Strength training is essential for any runner looking to run faster and stronger. Many runners don’t realise the benefits of strength training such as weightlifting.
The reality is there are many different components of fitness, other than cardiovascular endurance, that you need to be tapping into as a runner as part of a well-rounded training plan.
Running is great at targeting areas of fitness like endurance and stamina. However areas such as strength, power and mobility often get neglected.
Weightlifting, as a form of strength training, is an effective way to improve your power, strength and neuromuscular coordination as a runner.
There are varying forms of weightlifting and weight training (from beginner to advanced) that you can try and that can be adapted for all levels of fitness.
The key is to choose runner-specific workouts to help you become a stronger and faster runner.
These work by mimicking a lot of the movements used in running, such as the forward motion of the leg and the stride pattern.
In this blog post, I’d like to highlight how weightlifting can help you become a stronger and faster runner.
At the bottom of this blog, you will find my top tips for weightlifting to ensure you do it safely.
It helps with injury prevention
Runners are prone to injury. I’m sure you encounter pains, aches and niggles on a weekly basis.
Weightlifting strengthens your connective tissues and muscles therefore making you much more resilient and less prone to injury.
Weight training has also been shown to increase bone strength, and if programmed properly, has been shown to help correct posture (more of that below) and maintain movement patterns.
Of course, weightlifting as a form of strength training has its own risks associated with it.
But if approached in the right way, it can really help you to mitigate many common running injuries.
It helps you maintain good posture
In a 2016 study, it was found that strength training if performed 2-3 times per week for at least 8 weeks is an appropriate strategy to improve running economy and posture in long distance runners.
Many runners don’t realise the benefits of strength training for posture.
Runners tend to hunch over and roll their shoulders forward when they start to get tired on those long runs.
When you start to tire, you place more conscious effort on holding yourself up when you can’t maintain good posture any longer.
Weightlifting gets you into the habit of maintaining good posture.
Common weight training exercises like deadlifts, back squats and weighted lunges improve your neuromuscular coordination and power.
These in turn improve your running economy and posture by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency.
It helps you run faster
Whilst there are benefits in just including running and endurance workouts in your training routine, there will be a point when you’ve explored all options here.
You need to switch things up to really help you hit your PB. This is where weight training comes in.
As discussed above, weightlifting strengthens your muscles and connective tissues throughout your body.
This means your muscles will tire less and you’ll have better neuromuscular coordination which will make your movements more efficient.
Your body is made up of slow twitch (used for endurance) and fast twitch (used for power) muscle fibres.
Endurance training and long runs rely mainly on slow twitch muscle fibres. Whilst high intensity exercise like speed training and sprinting rely on fast twitch muscle fibres.
Whilst long, slow runs are ok in the short term, you need to be recruiting more fast twitch fibres if you want to tap into those power reserves and run faster for longer.
Fast twitch muscle fibres are recruited and trained through high intensity exercise like weightlifting and respond best to heavy weights with fewer repetitions.
This doesn’t mean to say you have to lift like an Olympic weightlifter in order to use them. Not at all.
Strength training like weightlifting is progressive and it should be adapted to each individual and their fitness and strength levels.
It helps with muscle growth and strength
This is an obvious one, but it’s still worth pointing out how weightlifting can positively impact your physique and strength.
Many runners think they’ll get too bulky if they strength train or lift weights regularly.
This simply isn’t true. After all, it all comes down to your goals as an individual and all progressive strength training plans can be adapted to meet your needs as a runner.
Plus, it’s actually quite hard to bulk up if you’re an endurance athlete.
By their very nature, endurance activities like running break down muscle for fuel.
When you recruit more fast twitch muscle fibres through weightlifting, you see greater improvements in your muscle strength and growth that running alone cannot target.
Compound movements like deadlifts and back squats are great at targeting a range of muscles in the body, including those in your back, shoulders, abdominals and upper legs.
If these muscles are weak, this will negatively impact your running form, leading to aches and pains.
It strengthens your core
Your core is extremely important when it comes to good running form.
All of the muscles that surround and support your spine make up your core.
When you run, your abdominal and back muscles work to stabilise your spine and create a solid foundation.
Strengthening your core with weight training will help you hit the ground more solidly.
It will also absorb potentially harmful rotation in your spine as well as the shock of your foot hitting the ground.
Top tips for weightlifting as a runner
Here are my top tips for strength training for runners:
Pick a suitable training programme. Any weightlifting or weight training programme should be progressive and support your goals as a runner. As discussed above, all strength training programmes for runners can be adapted to meet your objectives and fitness levels. There are various stages of strength training ranging from strength endurance, hypertrophy (muscle growth) to power. Any programme should phase each phase appropriately and have different exercises, sets, repetitions and intensities.
Work with a personal trainer. If you’re new to strength training and weight training, you could consider enlisting the help of a PT to help you get to grips with the basics of weight training. Compound movements like deadlifts, pull ups and rows can be difficult (and dangerous) if approached in the wrong way. Once you become more comfortable with some basic movements, you could then attempt them on your own when you feel more confident.
Focus on compound, multi-joint movements. As I mentioned above, not all strength training is suitable for runners. Runners really benefit from focusing on compound movements that enlist multiple muscle groups.
Don’t forget about your upper body. Your upper body is just as important as your lower body when it comes to running and maintaining good form, not to mention arm swing! Your arms play an integral role in propelling you forward so don’t neglect them.