How Adding Strength Training To Your Routine Makes You A Better Runner

Running is a demanding sport. It can take 6-8 weeks to train for a 5k, and a lot can happen in between your training and the race itself. Every runner’s nightmare is to get an injury while training. Nearly 70% of runners will acquire injuries, many due to muscle weakness, imbalance and overuse.

This can occur because most runners don’t incorporate any form of strength training into their overall routine. To be your best in today’s running scene, every runner should invest time and commitment into strength training.

Busting the myth

There’s a myth that muscles and running don’t mix, that all the best runners are reed thin. That carrying extra muscles will make you slower and tire you faster because bulging muscles need more oxygen. This is not always the case. It’s the way you train and breathe that affects your overall endurance.

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Strength training 101

Strength training is any physical exercise that uses resistance to induce muscular contractions. The resistance can be in the form of your own bodyweight or a set of weights like barbells, plus gravity. Training with resistance stresses your body, forcing it to adapt by breaking down your muscle fibers and making new ones. Your body does this so that the next time you lift something heavy, it’ll be prepared to handle the weight. The more weight you lift means more muscle is being broken down and rebuilt.

But it’s not as cut-and-dried as you think. Lifting weights will not turn you into the Hulk overnight, in a week, or even in a year. Unless you’re a genetic freak or on steroids, muscle gain is 8 – 11 kg a year for complete newbies, and it tapers off every year. Also, this is for people who want to get big and strong: the guys who train properly 4-5 times a week and eat like Godzilla.

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You’re not training to be Mr. Olympia

Runners who do strength training won’t grow like Arnold, because their training parameters are completely different from weightlifters. Take this study for example: a group of well-trained runners were split into two groups, the intervention group and the control group.

The intervention group performed a series of 4 x 4 half-squats (4 reps x 4 sets) three times a week for eight weeks to supplement their normal endurance training routine.

The control group was asked to train the way they always did (pure endurance running).

While VO2 max and bodyweight didn’t change for both groups, the group that did squats improved their time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed by an impressive 21.3%. How do you like them apples?

More proof strength training helps runners

If you still think that adding strength training to your routine will slow you down, think again. In 1988, the University of Illinois, Chicago did a study on the potential for strength and endurance training by putting runners and cyclists on a 10 week (3 x WK) resistance training program.

The results were astounding:

  • Leg strength was improved by 30%.
  • Quick bouts of running time improved by 13% even though VO2 max wasn’t affected.
  • The athletes were able to go an average of 85 minutes to exhaustion versus 71 minutes before training started.

In 2005, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine aimed to see the effects of intermittent endurance training combined with muscular strengthening on aerobic performance and capacity. Researchers assigned male sport students different training schedules to be performed twice a week for 12 weeks. They were split into three groups:

  • Group A: Endurance Training (Running)
  • Group B: Strength Circuit Training (weighted half squats, hip extensions, etc)
  • Group C: Endurance + Strength Circuit Training

Group C, who combined endurance and strength training, improved their 4K time by 8.6%, increased their VO2 max by an average of 10.4% and ran to exhaustion 13.7% longer than the other groups.

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Exercises for you

To strengthen your muscles you can choose or combine compound lifts and bodyweight exercises. Compound lifts such as the squat and deadlift are perfect for strengthening all the leg muscles and the whole posterior chain. Bodyweight exercises such as the push up and pull up help strengthen the upper body like no other.

We’re all different snowflakes and a set of exercises may work for some, but not for others. Go to your local gym and talk to a certified trainer. A lot of measuring will be done to determine the ideal training program for your body type, so please don’t skip this step. You’ll thank me later.

Last lap

To summarise:

  • You won’t get huge as long as you follow strength routines specific for runners.
  • Your leg muscles will grow a little as they get stronger. Don’t freak out because this can help you run faster and longer.
  • Strength Training has a myriad of health benefits, which includes strengthening your ligaments, tendons, joints and stabiliser muscles. It also improves flexibility, athleticism and explosiveness.
  • Go to a gym and talk to a certified strength and conditioning trainer so a specific program can be tailor made for you.

Don’t be afraid of the negative myths about running and muscles. These have been busted by science and research, so get out there and get strong!