Distance and pace are the metrics you use to track your performance as a runner. However, strength training can be — and should be — an important part of your running program.
Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
Lifting weights is good for your body. It helps your body build strong bones and lean muscle. It makes it easier to manage your weight and symptoms of chronic conditions. It can prevent injury.
For runners, incorporating strength training into your programs can dramatically change your performance. Here's how:
Strength training reduces boredom
Cross-training is an integral part of every running program. Switching up your activities challenges your muscle groups, so they're forced to work. It also gives you a mental break, so you don't get too bored with your workouts.
Strength training increases running efficiency
Efficient runners don't waste energy, and this allows them to run farther and faster. When you have strong muscles, your body doesn't fatigue as quickly during exercise. Runners with strong core muscles tend to have better form. The energy you waste trying to stabilize key muscle groups as you run is better used to fuel your body for a greater distance or faster speed.
Strength training helps you lose weight
Many runners notice that they can run faster when they're leaner or that they feel sluggish when they gain some weight. There's no guarantee that that will happen, but it makes sense that your body has more power when it doesn't have to carry as much mass. Building lean muscle helps your body burn more calories during the day, which can increase your ability to lose or maintain your weight.
Strength training can reduce the risk of injury
Getting sidelined by an injury disrupts and takes a toll on your progress. Strength training can reduce your risk of injury because strong muscles absorb some of the force that can damage and wear down your joints. For runners, having a strong core can reduce overuse injuries in the lower back, and strong leg muscles help protect the knees.
Timing Your Strength Training
Deciding when to incorporate strength training into your routine is a personal decision that depends on your goals and schedule. Aim for two to three sessions per week for at least 30 minutes. Just remember that anything you do is better than nothing, and the only bad strength training workout is the one you don't do.
Try adding some muscle-building exercises before you run if your goal is to lose weight. Your body will use up stored carbohydrates during your strength training. Then, it will turn to stored fat to fuel the run. Consider ending with strength training if you want to challenge your muscles and build them faster. Since it's already fatigued from running, your body will need to adapt for strength training.
Strength Training Options for Runners
Strength training comes in many forms. Some people join a gym where they have access to several types of equipment, from free weights to exercise machines. Others opt for classes like CrossFit, Pilates, barre, and yoga, which they can do with a group in a studio or on their own at home.
If you prefer working out at home, consider picking up a set of dumbbells or a weight bench with free weights. You even have the option to use your own body weight to strength train. Head to a playground to do tricep dips, pull-ups, and inverted rows on the monkey bars, or do pushups and lunges at home.
Strength Training Exercises for Runners
If you're new to strength training, start with the basics. Add squats and lunges to your routine to strengthen the muscles in your legs. Throw in a few planks to train your core abdominal, lower back and hip muscles. Try inverted rows and push-ups to build upper body strength. Add additional exercises each week until you have a complete routine.
You can perform the following exercises with or without equipment:
Squats: quadriceps, core
Push-ups: chest, shoulders
Donkey kicks: glutes, hamstrings
Planks: abdominals, glutes
Glute bridges: glutes, quadriceps, and abdominals
Tricep dips: triceps
You'll need weights or resistance bands for these exercises:
Back extension: lower back and abdominals
Tricep overhead extension: triceps
Overhead shoulder press: shoulders
These exercises target muscles that runners rely on when they run. This includes legs, core, and upper body.
Plyometrics: legs, core
Calf raises: lower legs
Farmer's carry/walk: core, legs
Superman: low back, hips
Inverted rows: back and shoulders
Reverse fly: back and shoulders
Lacing up is just the first step in a successful running program. You also need strong muscles to protect and support your body. The better you feel when you run, the more likely you are to continue your fitness routine.