I’m a Runner…Should I Lift Weights? (and if so…how?)

Whether you are just signing up for your first 5k, or a long time veteran of running, it is really easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the best way to improve your pace, your form or your time is to simply run more. Don’t worry, if you have been under that impression you are not alone. One of the biggest misconceptions in the running community is that in order to get better at running you should just do it longer, faster or more often. While this strategy will definitely lead to improvements in your run, over time the gains that you see will lessen and you may even find yourself fatigued, overtrained or worse, injured.

There’s a better way!!

Research has proven that including strength training or “lifting” into your program 2-3 times per week can have significant benefits when it comes to your performance as a runner.

  1. Improved Running Economy. Similar to fuel economy in your car, running economy is the amount of energy it takes for you to run at a certain pace or certain distance. It is essentially a measure of your efficiency as a runner. Studies have shown that including strength training a few times per week into a runner’s program is more effective at increasing running economy than workouts that solely involve running.
  2. Improved Muscular Balance Strength training, when done correctly, is a great way to focus on improving the natural muscle imbalances that exist throughout our bodies. As runners, these imbalances can be highly detrimental to performance and any efforts to improve them will allow for faster, more pain free running.
  3. Improved Speed and Power The stronger you are faster and more powerful you will be. You will be more able to push through long runs, produce the power necessary to climb hills, sprint at the end of races and accelerate to pass the runner ahead of you.
  4. Less Risk of Injury Balancing and strengthening your body will reduce the likelihood that you will suffer from many of the injuries that are common to runners (i.e. muscle pulls, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, etc.)

While the benefits of strength training for the runner are clear, it still may be difficult to know how to get started and how on earth you are going to fit it in to your already busy schedule. Here are some simple guidelines to keep you on the right track.

  • FREQUENCY For best results try to include strength training in your program 2-3 times per week.
  • INTENSITY Keep workouts short but intense. Neuromuscular adaptations occur best at higher intensities. Focus more on form and technique than on the weight that you lift. Keeps repetitions low (6-10 reps per set) and increase sets as the exercise gets easier.
  • TIME Do short bouts of intense exercise (20-45 minutes) and use minimal rest between sets. Your heart rate should remain elevated through the majority of the session.
  • Type Train “movement” not “muscles”. Rather than doing exercises that focus on one specific muscle or group of muscles, get the most out of your time by using multi-joint, multi-muscle exercises such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, overhead pressing, plyometrics, etc. But, don’t forget to work on your core as it plays a fundamental role in keeping you in proper running posture.

Remember, your program doesn’t have to be perfect and you will inevitably have things that get in the way sometimes. But, if you understand the benefits and make a concerted effort to include more strength training into your weekly schedule, you will surely see the benefits. If you are still uncertain of how to get started consider seeing a Certified Personal Trainer in your area for some help developing your own program.