I’ve talked a time or two before about strength training and how it has benefited me personally, and a lot has been said on the subject and can be found by Googling “why runners need to strength train.”
Still, the information doesn’t seem to be reaching everyone who needs it, because I regularly…
- talk to people whose idea of weight lifting is helping someone move boxes out of a house and onto a moving van.
- read posts by other bloggers who struggle with this or that running injury leading up to a marathon they’ve been training for months to finish with a new PR…
And then I read their weekly training recap, where there is no mention of strength training or, in many cases, any activity besides running.
Maybe some of these people are younger and have less experience with all the things that can go wrong even once all the hay’s in the barn, but it still begs the question:
Why do so many runners refuse to strength train???
Having been that person once upon a time, I actually now have a pretty good idea. Oh, to be young and know everything again…
Today kicks off a four-part series on the benefits of strength training for runners, different strengthening exercises that will improve your running as well as a look at what the elites do to stay strong – because Olympic medals are not earned through running alone!
Today, let’s consider some of the false beliefs that many runners have about strength training and discuss how you can love your running lifestyle even more by incorporating weight lifting into your weekly fitness routine.
First, the myths.
Myth #1: “But I’m already a runner, and weight lifting doesn’t burn as many calories as cardio, so isn’t it all just a big waste of time unless you’re a [powerlifter, gym rat who hates cardio, etc.]?”
Okay, sure. In terms of the number of calories burned, strength training will rarely beat a good cardio workout. As a general statement, this is true, but there’s a lot more to consider. For starters, strength training increases your basal (resting) metabolic rate, meaning that you will burn more calories both during your running (and cardio cross-training) and at rest. If you’re concerned about the role that your weight plays in your performance as a runner, then yes, you need to strength train.
Myth #2: “But Marian, if I strength train, won’t I bulk up? I don’t need any extra weight when I’m trying to PR!”
This represents an unfortunate assumption that strength training is a one-size-fits-all proposition. Like any other form of exercise, it totally isn’t! Strength training programs vary both in terms of content and difficulty, and these varied strength training programs are designed with different fitness goals in mind. The bulky guys and gals who skulk around the weights section of the gym, never to be seen on an elliptical trainer or stationary bike unless it’s for their five-minute warm-up, are typically training to increase muscle strength or hypertrophy. For runners, muscle endurance is the name of the game. This means doing lots and lots of repetitions (of squats, lunges, crunches, whatever) using relatively light weight in order to work the muscles to fatigue. In my experience, such a workout also provides more than incidental cardio.
The point here is that you don’t have to be this guy to strength train, and strength training on a regular basis won’t turn you into him unless you really, really want it to!
Myth #3: “Isn’t weight lifting more of a ‘guy’ thing?”
No, it isn’t, ladies. As I’ve just stated, the whole “I don’t want to bulk up!” thing is bunk, and lifting weights will not turn you into a man with a ponytail. Aside from toning those flabby arms that never get put to work when you run, lifting weights won’t bulk you up unless you’re popping steroids because the potential increase in muscle mass (as opposed to strength) is purely a function of how much testosterone you have in your system. This could be a concern for men wanting to stay razor-thin for competition, but for women it really isn’t. To give just one example, I’m 5’7″, my weight currently hovers around 130 lbs. and I’m able to power through a non-stop set of 100 squats using a 60 lb. bar. For those who suck at math, that’s nearly half my body weight. This ability is partly due to my weight being nearly all muscle, but the increased leg strength is definitely not bulking me up because I weigh that whether I strength train or not (as long as I’m running or doing lots of cardio).
(And have I mentioned lately that I’m a vegan? And an ultramarathoner?)
So get on it, ladies! Get fitter, get faster AND get leaner!
OK, I get it now…so how do I get started?
If you’re unaccustomed to strength training, it’s advisable to start small so as not to hurt yourself and then work up through different amounts of weight (if you want) as you get more comfortable with a regular strength training routine.
- You might consider working with a personal trainer who knows your current level of fitness as a runner and how to complement and support that with an appropriate strength training program, and
- you might also consider the route that’s worked out for me for the past few years and go to a class. Lots of gyms, including Muv Fitness in Columbia and pretty much every Gold’s Gym on the planet, offers Body Pump (check out my brief review of Body Pump 105 here), and the Jewish Community Center in Northeast Columbia offers a class called Complete Body that sounds similar.
If you go to a class, let the instructor know that you’re new (either to the class or to strength training in general) so that he or she will know to recommend modifications to some of the more challenging movements so that you can have some time to get acclimated and avoid overdoing it when you’re just getting started.
So now I want to hear from you! What has your experience with strength training been like? Do you have any questions about other benefits or how to get started? Let me know in the comments!