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Strength Training for Runners – Why is it Important?

Marcus Sladden

Marcus Sladden

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Strength training for runners is sometimes difficult. A fair amount of runners don’t know what strength training to do and where to start. They are worried that it might make them ‘bulky’. This isn’t the case and I’m going to shed some light on the fact in this post.

All runners should be doing some type of strength training, not only from a being strong perspective but from an injury management perspective too. It’s important to realise that strength training isn’t going to to be a magic cure for your injuries and you may still get them.

What strength training does is provide you with a stronger base. Wakes up muscles that could be particularly dormant, we hear it all the time from physiotherapists. “Your Glutes don’t fire” Or “You need to strengthen your Glutes”. This is due to 21st-century living, desk jobs and basically just sitting on our butts all day, our glutes get dormant and don’t activated enough. 

This is how some injuries can occur because your whole body is connected. Having weak glutes could mean other muscles have to overcompensate, which puts strains on parts of your body that shouldn’t be under that much strain. 

Will I get Bulky if I Strength Train?

Those men and women who look huge from the amount of muscle they have are not from your everyday strength training.

They are on programs that involve a high volume of weight lifting, and a strict diet. Their workouts are not the average person’s program and, more often than not, they are spending many hours in the gym. Usually under the direction and guidance of their coaches.

Are you prepared to eat at least 500 more calories per day, if not more? That’s what you would have to do to gain that much muscle and bulk. Even then, there is no guarantee that you’ll build huge muscles.

Those hardcore bodybuilders consume well over the average person’s daily caloric intake in order to build and sustain their muscle. They will also have a very specific formula of protein, carbs, and fats. They will follow this religiously in order to meet the dietary requirements needed to help bodybuilders reach their muscle-building goals.

You know what else will stop you from bulking up? Running! Running is what can be the reason why you won’t put on so much ‘bulk’. Too much of it and you can lose your hard-earned muscle. Most people who train to be bodybuilders stick to short HIIT workouts a few times a week. So, you’d have to give up your longer running sessions to put on pounds and pounds of muscle!

Muscle building is also partly due to genetics. If your family aren’t bulky muscle builders then it is unlikely you are able to build an incredible amount of muscle. Specific exercise programs and diet can help, but not everyone’s DNA is suited for that type of muscle no matter how hard they work. So don’t worry about building that bulk and hit the weights to get strong!

Strength Training for Runners: Top Five Reasons to Strength Train:

  1. Posture and efficiency.

    Your posture plays a big part in not only our day to day life but also in your running. Do you hunch over slightly as you work at your desk? More likely than not, you’ll probably hunch over slightly as you run too. 

    To put this into more context If you round your shoulders when you run and close in your chest, chances are you’re not getting as much oxygen as you should and this will work against you when you are trying to work harder as you run.

    Working on your strength training specifically for your posture can be a massive benefit to overall health and your running. 

  2. Improve Muscle Activation

    Like I said above our muscles can become dormant and just because we have the muscle there, it doesn’t always mean they are getting used! 

    Strength training is a great way to improve muscle activation and recruitment. Strengthening muscles in isolation, progressing to multi-joint and running-specific exercises can retrain muscle recruitment patterns and make sure all the right muscles are working how they should be to your run.

  3. Stronger Resilience

    The stronger you are, the more resilient you are going to be to the demands of running. Running is a repetitive action and can put huge pressure on your body, so having a stronger body to counteract the pavement pounding is only going to be a good thing. 

    When you have a stronger body, any existing weaknesses you may have could lessen. This is because strength training helps to improve structural weaknesses in your body, whether in the muscles, joints, or connective tissues.

    More times than not you’ll have one side or part of your body that is more dominant than the other. As this muscle gets overworked and injured then the weaker side has to compensate but due to lack of strength and injury could worsen. 

  4. Run Faster and with Better Technique

    A study has shown that strength training improves running economy in distance runners. When you have more strength, you have more power and when you have more power you have more speed! 

    Strengthening your body will help improve and maintain your running form. Which translates into greater efficiency. Small improvements in efficiency make a huge difference, especially for longer races.

    Here is some further reading for Strength and Conditioning Habits of Competitive Distance Runners

  5. Burn More Calories

    There is no getting away from the fact that strength training burns more calories. This isn’t something you should be too obsessive over. 

    Strength training can help shift the pounds if you have started running for your weight loss journey so it is a win-win to start incorporating it within your training regime.

Why Strength Training for Runners is SO Important

Here is a fantastic summary of why strength training for runners is so important, put together by Jason Fitzgerald at strengthrunning.

  • Strength training helps cure IT Band Syndrome (source)
  • Women with runner’s knee have weaker hips than healthy runners (source – confirmed here)
  • Resistance training improves trained runner’s economy by up to 8% (source)
  • Explosive strength training makes your 5k faster by improved economy and muscle power (source)
  • Weight lifting improves performance (speed), running economy, and muscle power (source)

How to Strength Train for Runners

The mistake a lot of runners make with strength training is doing too much too soon, or jumping straight into the weights room without any thought of what exercises they could be doing to get the best bang for your buck! 

Although you are more than capable of hitting the weights straight away, I recommend taking a different approach and build into it by starting with bodyweight exercises and resistance band work first. 

A good friend and co-worker James Dunne at Kinetic Revolution put together this awesome 30-day challenge for runners that takes you through different aspects of strength training for runners. Starting with some mobility, adding in some strength, plyometrics focusing on some technique and some resistance band work. 

If you complete the 30 days then you have a foundation to build on. Whether that’s a more focussed bodyweight routine that targets the weaknesses you may have found whilst doing the challenge or you decide to make the jump to the weight room.

If you do decide to lift the weights, ensure you have someone to go over your technique and make sure you are lifting properly. The last thing you want is to get injured doing something that helps you become less injured! Finally, do what works best for you and don’t feel intimidated in the gym, so what if someone can lift heavier than you bet they can’t run a half marathon. Focus on what you want out of the strength training and make a goal every time you do it. 

Here is a great video by Olympian Nick Symmonds about weight lifting for runners:

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