Why (& How) Runners Should Lift Weights

For runners, resistance training provides many benefits when used in conjunction with a well-rounded running program.

Nevertheless, I know  lots of runners whoshy away from the weight room out of the fear of bulking up. For a runner, this could synonymous being slowed down, but it isn’t the case as plenty of research (as well as anecdotal evidence) has found that strength training is a vital part of endurance training.

Here’s the truth.  Lifting weight is paramount for runners. In fact, you might be missing out on huge fitness gains if you shun strength training–and that’s the case regardless of your current fitness level or training goals.

In today’s post, I want to explore each benefit of strength training one by one. I’ll also share with you a few training guidelines on how to get started the right way so you can see real improvement in your endurance game.

Are you excited?

Here we go

The Importance of Strength Training

Strength training involves working the muscles against resistance, which increases power and endurance. The resistance can be provided by a rubber band, free weights—think dumbbells, universal machines, or bodyweight exercises. The choice is yours.

Resistance training hat got a lot to offer for trainees of all ages and training backgrounds.

An as a runner, strength training should be an integral part of your routine. When done right, it helps improve technique, increase stride turnover, and lower injury risk.

For these reasons, the weight room is an ideal complement to a runner’s road work and what I regard as the perfect cross-training exercise.

Not convinced yet?

Here are four reasons why you should add strength training to your workout plan.

Run Faster

Strength training puts a lot of stress on your body, forcing it to adapt to endure the extra load. Over time, these stress-induced adaptations will have an enormous impact on your running speed, efficiency, and endurance.

Moreover, having a strong upper body is key in increasing training efficiency and speed. What’s not to like!

Fix Muscle Imbalances

Running’s one directional motion works some muscles more than others, which may lead to the onset of muscle imbalances. This places excessive pressure on ligaments and tendons,  which, in turn, reduces stride efficiency, and increasing injury risk.

In fact, jplenty of runners’ nagging issues, such as shin splints, runners knee, etc., stem from muscle imbalances, research shows.

Fortunately, weight training can reduce, or completely fix, many of these unwanted imbalances, such as unequal knee flexion, right-left differences, and discrepancies in overall muscular strength and power.

Improve Running Form

Your upper body muscles—the shoulders, arms, upper back, and chest—help you maintain proper upper body form and pelvis stability. This is especially the case for the long-distance runner who wants to keep their form throughout a workout or race.

What’s more, strong core muscles ensure a smooth transfer of the forces generated from the arms to the legs. This helps you run faster while expending less energy.

It Requires Little Time

You don’t need to hit the weight room six times a week to reap the benefits of strength training. All you need is a small time investment. As we’re going to see,  you might not need more than two to three 30- to 45-minute sessions per week.

The Main Running Muscles

First things first, what’s a running muscle? What are the primary muscles used while running? To answer these questions, let’s take a quick look at basic muscle anatomy.

Muscle Anatomy – An Introduction

Your body is a complicated piece of machinery, and muscles are a huge part of what’s driving it. According to experts, five main groups of muscles are used while running—quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, gluteals, and calf muscles.

Your body also uses secondary muscles to keep you going forward, such as the core and upper body muscles.  These typically provide stability throughout the gait cycle and improve speed and running economy.

The Quadriceps

The quadriceps, the muscles on the front of the thighs, are in charge of forward leg movement.  Also known as the quads, these run from the hips down to the kneecap, and are composed of four muscles:

  • The Vastus Medialis,
  • Intermedius,
  • Lateralus, and
  • Rectus Femoris.

The Hamstrings

The hamstrings consist of a single large tendon located at the back of the thigh and play a key role in standing, walking, or running as well as hip extension and knee flexion. These muscles are comprised of

  • The biceps femoris,
  • The Semitendinosus, and
  • The Semimembranosus.

The Gluteals

Consisting of a group of three muscles, the gluteals are located in the buttocks and are responsible for hip extension, posture and proper knee alignment, and leg stability. The glutes consist of:

  • The Gluteus Maximus,
  • The Gluteus medius, and
  • The Gluteus minimus.

The Hip Flexors

Also known as the iliopsoas, the hip flexors are the muscles located on the front of the hip, just above the thighs.

Whenever you do any leg lifting motion, you’re mainly using these muscles. The hip flexors also help stabilize the hip joint, keep good posture, and maintain a standing position.  The hip flexors consist of:

  • The iliacus, and
  • The psoas major.

The Calves

Located on the back of the lower leg, just below the knees, the calves are another supercritical running muscles.

Why? These provide spring in your step, extend and flex each foot as you land and push off, and maintain lower body balance and coordination. The calves consist of:

  • The large gastrocnemius, or outer calf; and
  • The smaller soleus, or inner calf.

How To Start Strength Training

How do you go about planning the most effective progressive-driven, runner-friendly, strength program to improve your performance?

That’s the tricky part. Resistance training design depends on many factors, such as training history, training goals, and personal preferences. The fact is, entire books have been written to answer these questions. (Check this one and this one, I highly recommend them).  I’ve also written plenty about the subject too. You can find more about it here.

With all that being said,  if I had to distill proper weight lifting principles for runners into a few principles, the following should be enough to get you started on the right foot.

Scheduling

As a rule of thumb, the amount of strength workouts you do depends on how you’re feeling—both physically and mentally, your fitness goals, and your overall conditioning level.

If you’re a beginner or a recreational runner, try to supplement your running days with two to three days of resistance training. However, an elite athlete who runs six days a week may consider running, and strength training on the same day or do a low-intensity strength session instead of an easy run.

Note For Injured Runners

If you’re recovering from an injury, you may need to lift weights more frequently as a part of your rehabilitation. Ask your doctor or health provider for advice and tips on how much you should strength train as well as the best exercises for your specific injury. Prevention is always better than cure.

How Many Sessions?

Strength train two to three times per week. Space out your strength sessions with, at least, 48 hours of recovery time to let your muscles and connective tissue adapt and recover from the stimulus and training load of the strength session.

Typical Schedule

Here is a basic running/strength training schedule.

Monday: Upper body strength workout

Tuesday: Interval run

Wednesday: Lower body strength workout

Thursday: Easy run

Friday: Total body Strength workout

Saturday: Long run

Sunday: Rest

Beginners, Be Careful

Take your training slowly during the first few weeks. I’d recommend you alternate between weightlifting and running days. Do not strength train and run on the same day. Otherwise, you’re risking overtraining.

Begin with one to two strength session a week for three to four weeks, then add a third one on the second month.  Do not do more than 45 minutes a session. Take it easy.

Hungry for more? Gradually add time and intensity until you’re lifting hard for at least an hour per session.

Conclusion

There you have it. The above tips are main guidelines you need to get started with strength training as a runner. The rest is up to you.

Feel free to leave your comments and ideas in the section below.

Thank you for dropping by.

Keep Running Strong

David D.