Avoiding injuries is very important when you consider that some studies have shown that runners are being injured at a greater rate than professional football players are. The good news is how far training programs for runners have come. Myths about how lifting weights will create bulk that will slow you down have not only been dispelled, but also wiped clean from the slate. What follows is not only some myth busting, but also training trips for runners who want to get stronger, faster, and less injury-prone.
Overcoming weight training myths
- Short rest myth. Many runners feel that their gym/weight workouts should replicate their running workouts, i.e., they need to take little rest between sets to keep their heart rate elevated. However, that 30- to 60-second rest between sets is not enough for proper strength development.
- High reps myth. It's long been held that runners can build endurance and strength by lifting lighter weights at lower reps. But research has shown that doing up to 20 reps with weights doesn't build muscular endurance any more than six to eight reps.
- Heavy weights myth. Some runners are hesitant to lift heavier weights because they feel it will 'bulk' them up like a bodybuilder. Fact is, bulking up has more to do with what an athlete eats when weight lifting. The amount of time spent on running will be much greater than the time spent on weight training, which makes it impossible to gain unwanted muscle mass.
- Lift only on rest days myth. Another long-held idea to kick to the curb is that runners should do their strength training only on rest and recovery days from running. The problem is that rest and recovery days are for just that, rest and recovery only. Lifting weights on those days adds stress and shortens recovery time.
Staying strong and injury free
In his book "Running Strong," Dr. Jordan Metzl discusses the importance of strengthening muscles in ways that use your whole body and mimic movements runners actually do in real life. Consider some of Metzl’s suggestions:
- Single-leg exercises. By strengthening through exercises such as single-leg squats, lunges and hops, runners improve their stability. Good alignment is crucial to being able to handle the stress of running and remaining injury-free.
- Manage pain through strength. Stronger muscles support vulnerable joints. By transferring the stress load of running from the joint to the muscles, pain is eased and the progression of injuries is slowed down.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep. Not that you should sleep the day away, but getting good sleep is vital to the functioning of our bodies for many reasons. It's only common sense that it will make you a stronger runner. Studies have shown that exercise aids sleep in that it helps up fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and get more quality sleep.
- Strengthen your backside. The gluteus maximus is the biggest and strongest muscle in your body. Together with the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, it provides most of propulsive force used for running. It also joins with your core muscles to provide stability, and stability equals stronger running.
- Speedwork equals stronger running. Speed training can make you not only a faster runner, but a stronger one, as well. Why? Because running revs up fast twitch fibers and uses different muscles than slow runs. Studies have shown that it strengthens the bones, ligaments and joints, enabling them to absorb the slower runs better. Training at high-intensity also burns more calories and keeps your metabolism burning strong long after the workout.
Exercises that help make you a stronger runner
- Bodyweight squats. This is a great exercise for overall conditioning and as an indicator for thoracic, hip and ankle mobility.
- Core work. Strengthening the core is essential for runners and experts say runners should treat core exercises with the same importance as their running workouts.
- Single-leg deadlifts. These are a great exercise to strengthen your glutes.
- Speedwork. There is no shortage of speedwork training methods.
It is important to note that it's possible to run too fast during speedwork, especially as a beginner. You should run a 400-meter sprint at a slower speed than as if you were running a 400-meter race. It is more important to run every interval at the same speed.
So do as the experts advise, don’t stick to just running if you are looking to become a better runner. Adding strength training to your workout will undoubtedly improve your running as your muscles become stronger and your body becomes less prone to injury.