Many of you reading this post will know I am not a runner as such. I mean, I can run but I haven’t run any distance apart from running for a bus or a train in the last 20 years. My workouts have tended to be gym based weight/strength training workouts with the odd bit of high intensity interval training like skipping and Tabata. Until January this year that is 🙂
A niggling old back injury courtesy of my skydiving days has forced me to reevaluate my training schedule, coupled with that fact that I am climbing Mont Blanc in 4 weeks time. Endurance has been my training goal since January but at the same time, I have wanted to maintain a decent level of muscularity and not look like a typical runner. I don’t mean that in a negative sense but I personally prefer to carry a little more muscle than your average endurance athlete yet at the same time, build up to some fairly reasonable distances and times. I’m currently running 5km at just over 20min and I did my first 10km EVER last week in 56mins.
I’m not here to tell you about my running stats but I am going to tell you why I believe ALL runners should do weight training.
What are the benefits to weight/strength training for runners and endurance athletes and how can you incorporate weight training into your schedule?
1) Strength training will make you faster.
Regardless of the event you take part in, 400m, 800m and all the way up to the marathon, strength training will increase your leg strength and improve your body’s ability to use energy and oxygen. A recent study of elite runners showed that a maximal strength programme for the legs improved their running economy by 5% compared to a similar group of elite runners that only performed endurance work.
Top tip – Keep the reps low at around 6-8.
2) Decrease body fat.
Strength training will help you lose body fat. The bulk of energy that is burned in the body comes from your resting metabolic rate, which is a function of the proportion of lean muscle to body fat. Body fat slows that metabolic rate and produces various substances that make you fatter, including aromatase (turns testosterone into estrogen) and adipokines (slow metabolism). Muscle and lean tissue improve metabolism instead of hurting it, meaning to be a better runner (and have a better looking body), you want more muscle and less fat.
Top tip – Aim for 2-3 sessions per week for best results
3) Prevent injury.
Strength training will help you get rid of nagging injuries or chronic pain and help prevent future injuries. It will also help you correct structural imbalances that increase injury risk and lead to improper motor patterns. For example, the non-dominant side of the body is often weaker, which will throw your stride off, as will problems with your feet such plantar fasciitis or bunions. Equally, muscle imbalances within each limb can cause problems for runners. For instance, the vastus medialis obliquus is a common weak link in the quad, and weak calves are thought to contribute to shin pain.
Walking or forward lunges and step-ups are excellent lower body exercises that will help equalize strength and power between the legs and are excellent for runners. Take note that strength training can also decrease chronic pain and minimize aches and joint discomfort from continually pounding the pavement. Heavy strength training triggers protein synthesis in the connective tissues and will also increase bone strength.
Top tip – Remember to use progressively heavier weights.
4) Increase anti-oxidant levels and decrease oxidative stress.
Endurance training has been shown to produce a high level of oxidative stress that can lead to chronic inflammation. Strength training will counter both acute oxidative stress, and help you avoid the long-term debilitating impact of this stress.Scientists and athletic coaches have become concerned about the negative health effects of endurance training because of the daily physical stress that it causes. The inflammatory response to intense endurance training is well documented and some coaches and athletes have attempted to counteract it by taking antioxidants. This is a good strategy since we are inundated by free radicals from our environment and poor dietary choices, but throw strength training into the mix, and you will be much better off. A moderate to heavy strength training programme has been shown to increase antioxidant status and counter oxidative stress.
The stress hormone “Cortisol” is the problem here and we all know what harm this can cause. >>>Look here<<< for more on cortisol.
Top tip – Take a high quality vitamin & mineral/Greens supplement and quality fish oil to reduce cortisol and inflammation.
5) Better reproductive health.
There is evidence that reproductive health suffers for both men and women from endurance training. Strength training is one strategy to prevent this. A recent study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that intense endurance exercise provokes low testosterone and diminished sex hormone levels in men, which translates into poor reproductive health and low fertility. Previous studies have found similar impaired fertility in women who perform endurance exercise, a common symptom of which is dysmenorrhea or impaired menstrual cycles. Many endurance athletes actually stop having their period altogether. Strength training can help because it will improve hormone levels and counter the oxidative stress from cortisol and related catabolic hormones that cause inflammation and damage to the reproductive organs.
Top tip – Hit the weights to improve the quality of your eggs and swimmers 🙂
So there we have 5 reasons why weight training is absolutely essential for runners and endurance athletes. Any experienced runners out there? I would like to hear from you and see if you use any or all of these points in your training schedule.
As always, I welcome any comments and questions. Feel free to comment in the boxes provided below this post.
Gavin @ UCF
Article research from Charles Poliquin. Olympic strength & conditioning coach.