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Published on April 6, 2018

Why Strength Training for Runners Increases Performance (and Prevents Injury)

Why Strength Training for Runners Increases Performance (and Prevents Injury)

Most people turn to running when they are looking for an exercise that gets them outdoors, provides a mental escape, and packs a major load of health benefits to boot.

Because running is already a full-body exercise with a heavy cardiovascular component, many athletes fail to look outside of it for additional training that compliments their efforts.

Strength training for runners is also vitally important for performance and injury prevention.

This guide will provide you with a solid reasons as to why you should be incorporating strength training moves into your program.

Read on to discover the many benefits of strength training for runners.

Getting Started with Strength Training

Athletes that are dedicated to the running–whether first staring out, or as an experienced, competitive runner–will often feel that they do not have the time to incorporate strength training into their planned sessions.

Find Time to Gain Strength

Training for endurance events can be scheduled as often as four or five times a week.

With that dedication of time, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed at the idea of adding strength training to the mix.

You can slip in a few bodyweight moves at the end of a short run, or include resistance training as part of an active recovery day.

Either way, it is imperative that you make time to focus on performance-enhancing strength training moves to build muscle endurance and prevent injury.

Strength Training: Not Just for Bodybuilders

It is a common misconception that you can either be a strength athlete or an endurance athlete, but not both.

It may be true that at the elite, competitive level it is very difficult to excel in both endurance and strength events; however, each form of training has its place in the other’s program.

Professional sports players, for example, spend a comparable amount of time in the gym strength training as they do on the field performing drills.

Strength training, also referred to as “resistance training,” is the process of improving the efficiency of these systems working together to increase the power and speed at which your body preforms the tasks you ask of it.

At the same time, strength training reduces the strain and pressure your body is under during the same movements.

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The Mighty Muscular System

The muscular system is one of the seven major systems of the human body; every movement your body makes is a result of the muscular system placing pressure on the skeletal system. [1]

Muscles are connected to bones using connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments. As the muscles contract and relax, the bones are moved, pivoted, and rotated to perform the desired movements.

Your muscular system is able to perform work in three different ways:

  1. Muscles can perform eccentric movements when they lengthen, or push forces away.
  2. Muscles can perform concentric movements when they shorten, or pull forces towards the body.
  3. Muscles can perform isometric work: they can hold weight as it is without any change to their length.

An example of this might be a person who performs manual labor as part of his or her daily professional work.

They lift, move, and hold heavy weights each day to perform their professional, everyday tasks.

Strength training for this worker would not only make these tasks feel easier to the worker, but they would also strengthen the body’s muscular, skeletal, and cardiovascular systems to a point where these tasks actually become safer as well.

As a result, this person is less susceptible to injury and their job performance can be greatly improved.

Additionally, they are able to move more quickly, carry heavier loads, and will become less fatigued throughout the work day.

How do you know what exercises are best for you and your running goals?

The many characteristics of the muscular system can be overwhelming.

There are specific exercises that will train your body to perform the three types of muscle movements; so, how do you know what you should be doing?

The truth is there are many exercises that you can do to help you strengthen your body. There are so many, in fact, that it is hard to know where to begin.

The goal is simply to make your body stronger so that it can perform to tasks you give it with more efficiency.

In short, placing any additional load on your body will help achieve that goal. Following a specific program, however, is like having a roadmap for the quickest and most efficient way to get there.

On an anatomical level, strength training carries multisystem benefits. Your muscles will increase strength with which to move additional loads.

The bones of your skeletal system will become stronger and less brittle, a common problem in older women. You cardiovascular system will improve as your heart adapts to the increase in blood volume and heart rate.

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All in all, strength training carries as many total-body benefits as running itself.

How Does This Apply to Runners?

Running places a huge demand on your body.

Your heart rate increases, the blood flow rate through your system increases, and your muscles and joints absorb the shock of each and every stride.

The same way resistance training for the manual laborer mentioned above will help increase his work performance, strength training for runners will do the same on short daily runs, as well as on long hauls and race days.

Running, in terms of the pressure and demands it places on the body can be repetitive.

The force of your body coming down on your knees, the tightening of your core to keep your balance, all of it is a constant demand on the body that requires each system within to work together in perfect harmony.

Injuries happen when there are imbalances within the system and one part of the machine is forced to compensate step after step after step.

Strengths training keeps your body’s systems in balance.

It keeps your muscles strong and your tendons and ligaments agile to accept the forces placed upon them; and, when done correctly, it can identify weaknesses before an injury has the chance to occur.

The Benefits of Strength Training for Runners

A body placed under any repetitive force will adapt. It is that simple, unfortunately.

As you perform the same movement over and over again, your body will begin to become more efficient at repeating that movement.

As a result, your body’s muscles grow less, strengthen less, and the benefits of the motion are reduced over time.

On the bright side, this adaptation is the reason why as you continue running, you can begin to run further and further each week.

A strength training program that works in sync with your running schedule can keep the progressive overload necessary to maintain the positive changes you saw at the beginning of your program.

Increase Your Performance

Balance, strength, and speed are three of the main components of running.

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Any exercises that focus on one of these three areas would be beneficial to runners.

Core Exercises

Core exercises such as planks, leg lifts, and many yoga poses will strengthen the body’s stabilizing muscles.

As you run, this can reduce sway from side to side, minimize back pain, and increase running efficiency.

The lower abs are used in running to pull the leg forward and up at the beginning of each stride. Leg lifts especially can help strengthen these muscles and reduce fatigue during this particular action.

Leg Exercises

An increase in leg strength will undoubtedly lead to faster run times.

Long distance endurance racers may not see their speed as strength, but strength and power training can greatly improve running performance by increasing muscle endurance for long runs.

Squats, leg curls, box jumps, calf raises, and lunges are all good options for increasing the muscle strength and explosive power of the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.

Strength Training on Cardio Machines

As mentioned earlier, running can sometimes place grueling, repetitive stresses on your joints, especially when you are dedicated to running four or more times each week.

As an alternative, you can easily get a significant strength workout on an elliptical or stationary bike by using the high resistance and incline settings on the machine.

By swapping one short run each week to a workout of equal exertion level of a different format, you will create muscle confusion in your body and counteract the running adaptations in your body.

The high resistance and steep incline (if available) are a great strength training workout for your legs and arms. Furthermore, short periods of increased speed and intensity, also known as interval training, can aid in your cardiovascular training as well.

Strength Training in Runners Reduces Off-Time Due to Injury

The most common reason runners give for foregoing strength training is a lack of time; they often feel their training time is better spent logging miles on the roads or trails than in the gym.

The truth is, preventable injuries due to overuse, under-recovery, and muscular imbalances will take you out of the sport for far more time than alternative training ever will.

It is worth the time spent now on maintaining a healthy internal balance to save the time you may spend recovering from an injury down the line.

Full Body Workouts for Fast Results

For athletes who want to most bang for their buck in terms of injury prevention without taking too much time away from their running, full-body workouts are the way to go.

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Bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, burpees, squats, walking lunges, mountain climbers, and plyometric moves can burn calories, increase cardiovascular performance, and increase strength while exercising stabilizing mechanics and maintaining the injury-preventing benefits of cross-training.

Strength Training Doesn’t Equal Bulk

It would be imprudent to ignore that some people run because they want to maintain their weight and achieve a certain appearance; not every runner is ramping up for competition.

Elite endurance athletes are often known for having long, thin, sleek bodies that seem to move with weightlessness.

For runners who got into the sport for body aesthetics, strength training is a turn off because of the popular belief that with muscular strength comes a larger, “unfeminine” body frame; this is blatantly untrue.

The Difference Between Strength and Hypertrophy Training

Hypertrophy, or the literal growth of muscle in size, and strength are NOT the same thing.

Strength and hypertrophy are actually two different goals that are achieved with two different methods of training.

Strength training, when done properly, results in what most people refer to as the “toned” look.

Usually, the definition you see in muscles is actually a result of body composition and body fat percentage and not strictly due to increase muscle mass or strength.

Make Strength Training a Priority

It is understandably hard to find time to fit in even 30 minutes of strength training each week in addition to the tens of miles you may already be running.

However, dedication to these strength training sessions three to four times each week can increase your running performance exponentially.

As your muscles grow stronger you will find yourself less winded coming over hills that used to slow you down.

You will be able to run further with less fatigue because of the improvement in muscle endurance, and you will beyond a doubt be less susceptible to injuries that common among endurance athletes.

The balance and stabilization benefits you will get from core exercises will help your body move more fluidly, reduce back pain, and increase recovery time between runs.

Finally, just as you would never skip a proper warm up or cooling stretch before and after a long run, you should not ignore the injury-preventing benefits of strong, balanced muscles. They are built to carry the load of your body over all the miles you run.

For more tips and tricks on how to stay healthy, follow us on Twitter! Also, check out Dr. Jamie Schwandt’s article on an amazing strength-training move, the Power Pushup .

Reference

More by this author

Lisa Patten

ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Professional Fitness Writer

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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