5 Reasons Runners Need to Strength Train!

There seems to be two types of runners: runners who just run (maybe with the odd cross training workout on a bike or elliptical trainer), and runners who follow a well rounded training program and understand that if you want to run well, and injury free, you need to train to run.

I used to be in the first group, and I get it.  If you’re a runner, you like to run.  And many running training programs prescribe 5+ runs per week- leaving little time for the other stuff.  There are a few, very important reasons runners need to balance their running with strength and mobility training, not simply just cross train with other forms of cardio.

1.    Too much cardio is stressful on the body.  While cardiovascular exercise can be a fantastic way to reduce stress and anxiety, too much cardio can have the opposite effect.  Cardio training is a stressor, and as a result, the body produces cortisol.  In moderation, this is a good thing. We need stress for the body to adapt and get stronger.  However, if you’re running on most days of the week, you are likely not giving your body enough time to adapt and recover.  And if one of your goals is to reduce body fat, too much exercise-induced stress will work against you.  I talk a lot more about the impact exercise has on hormones and fat loss in Episode 37 of the Fit and Vibrant You Podcast. 

2.    Injury prevention. Many running related injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome and patella femoral syndrome are a result from muscle imbalances or weak/ tight muscles.  In fact, strengthening and improving hip flexibly and strengthening the gluteal muscles can prevent many running injuries.  A well designed strength training and flexibility-training program can address muscle imbalances and improve your movement patterns.

3.    Running puts a lot of stress on the joints, especially if you have muscle imbalances. Reducing your mileage and focusing on healthier running can add years to your running ‘life’.

4.    You’ll run faster.  If you want to improve your running speed, you most certainly need to run.  With a well-designed strength program, you will be able to activate muscles to generate more power, train injury free, and run more efficiently.  The result?  You’ll clock faster times.

5.    Improved body composition.  Strength training can improve your body composition by increasing muscle mass, metabolic rate, and burning more calories throughout the day.   Be sure not to rely on the scale to measure progress in this area!  Many of our clients experience little to no ‘weight loss’ as their body composition changes.

How to Get Started
An effective strength training program for running can be done at home, outdoors, or at a fitness facility.  Start with 10-15 minutes 2-3 times per week, and as you start to enjoy moving your body in different ways, you increase your workouts.
Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Ditch the body builder approach to strength training; your running will not improve by isolating your biceps and triceps.  Instead, focus on functional fitness.  In other words, train your muscles to prepare for the movements you’re doing in real life, i.e. running.  For example, a bodyweight squat or lunge will have a better carry over to running than a leg press machine.

2. Incorporate balance exercises.  Most strength training exercises are done with both feet on the ground (such as squats, and lunges).  When you run, however, you never have both feet on the ground.  At the beginning, simply balancing on one leg may be enough to improve your balance.  As you progress, challenge yourself with single leg exercises such as single leg squats, and a reverse lunge to balance.  Single leg exercises are a fantastic way to activate and strengthen your hip stabilizers (which in turn will reduce your risk of running injuries).

3. Do not sacrifice form.  While it’s fun and challenging to try fancier exercises, use heavier weights, or to sneak in those last few reps, be sure to maintain proper form.  The point of strength training for running is to reduce injuries, not to get injured by doing exercises improperly!  If you’re new to exercise and want help with proper form, we can help!

4. Fire up the glutes. Runners and most people for that matter, have weak glutes. Weak glutes are a common cause for overuse injuries such as IT band syndrome and plantar fasciitis.  The problem is compounded by the fact that the glutes are not only weak, but are also inactive altogether.  If the glutes are not activating, the lower back and hamstrings will take over.   Incorporate glute strengthening exercise, and be sure that your buttock muscles are actually firing, not just your hamstrings and lower back!

5. Include mobility exercises.  Tight hips and ankles cause many running injuries.  Sitting for long periods of time and wearing high-heeled shoes don’t help this!  End off each run and workout with mobility exercise, or add range of motion exercise to your strength training routine.

6. Change up your routine often. To prevent boredom, and to keep improving your strength, balance and mobility, change up your routine at least every 4-6 weeks.

I wish you many years of happy, healthy running.

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