Let’s be honest, there are some weird and quirky runners out there. Just like any health and fitness group, there are runners with their very own weird, unique, and bold opinions regarding our sport. I am no exception to this as I have many of my own unique beliefs on running. One belief, however, seems to stick out amongst the rest. That idea is that runners don’t need to strength train to become better. Quite honestly, that is a very flawed idea, and one that needs to be done away with. The fact of the matter is this: Strength training can GREATLY improve your skills as a runner in terms of both endurance and speed.
I have done a couple of strength training posts before, but I want to change it up a bit here. I’ve listed a few of the more prominent myths – and truths – regarding running and strength training.
MYTH 1: Runners should lift on off or easy days to balance the effort of difficult training runs.
TRUTH: It is actually best to pair strength training with a short and efficient tempo run. The idea here is that your strength training will actually compliment your tempo run when done on the same day, giving you a complete off or easy day for recovery. When you use an off day for strength training, your body really has no recovery time. Try this: Quick tempo run in the early morning followed by a 30-40 minute strength training session in the afternoon or evening. Rest on the following day
MYTH 2: You must strength train several times a week to see any added benefits.
TRUTH: If you’re looking for maximum efficiency from something, you’ll be happy to hear that just one or two strength training sessions per week is enough to stimulate noticeable improvements. With the amount of time put in running, there is no need to place a huge amount of added stress on the body. More is not always better when it comes to weights. Try this: A weekly total of no more than 90 minutes of strength training. Break it down to either three 20-30 minute workouts or two 30-40 minute sessions.
MYTH 3: Body-weight exercises are more appropriate than weights.
TRUTH: Resistance is resistance, and your body cannot differentiate where it comes from. It could be your natural body weight, a couple of dumbbells or a backpack full of brinks, and your muscles won’t be able to tell the difference. The issue here isn’t the type of weight, but rather the amount. For example, some experts say pushups are better for beginners rather than bench press. Well, what about individuals who aren’t strong enough to do a correct pushup? Should they not use a machine that offers multiple resistances such as a bench press? The “appropriateness” of an exercise is relative to the individual, not the exercise. Try this: Focus on the amount of weight needed for effectiveness rather than the type of weight. If bodyweight lunges are too easy, grab some dumbbells. If pushups are too hard, grab some smaller weights to use on the bench press.
MYTH 4: You need to lift with quick movements to improve power and speed.
TRUTH: The purpose of lifting weights for most runners is to improve strength as opposed to power. Runners (with the exception of competitive sprinters and middle distance runners) don’t generally need much power. When it comes to improving strength, slow and controlled is the name of the game. A concept that most people simply don’t know about is “time under tension.” Essentially, the longer your muscles are under constant tension, the more strength you will develop. On top of this, any time you increase your speed in the weight room, you’re dramatically increasing your risk of injury. See Crossfit for example (sorry to any Crossfitters reading this, but it’s true). Try this: Don’t rush through your lifts. Tell yourself over and over “slow and control.” Especially on the lowering portion of the movement, you want to be under control to get the most out of the exercise.
MYTH 5: Work on the core; running takes care of the rest.
TRUTH: Running doesn’t provide enough of a stimulus in the lower or upper body to result in muscular strength. Concentrating on one specific area, such as the core, will result in muscular imbalance throughout the body. This is a leading cause of many nagging injuries for runners. You want to be as balanced as possible when it comes to muscular strength. Try this: Complete full body workouts that focus on major muscle groups.
Post contributed by Brock Jones. Brock is Co-Owner and Head Trainer with BodyFIT, Inc. in Lexington, KY. He holds a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology from the University of Kentucky and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. You can read more of Brock’s posts about fitness and exercise on the BodyFIT Punch Blog.