Bruce Lee said, “I don’t fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once; I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Between this and other popular wisdom about repetition, it can be easy to surmise that practice breeds perfection. For runners, repetition is easily attained through going out for a few miles on their preferred route.
Many things affect performance, including your overall fitness, the weight of your gear, and your exercise routine. The act of running leads to great results, but these are not the only sort of exercise that can help out runners. Depending on the sort of running you do, weight training can help boost your speed and stamina.
To explain in-depth why weight-lifting provides benefits to runners, it can help to know exactly what muscles are engaged when running and how they impact the whole body.
Starting from the center, your core muscles are essential to running. Your core muscles take the brunt of the punishment when it comes to shock absorption, which helps take the pressure off other muscle groups. They also aid you when it comes to maintaining balance and alignment, especially when running on uneven trails.
Your gluteal muscles aid your core in maintaining stability and generally help you move faster. They are also essential in hip extension. Going to the front of the body, your hip flexors connect to your thighs, hips, and lower back. This muscle is activated whenever you extend your legs and move them forward, making its strength essential for any runner.
Going down to the front of the thighs, your quadriceps connect with the knees to help with lower-leg extension. The quadriceps are matched with the oft-undertrained muscle on the back of the thighs, the hamstrings. Hamstring injuries are very common, a result of the fact that many people have comparatively weak hamstrings when examined next to other leg muscles.
Your calf muscles are used both to push your body forward with each step, as well as absorb the shock exerted on your body by every step. Also of importance are the tendons and ligaments of your lower body, which help you move fluidly and comfortably without pain.
Between strength, extension, flexibility, and force, there are numerous essential elements to keep the body operating at its best. No single muscle perfectly fulfills these functions. Running requires the synthesis o fevenly built musculature to maximize performance. People may reduce lower-body workouts to “leg day,” but there’s a massive number of complex muscles to train in just a single day.
What Kind of Runner Are You?
Before examining weightlifting and the way it can benefit you, ask yourself: What kind of runner am I? Are you an athlete looking to perfect your sprint, or are you an avowed marathon runner? Are you somewhere in between? Do you look at yourself as just a runner or more of an all-around athlete?
Runners have to endure in all kinds of circumstances, and for the all-season runner, Olivers knows that seasonal gear matters. It’s not just what you put on your body that creates a champion, though. What you put your body through is essential in determining your performance when it matters most.
Lifting weights offers physical benefits that can improve the all-around health of any individual, but as far as benefits for sport-specific performance goes, runners who specialize or dabble in mid to high distances have the most to gain.
What Weightlifting Does for Runners
In terms of general fitness, lifting weights helps build muscle mass and increase your muscle’s efficiency. It also addresses an issue with using running alone as your workout method: Unevenness.
There are many kinds of surfaces to run on, each with their own benefits. Treadmills offer a great entry point to running and allow for easy cross-training at the gym. Running on the pavement provides a higher degree of challenge, as the harder surface places greater demand on your joints. Trail running provides an uneven running surface, making trail running great for building your balance.
So, you can modulate the difficulty of your runs based on the level of challenge you want. The main issue is that running itself does not build a massive amount of muscle. Running primarily challenges your cardiovascular system, and while running will create some level of muscle, injury or uneven growth can easily occur without the addition of strength training.
Strength training, true to its name, focuses on building the strength of the individual through increasing muscle size and muscle efficiency. In terms of general health benefits, strength training can help prevent injury from overexertion and everyday accidents.
Strength training also allows you to target specific muscle groups for symmetrical growth. This can solve the issue we mentioned before regarding critically weak hamstrings, which can help runners avoid a variety of injuries they might otherwise be prone to.
Strength training also provides benefits that are of specific use to runners. In 2016, a wide analysis of studies involving both running and strength training occurred. The study found that regular strength training in long and middle-distance runners improved overall running efficiency. This means that the athletes' bodies were able to do more with less oxygen.
When you’re at the top of your game, every extra bit of progress matters—strength training is essential both for those looking to keep in shape and those looking to keep the competition at bay.
Best Kinds of Weight-Based Exercises
Strength training includes a wide variety of exercises built to increase muscle mass and muscle performance. Below are an array of methods for lifting weights, with varying goals and results.
Hypertrophy training builds muscle mass. But, while bigger muscles may mean a bigger lift, muscle hypertrophy is not accomplished by lifting the heaviest weights you can muster. Muscle growth is caused by the microscopic damage done by the repeated action of lifting weights.
Once damaged, the body works to add to and repair the muscle fiber based on factors including workout intensity, genetics, nutrition. To achieve this, you want to hit a heart rate that’s elevated but below your max. Hypertrophy training is a mid to mid-high intensity workout, so choose a weight level to perform at least eight to 12 reps comfortably.
Endurance training is done at a lesser degree of intensity than hypertrophy training, with an increased focus on long-term lifting. Here, you’ll want to exercise with a range of weights where you can do 10-20 reps while still challenging your strength. The goal here is to improve your overall stamina. Although, endurance training can still lead to gains through strength growth as well as improved cardiovascular efficiency.
Functional training seeks to target specific muscle groups for benefits that extend to daily life as well as athletic performance. This includes planks, lunges, and other bodyweight exercises that can be made more challenging by the inclusion of weights. Functional training can serve as a great introduction if strength training is something new to you or you are in the process of recovering from injury.
You’re already running, and now you’re adding regular strength training to your regimen. It can be easy for fatigue to set in, and knowing how to deal with that fatigue can help keep you going, prevent overtraining, and deal with increased intensity in your weekly workouts. Passive recovery, which gives time in between workouts for the muscles to rest, is the standard. Active recovery, however, seeks to create a better recovery from your exercise with, bear with us, more exercise.
Active recovery is absolutely a low-intensity workout meant to activate the muscles without truly exerting them. Much like a warm-up or a cool-down, active recovery workouts resemble a mini version of the exercises you’re already doing. For strength, active recovery may be lifting a significantly smaller amount of weight compared to what you are capable of. For running, it could be a brisk walk along your preferred path.
Active recovery days can also resemble a fun or exciting variation of your usual workout patterns. Water activities like swimming are great because your joints are placed under reduced stress compared to other sports. For another great workout, try Yoga. Yoga offers a low-impact challenge depending on the poses you choose, which can improve flexibility and breathwork at the same time.
Lifting Weights: What Are You Waiting For?
We won’t give you the runaround: Weight lifting won’t suddenly make you an amazing runner if you aren’t putting in the miles. However, lifting weights offers a way for dedicated runners to bring their skills to the next level.
Running gives you the cardio chops to lift better, and lifting helps to improve your efficiency when running. This great relationship won’t synthesize itself: Hit the track, and best of luck to you.