- Walking Lunches 15 reps each leg
- Calf Raises 50 reps
- Plank 1 minute
- Side Plank (both sides) 1 minute
- Pushups 20 reps
- Burpees 20 Reps
Workouts With Equipment
Do 3 sets of each of group of exercises. These are broken down to target upper body, core, and lower body.
- Pushups 30 reps
- Alternating row 30 reps each arm
- Reverse Flye 30 reps
- Plank 1 minute
- Back Extension 30 reps
- Russian Twist 30 reps
- Deadlift with dumbbells 30 reps
- Walking Lunges 30 reps each leg
- Squats 30 reps
This next section is a circuit workout. Each exercise is to be done one after the other for 3 total rounds.
- Squat 20 reps
- Box Jump 20 reps
- Power Clean 20 reps
- Leg Lifts 20 reps
- Russian Twist 20 Reps
- Calf Raise 50 Reps
- Pushups 20 Reps
- Alternating Row 20 Reps
Frequently Asked Questions About Strength Training for Runners
- Do I need a gym membership?
Not necessarily! While a gym offers you more selection of equipment, you can get a great strength training workout at home, or at the park. Remember, your body itself works as a weight as well and there are many exercises you can do that use your body weight.
- How often should I strength train?
- How long should each session last?
When you first get started, you can begin with training sessions that are around 20 to 30 minutes. As you build up your strength, you can increase the length to around 45-60 minutes. (Don’t forget a 5 minute warm-up beforehand!)
Studies have shown that after about 60 minutes your glycogen levels are spent. These are the stored cabs or fuel you have to use for effective exercise. If you keep working out after that, you risk overtraining and it can be counterproductive.
- How many sets should I perform of each exercise?
If you do over exhaust your muscles by doing too many sets, you won’t allow them to repair and recover themselves at an ideal rate. However, if you don’t perform enough sets you will run the risk of not challenging your body enough to make the changes you want to make.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, if you want to increase muscular strength you should do 8-12 reps at enough weight that you can only complete the desired reps. If you want to improve endurance, you should be decreasing that weight so that you can do 10-15 reps.
- How much weight should I lift?
The amount of weight you lift will depend on how many reps and sets you are doing. The general rule is to lift enough weight so that you are only able to complete the designed number of reps.
So, if you are aiming for 10 reps, the 10th one should be the last rep you can do while still maintaining good form. You should be struggling to complete the last rep, but still able to finish it correctly.
Figuring this out takes some trial and error and listening to your body. When you are a beginner, it’s better to start at a lower weight than you think you can handle. This will allow you to focus on making sure you have the form correct first.
Remember that the larger the muscle, the heavier the weight. So, you can lift more with your legs, glutes, thighs, back and chest than with the smaller muscles of your calves, shoulders and arms. So, if you use 15 or 20 pounds for a squat, you’ll want to drop down to 10 or 15 pounds for a chest press.
If you find yourself using momentum to swing and lift the weight, this is a sign that you are using too much weight. Always make sure you are in control of the weights at all times.
- Will strength training make me “bulky”?
Many runners are worried that lifting weights will make them become “bulky.” I want to dispel that myth once and for all.
You will not get bulky simply from picking up heavy weights.
Bodybuilders who look really bulky get that way because they specifically alter their diets, take supplements and train like crazy. They have been working towards that goal for years and years – it didn’t just happen from lifting weights a few times per week.
Rather than making you appear bulky, weight training will help your muscles to become stronger, not bigger. You will burn the fat on top of the muscle and you will get that “toned” look.
This is especially true for women. They simply don’t have enough testosterone in their bodies to allow them to bulk up without the use of artificial drugs. Female bodybuilders have to work especially hard to build their physique – it isn’t something that will happen to you accidently after a few strength training sessions per week.
- Can I run and do strength training on the same day?
There is quite a bit of debate in the fitness community about whether or not you should run and do weight training on the same day. Some believe that if you do both types of exercise within a short period, you will stunt the growth of your muscles.
Researchers in Ontario and Sweden tested this theory by conducting studies which were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The results showed that performing weight training and cardio on the same day had no negative effects on endurance training or muscle growth.
However, another study from Australia found that runners weren’t able to run at their full potential six hours after a legs-focused weight training session. So, if you do plan to combine strength training and running in the same day you might want to schedule them for the morning and the late afternoon or evening – so that your muscles have enough time to recover in between.
Ideally, you’d plan a strength workout for after you run – on a day where you do a moderate effort run. If you do them after a long run, you’ll be already fatigued and your form may suffer, which increases your risk of injury.
- How do I make bodyweight exercises more difficult?
When it comes to training with weights you can increase the difficulty by simply adding more weight. But what about bodyweight exercises? How do you alter them to make them more challenging?
There are a lot of ways to do this, in fact, by slightly changing the movement. For example, you can elevate your feet on a chair or bench while doing push ups in order to make them harder. Or, you can switch to a doing pistol squats rather than normal bodyweight squats.
When you add strength training to your routine, you’ll be ready to upgrade to being a healthier, faster, stronger runner. You’ll be able to run more, experience fewer injuries and race faster. What runner wouldn’t want that? So, what are you waiting for?