The Importance of Strength Training for Runners

Marathon season is here. On my 5:30am bike ride to work each morning, I see handfuls of runners, snazzy florescent shoes and all, out training for their next race.

On my Friday afternoon walk along the lakefront, I see even more runners, sun-kissed and glowing, hoping to up their per-mile-pace. These runners inspire me.

As a recreational runner myself, I run a max of 8 miles 1-2 times a week. I see these runners who run over 10+ miles, and I am in awe of their mental determination and physical stamina. As an instructor, trainer and coach who works with several marathon/long-distance runners, I see on a day-to-day basis the importance of strength training for these athletes.

Running does build endurance. Is it good for the heart? Absolutely. Can it produce positive effects on the body? Absolutely. However, running also puts a large amount of wear-and-tear on the body: the joints, muscles, bones and connective tissues. It is highly important to strength-train to counteract this physical stress and maintain muscle mass.

As modern day Americans, we live pretty sedentary lives, sitting at our computers day to day, sitting for more hours than we are standing and moving. It is no wonder that running injuries are so common. When we run, our joints (the area where two bones are attached for the purpose of permitting body parts to move) are being compressed. When we are hitting the pavement, the bones that connect in a given joint are being compressed together. When muscles are weak, this compression is intensified and leads to discomfort, inflammation, possible injury and mobility issues. When we strength train, we increase the ability of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles to withstand the impact of running. This prevents injury and also improves performance, as your body is more stable and strong, and therefore can produce more sustained power.

Have you ever gone for a run, or ran a race, and felt achy and overly fatigued the hours and days following? I hear this often. "I ran a half marathon this past weekend and my legs feel like they need a long break!" Yep. I've heard it. While recovery time is important, we want to continue to mobilize. We want to remain mobile! What good is conquering a marathon if you can barely move without discomfort for over a week? Strength training improves your physical recovery and also speeds up the process. You will feel rebooted and ready to go much quicker and easily if incorporating strength training into your regular routine. Your muscles, tendons and ligaments, as mentioned before, will be better prepared to support your bones and joints through your run, and will be strong and balanced to bring your body back to balance after. When we physically balance out our bodies, higher impact activities, such as long distance running, produce less physical strain. Less aches, less pain, less discomfort. Faster recovery, faster mile pace, and a stronger-feeling you.

When strength training a distance runner, I suggest working with exercises that target functional movements that we do in real, everyday life. Exercises such as:

  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Pull-Ups
  • Push-Ups
  • Step-Ups

These exercises can be performed at home or in the gym. Other beneficial exercises that can be performed anywhere are:

  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Pistol Squats
  • Side Planks
  • Bird-Dog
  • Side Leg Lift
  • Pilates Clams

This is a short list of many simple exercises that will keep the body strong, stable and in balance.

If strength training is new to you, I suggest beginning with 5 minutes (4-6 exercises) after moderate run days. Build on more strength time slowly over time. On your long run days, eliminate the strength training with added weight and supplement with only body weight and recovery work such as yoga. I advise all runners to implement yoga and mobility work after each run and workout. Yes we want to get faster, yes we want to get stronger, and increasing mobility, stability and flexibility will be a huge part in getting us there.

Remember, improving your race time is not just about running as much as you can beforehand. Scheduling in strength sessions is just as important as your run schedule itself. To be faster, you need to be stronger. To be stronger, you need to be more stable. To be more stable, you need more mobility. To be more mobile, you need a patient mind and a focused attitude.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or for further information on strength training for runners.

Be strong. Be fast. Be free.

Because we all deserve to feel good.

- Jo

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