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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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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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