It’s that time of year where everyone is posting their “should you join the gym?” blog posts. I’ve read a handful of these posts, and I’ve noticed an alarming trend among running bloggers: you only join the gym for the ability to run on the treadmill. More than one post even alluded to the fact that when marathon training, miles matter more than anything else.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes, specificity of training is a huge component to successful running. In layman’s terms: in order to improve your running, you must run. I won’t argue that fact. But in my opinion, strength training is not only beneficial to your training routine (i.e., it will make you faster and stronger), it is vital in helping to help prevent injury, and will contribute to your overall health and fitness levels.
When I was in school, a good friend of mine, who happened to also be my professor, who happens to be a female sub-3-hour marathon runner (she’s fast) told us that she had once had a DEXA scan (bone density) that revealed something alarming: from the waist down, she had excellent bone density, thanks to the many miles she logged weekly. From the waist up, due to the lack of training her upper body, she was considered pre-osteoporosis. She wasn’t even 40 years old.
Yes, running is not the end-all-be-all, and in order to be considered “fit” you’ve got to incorporate strength training (if I had a dollar for every runner I’ve met that could pull off a fast 5k time but couldn’t do 5 pushups…) So if you haven’t had enough of my lecturing about health, here are more reasons why strength training for runners is so important:
I can hear it already… “But I have strong legs, I run like a mountain goat!” Well guess what? Running alone may not be enough to help ensure proper leg strength. Runners often have stronger quadriceps than hamstrings, due to the pulling motion of the quadriceps muscles during running. Strength imbalances between muscle groups may result in injury (let’s be honest, “often result in injury” is more like it), thus it is important to prevent any imbalances with adequate leg strength training. Need a beginner workout? This list from MuscleandStrength.com demonstrates and explains four leg strength training exercises for beginners.
Yes, butt strength, it is imperative for runners. In more technical terms, the gluteus muscles are a group of four muscles that make up the buttocks. The gluteus muscles are essential to running as they keep the hips, pelvis, and legs aligned, as well as assist in the extension and propulsion of the leg in the running movement. Weaknesses in the gluteus muscles may lead to a wide array of injuries, including the common ailments of shin splints and iliotibial-band syndrome. Examples of gluteus muscle strengthening exercises include squats, lunges, and deadlifts. Check out this article and workout suggestion from Runners World to help improve glute strength.
The core refers to the group of muscles in the center of the body, excluding arms and legs. In other words: the “abs”. The core muscles, such as the abdominals, back, and pelvis, are very important to runners as they help with stabilization and form. A strong core will help with numerous aspects of running, such as balance during technical trail running, or posture during a long road run (slouching, sore back, etc). Many effective core strengthening exercises can be done with no equipment, utilizing body weight as the means of resistance. Take for example, the plank, bridge, and bicycle crunch.
Upper Body Strength
You knew this one was coming. Sufficient upper body strength is helpful to runners in numerous ways. The swinging of the arms helps to counterbalance and propel the body forward, sparing energy exerted from the lower body. Further, the stronger the upper body, the less fatigue that will be felt in the upper body at the end of a long run or race. Lastly, building upper body strength through resistance training will help maintain a healthy, strong bone density in the upper body, a benefit that is not obtained from simply running (as mentioned above). While lifting weights as a means of strength training is suitable, there are many upper body resistance training exercises that require no equipment at all. Pushups and tricep dips are prime examples of upper body resistance training that can be done anywhere.
Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you to hit the weights and add some resistance training. A well rounded training plan should include at least two sessions of full body strength training per week, but worst case, one is better than none. If you are unsure of proper form or are feeling uncomfortable with any of the moves, ASK. As a long time gym employee and fitness professional, I ASSURE you that we don’t judge you or think you are “dumb” for asking what a bicep curl looks like, or how to use the leg extension machine. Seriously, I’d rather a member ask 100 times how to do an exercise, rather than wing it and hurt themselves. Not a member of a gym? That’s OK too! There are a number of reputable trainers on sites such as youtube.com that give basic demonstrations on how to properly execute all of these exercises.
In closing: adding weekly strength training sessions to your running program will help increase speed, and decrease the risk of injury. So pick up the weights!
Are you a runner? When is the last time you strength trained? If you can’t remember…what is holding you back?