Elite runners know that strength training improves their performance. But they’re at the top of the heap. What about the recreational runner? Can recreational runners also gain performance benefits?
The research shows some very positive results regarding strength training for runners at non-elite levels. You might want to consider building this into your training programs.
Let’s look at the results from some of the research first to see what it says and how it might affect your running performance:
One study showed that strength training helps running economy by about four to eight percent. Do some calculations based on the distance events that you run and see if a 4-8% improvement would be significant. Chances are it will be. Let’s just say you’re a slow runner and you run your 10K races at 10 min mile pace. Doing some strength training would improve your races by approximately 3-5 minutes. That’s a significant improvement, making the resistance training worth the trouble of going to the gym.
Even better, the research shows that the less fit you are the more likely that strength training will help your running performance. You will improve your anaerobic threshold and you gain neuro-muscular improvements along with running performance. And because women generally have weaker muscle strength in the legs and arms than males, women will benefit even more from weight training.
One particular study was done with beginning runners and cyclists. These beginners added weight training to their training programs for ten weeks, three days per week. At the end of the ten weeks their leg strength had improved, on average, by thirty percent, without adding muscle bulk. (Runners with muscle bulk slow down so this is important). The majority of the runners in the study also improved their 10K times.
These days the coaches of elite runners tend to substitute some of their endurance training with weight training in order to achieve performance improvements. So the elite athletes are doing strength training for runners and the research shows that non-elite runners can get even more benefits, so if you’re not doing any weight training and you want to improve your running, it’s probably time for you to build this into your training program.
You might be wondering why strength training can improve your running performance. Basically, it comes down to how much power you exert each time your foot hits the ground. The more powerful you are, the faster you’ll run. Weight training makes your muscles stronger and helps your neuro-muscular system to work better, which translates into a more powerful stride that uses less energy. You’ll feel better during your races because you’ll be stronger yet expending less energy.
Sometimes people are concerned that strength training for runners will make you less flexible. This simply isn’t true. Weight lifters themselves have been studied and it has been found they are as flexible as anyone else, so it needn’t be a concern.
There are some other potential benefits still being studied such as injury prevention and correcting muscular imbalances, and core stability improvements. Some of these things are very individualistic and have too many variables to have conclusive studies, but there are some possible benefits that you might also notices if you begin a strength training for runners program.
What do running coaches have to say about strength training for runners? Some coaches believe that weight training for a beginning runner is almost as important as the running training itself. You want to gain strength in your muscles to support your running lifestyle and there’s no better way to do this than by strength training.
For experienced runners and elite runners, they can still benefit by weight training in order to achieve better race times. There’s a certain point where distance running alone results in a decline in leg strength. Incorporating strength training into a running program will compensate for this.
Coaches also believe strength training will help the running on difficult terrain such as hills or during the latter part of the marathon when runners typically are fatigued. And because running doesn’t help strengthen your upper body, weight training will help you in that area – giving you a stronger arm drive to help you to the finish line.
At this point I think I’ve convinced you that strength training for runners can be very beneficial no matter what running level you’re at – so your next question will be how to go about incorporating strength training into your running program. I’ve put together a separate page with weight training advice for beginners to get you on the right track and give you some idea of how to get started at the gym.
And to follow along with the basic advice is a page with specific weight training exercises that can benefit runners. You won't want to do all the exercises listed on this link, and you'll want to vary your workouts over time.
Also, don’t hesitate to hire a personal trainer to help you learn the equipment and make sure you’re doing the exercises right, especially if you’re new to weight training. Your personal trainer can also help you put together a program to fit with your running program to make sure you’re getting the most out of both. You’ll find it’s well worth the money for the benefits you’ll achieve – both in body strength and in running performance.
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