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

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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 .

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Reference

More by this author

Lisa Patten

ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Professional Fitness Writer

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Last Updated on November 22, 2021

Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

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Thanksgiving: It’s About The Simple Things

Thanksgiving, a day of pure gluttony, football, and possible uncomfortable situations with family members that you may or may not like. Oh, yeah, and the whole “know and reflect on what it is to be thankful and grateful.”

During the holiday season many people forget what this time of year is bout and are too worried about getting the “early-bird” deals on Black Friday and making sure that they have the perfect gifts for their loved ones. I am sort of a “Grinch” when it comes to the holiday season, mostly because of that mentality by many of the poeple around me.

But instead of being grinch-like this holiday season, I decided to simplify things and get back to what this time of year is actually is about; being thankful for what I have and what I can give.

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Simplify

I’m not a “minimalist” in any real sense, but in the last few months the talks of Patrick Rhone and others have got me to rethink my stance. Can you really have too much stuff?

Absolutely.

And with all that stuff comes the burden and the weight of it on your back.

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If you feel that the things around you are out of control, maybe it’s time to simplify and be thankful and grateful for what you have and use. Here are a few things that you can do to simplify:

  • You know those gadgets in the drawer that you said you were going to sell? Well, time to get the listing on eBay and sell them. Or, send them to a place like Gazelle. Even if they are old and won’t get money, you can at least recycle them.
  • Get rid of things you don’t need. Like old books, clothes, tools, etc. Have something that’s been laying around forever with no use? Donate it to a charity or church. If you aren’t using it, someone else could be.
  • Find your productivity tools and stick with them. Use tools and gadgets that serve multiple purposes so you can simplify your tool set.

Be Mindful

You don’t have to be a master Buddhist or meditator to be mindful (although, it can definitely help). Being mindful comes down to being cognizant of the present and not keeping yourself in the past or future. It’s about living in the moment and being aware of yourself and everything around you. It’s just being.

Without getting too “California” on you, it is super important to be mindful during the holiday rush. Rather than worrying about the things that you forgot at your house on the way to relatives or thinking about the next stop in your endless holiday travels, just breath and think about what you are currently doing.

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Spend the time with your family and friends and don’t crush the moment. Try not to concentrate so hard on getting the perfect photo of the “awesome moment” of the day and actually miss the awesome moment.

Being mindful over the holidays will help you be with your families, friends, and yourself allowing you to enjoy your time.

Reflect

As the year is coming to a close (yes, it really is that close!) it’s a great time to start reflecting on what you have accomplished and what you haven’t. Within the next few weeks we will have a more throrough reflection article here at Lifehack.org, but reflecting every now and then over your holiday break is a great way to see where you have been doing well in your life and where you need to improve.

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Reflection shouldn’t be used to “get down” on yourself. Reflection should be used to take an honset inventory of what you have accomplished, how you handeled situations, and what you can do better. If you journal everyday (a daily form of reflection) it may be a good time to start going over some of the things that you have written and start to put together a year’s end journal entry. I mean, how else will you write your autobiography?

But, seriously, reflecting on yourself makes you aware of your successes and faults and helps you plan and make goals for the coming year. It makes you a better person.

So, while you are stuffing your face with bird, stuffing, and mashed taters’, remember that the holidays are much more than the superficial things. Use this holiday to become a better person.

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Featured photo credit: Libby Penner via unsplash.com

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