I’m a runner – why should I bother with strength training?

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I get it you love running. It’s not just a form of exercise for you… it’s a lifestyle.

You’re also busy. There’s work and kids and sport drop offs and school runs and house work….

So why would you spend the precious little time you have strength training when you could do what you really want – run?

Here’s 3 reasons why strength training will make you a better runner and why it’s worth the investment.

1.Strength training can help reduce injuries

One of the biggest frustrations for runners is injuries’. Let’s face it injuries suck. They either stop you from running or (more likely) make the run less fun and more of a grind as you push through the pain.

Strength training helps improve your tissues capacity. What does that mean?

Capacity is a term used to describe how much load a tissue

can handle before breaking down and becoming either injured or sensitised and painful. The primary load on a a runner comes from the foot strike. The force coming down when you plant your foot is met by an equal force coming back up your leg from the ground. The more often, the faster or more hills you run the more accumulative load is going up through your body.

Your body is great at adapting to load if it’s given enough time to do so. Running injuries often occur due to load increases (eg more distance/speed/efforts/hills) that happen quicker than the body can handle.

Graded strength training increases the capacity of the muscles and connective tissue. Higher capacity means you can take more steps, run faster, longer or harder before the tissues reach their limit.

2. Strength training can help build endurance

Runners sometimes fear strength training due to the fear of putting on size, making running economy worse due to the fact of just being heavier. However, its rare for a regular runner to put on heaps of size when strength training – you can get strong without getting big.

Strength training improves endurance by making the muscle more resistant to fatigue.

Here’s a few ways that strength training improves endurance:

  • It increases blood supply to the muscle – strength training increases capillarisation (blood vessel growth in the muscle) which means oxygen flow to and waste product flow away from the muscle happens more efficiently.
  • It increases the amount of fatigue resistant type muscle fibres (type IIA) – We have a mix of different types of muscle fibres in the body, some are best for speed but burn-out quicker. Strength training increases the amount of Type IIA fibres which are endurance fibres that take longer to fatigue.
  • It improves neuromuscular function – your body gets better (faster/more efficient) at recruiting the right muscles at the right time.

3. Strength training can help build speed

You can also develop speed with running through strength training. This happens in a couple of different ways. That neuromuscular function we discussed early is one way your body adapts and becomes faster. Strength training

The better the connection from your brain (via your nerves) to your muscles the quicker you’re able to recruit those muscles and turn your legs over. On top of this strength training (especially plyometric work – jumping/bouncing) will help stiffen tendons. A stiffer tendon means better energy transfer and more return on each stride you take.

So strength training can help reduce injuries, build endurance and increase your speed.

Worth the time investment? Maybe – but…

How much do I need to do?

At least two times a week is ideal.

Perhaps surprisingly only two strength sessions per week have shown to be enough to get the above mentioned gains. More than two can further increase the benefits gained provided there is also adequate recovery.

What type of exercises do I need to do?

Studies show a combination of heavy strength exercises and plyometic/explosive training gives the best results for endurance athletes.

The exercises should be relevant to the sport too. So for runners: lifting heavy weights (eg. squats/deadlifts/hip hinging/lunges) and plyometric (eg. jumping/springing/hopping/box jumps/drops) type exercises are a good start.

You don’t have to push to failure to get the above benefits either. Studies have shown that endurance athletes typically do better when they lift heavy weights but not all the way to failure.

Remember start small and build up slowly. The best strength program is one that you stick to long term. Create a habit first then worry about the details of what you do in the program second.

Run strong!

 

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