Firstly, why should a runner incorporate strength training?
Bodies that are strong, lack imbalances, and have stability do not break down as much. The output of power increases and the body is more resilient in its training. In general, runners who lift weights have better running form and are less prone to injury. Running is a limited and repetitive motion; but, most runners know that including cross-training, stability, and balance into your regimen will help to compliment the continuous use of the same muscle groups that's required for distance running.
Strength training can help to improve your running form and when you put more muscle on your bones it helps to dampen the effects of the forces put on your bones when you run. In order to build strength, you need to load the tissue enough to challenge the body and force it to adapt. If you are an athlete that often suffers from stress fractures, weight training can help you out.
There are a lot of runners whose strength regime often includes light weights with high reps; however, running already does a far better job at enhancing endurance than lifting weights. So having a routine that is endurance-based (low weight/high rep) does little to improve both your strength and your endurance.
So where to do we start? This all goes back to our first blog article about progressive overload. Progressive overload is a gradual increase in stress applied to the body during exercise. This should occur with small increases to the following factors; volume (length of training or weight), frequency (how often are you performing this training), and intensity (how hard your training). This challenges your body and allows your musculoskeletal system to get stronger.
So, how does a runner begin their lifting regime? Establishing a base of weight training fitness is step one. Please don’t go into a gym to see what your max Squat or Deadlift is on the first day. Seek out a competent trainer that can train and progress you accordingly.
It is recommended that a training block of 8 weeks with 8-12 reps is completed before testing yourself with any sort of heavy lifting. Each week seek out to do more than you did the training session before, whether that is another rep, another couple pounds, or another set! However, don’t lift more than you know you’re capable of. A good rule of thumb is that there should always be one high-quality repetition left in reserve. All lifts should be done with good form because when it comes time to start heavy lifting, any poor habits will be magnified and can lead to injury.
Distance runners need to run to get good at running. We know that much, but that fact doesn’t mean lifting heavy is a waste of time for them. In fact, it can be the difference-maker that keeps them stronger, faster and healthier than their competition.
One of the first worries runners have about lifting heavy is bulking up. If you are a recreational , competitive runner or an elite competitive runner, bulking up is not the optimal body type for endurance races where there is an increase in the time on your feet. The benefits of adding power to your stride would be negated if it also added weight to your frame.
Let's debunk this myth. Muscle “bulk” coincides with several variables, which include fueling/nutrition (excess calories), specific, heavy training 4-5 times per week, and enough rest from catabolic activities (such as running) so that adaptation may occur. If any of these variables are not in place, “bulk” will not occur.
Specifically, you shouldn’t be lifting heavy more than once or twice per week and the vast majority of your training will be in the form of running. Therefore, the time you spend running will vastly outnumber the time spent lifting heavy. This will also prevent any excess bulk.
You may experience some weight gain, however, any additional weight that you put on, should result in more power/velocity and the ability to handle the additional load. This could translate to that final 5 to 10 percent improvement in your running you are looking for! Consider adding one or two sessions per week of heavy lifting.