Running or jogging is one of our favorite pastimes, and is the most popular exercise for keeping fit and losing weight.
It is a very inexpensive way to work-out and requires minimal equipment. In fact, if you fancy giving bare foot running a go, the entry fee is zero!
If you take your running seriously, you strive to improve your times and/or distances.
If you’re more of a recreational runner, then you might just want to be more efficient at running in order to make it easier and ultimately more enjoyable.
Whatever your ambitions, lifting weights will almost certainly help to improve your running.
I used to be the proverbial ‘racing snake’ when I was younger.
Being fairly tall and skinny meant I had a good ‘runner’s physique’, and on the whole I used to enjoy the feeling I got after a run.
These days, I run a couple times a week, alternating with my gym (weight training) sessions in order to maintain a decent level of cardiovascular fitness.
Even though I only run for about 25-30 mins, my body fat percentage has decreased and my cardiovascular levels are still pretty good.
Although I prefer to lift weights over running now, I understand the pleasure people get from distance running and the health benefits it derives.
Why Runners Should Lift Weights
If you hate the thought of going to your local gym to lift weights, you might want to have a re-think when you understand how increasing your strength and muscle mass can improve your running.
Although I talk about lifting weights for running, it also applies to any endurance discipline, such as rowing, cycling, swimming, walking etc.
Here are 4 benefits to be gained from lifting weights:
1. Helps Prevent Injury
I honestly don’t know anyone who runs consistently that hasn’t been plagued by a certain type, or types of injury.
More often than not, they live with the pain and carry on when possible.
There are dozens of injuries you can develop over time due to the constant street pounding.
Common ones include; shinsplints, knee problems, achilles tendon problems, hip problems, foot injuries, stress fractures and other muscle related injuries.
Weight training will increase the strength in your core and lower body, and help correct posture imbalances.
A poor posture increases the risk of injury and leads to an inefficient running style.
Take shin-splints for example; this injury is often suffered due to a weak link in the quads, and is exasperated by having weak calves.
Joint aches and pains due to the continuous pounding, can often be alleviated with lifting weights.
Weight training promotes something called protein synthesis in the connective tissues between joints, whilst also increasing bone strength.
A good lower-body compound exercise such as barbell squats or the deadlift will increase your strength and build muscle.
This will improve your structural balance and help prevent injuries and reduce chronic pain.
2. Run Further and Faster
Whether you are a distance runner, sprinter or somewhere in-between, resistance training will help you run further and faster.
As your legs become stronger you become more efficient in using energy and oxygen (improves your VO2 max).
It makes sense that having stronger legs will make you more powerful and enable you to run faster and longer.
There is plenty of research showing athlete’s performance significantly improving after a spell of strength training.
The Olympic 5000m and 10,000m Champion
A year before Mo Farah destroyed the field in the 5000m and 10,000m Olympic Games in London, he never incorporated strength training.
He was trained by Alberto Salazar in Oregon who immediately set about incorporating resistance training into his workouts.
Salazar has said that Farah was the “weakest athlete I’d ever trained when it came to doing press ups, sit-ups and single leg squats, so that was put right with three or four hours a week in the gym.”
The leg strength and power he developed as a result meant that none of the other athletes could live with him on the final lap of both events.
Want another example? How about Paula Radcliffe – one of the fastest women’s marathon runners in history.
Here she is performing leg squats:
The intensity of your weight training routine is relative to the type of running you engage in.
A sprinter for example, needs strong, powerful legs, and will spend a lot longer building muscle strength and size, in order to produce explosive power.
If you are an endurance/distance runner, the need for intensive strength training is less important.
However, lifting weights should still be included in your training routine.
Many distance runners are afraid of bulking up with muscle which will slow them down.
This just won’t happen, simply due to the high mileage involved and the natural physiology of distance runners.
It’s virtually impossible for a runner to gain any significant weight through lifting weights.
3. Improved Health
Recent studies have highlighted the negative health effects endurance training may have on the body.
Prolonged endurance training has been shown to increase the body’s level of oxidative stress, (or free radical damage) which can lead to many diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Lifting weights increases your body’s testosterone levels and raises your antioxidant levels, helping to counteract the damaging effects of oxidative stress, and the stress hormone – cortisol.
Among other benefits, increased testosterone also helps to grow new muscle and bone.
I’m not suggesting for one minute that the vast majority of people won’t greatly benefit from running.
In fact running may actually reduce the risk of serious disease and illness caused by stress and being overweight.
The concern is primarily aimed towards those who take part in lots of distance running such as marathons and endurance events etc.
Either way, weight training will help negate the damage caused to your body’s cells by increasing antioxidant and testosterone levels.
4. Reduced Body Fat
The majority of recreational runners do so as a means to stay healthy and lose weight.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.
The body burns fat when it is resting. It is your resting metabolic rate that determines the amount of fat you lose, and this rate is determined by your muscle to body-fat ratio.
Generally speaking, the more body fat you have, the slower your metabolic rate.
Weight training increases muscle tissue which improves metabolism.
However, depending on what study or research paper you read, this statement may or may not be 100% accurate.
The reason I’ve mentioned it is because I’ve personally noticed the effect weight training has had on my body fat.
Without incorporating hardly any cardio, (let alone endurance training) my body-fat has gone down.
So my advice for the casual runner who just wants to lose a little weight and enjoys the freedom running provides; start lifting some weights as well.
Your body fat will almost certainly go down, (as long as you’re not on a McDonald’s diet) and you’ll look better, with a more toned physique.
Weight training for runners will undoubtedly improve your times and distances.
Plus you’ll soon notice a lot of health and fitness benefits.
It doesn’t need to be complicated.
Just a few compound exercises that target the lower body, 2 or 3 times a week will have an effect.
Runners will often lift weights for muscular endurance rather than strength, which is not the objective.
Perform heavy lifts with a few reps, which build strength, rather than a lighter weight for 12+ reps.