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7 Reasons why runners must strength train

Ok, let me get this out there up front! I’m a personal trainer, so I’m indoctrinated in the strength training mantra. This means I could be biased, however I wasn’t always a personal trainer. For many years I was a desk worker, who also ran.  Just like you, running was my favourite thing, and I found being in the gym took away from the freedom that running outside gave me.  That said, I had previously strength trained for sport, and I knew it made me better, faster and stronger, so the first thing I did when I decided to take up this new sport was hire a personal trainer.  She trained me specifically for running, I wasn’t interested in aesthetics. Her name was Fiona and she was a marathon runner; she trained me toward my first 10k race, the Bupa 10k in London.

After the race, I stopped seeing her (BIG MISTAKE), because I thought I could do it myself, but the truth is, I didn’t have the knowledge and skills back then to create a training programme. As a result, my running times suffered, I started getting injuries and I lost motivation. If any of this story sounds familiar, you need to read this blog post. Read on to learn about the benefits of strength training for runners:

1. Improved body composition

Strength training or resistance training encourages muscle growth. Muscle tissue has a greater basal metabolic rate. Therefore, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. Eventually this will lead to a reduction in body fat. In addition, certain strength training protocols can lead to a particularly long ‘afterburn effect’, meaning that your body continues to use energy (burn calories) in excess of its normal base rate long after the workout has finished; this can last up to 72 hours!
So, what does this mean for runners? When you are running, you have more tissue that helps propel you forward (more muscle), and less tissue that’s holding you back and weighing you down (less fat).  This makes you more efficient, which means you travel faster for the same amount of effort.

2. Solve muscle imbalances

Have you ever seen a physiotherapist and been told ‘your glutes aren’t firing’? Have you ever suffered pain in your lower back after running? Do you appear hunched over like Quasimodo in your race pictures? Are you constantly getting the same injury, and despite physio, massage etc, it still keeps coming back? These are all signs of muscle imbalances, or sub-optimal recruitment of muscles that can be solved by strength and resistance training.  What does this mean?  More consistent running and less pain.

3. Make you more resilient for running and for life

By correcting your muscle imbalances, strength training makes you more resilient, and therefore, less susceptible to injuries. In addition, by making you stronger you become more resilient for life. There is loads of evidence that people with a more favourable body composition recover more quickly from surgery, and other medical interventions. In addition, strength training will help reduce the rate of muscle wastage that is experienced with aging. Practically, this means that you will be more stable and steady as you age, making you less susceptible to falls, and able to maintain better posture as well.

4. Improve recovery mechanisms

If anyone reading this remembers how they felt after their first running race, chances are you struggled to walk normally, and stairs were a no-go area. In fact, the day after my first marathon, crawling was the way I got around, as walking was NOT an option. We’ve all been there, right? DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is a reaction to unaccustomed exercise.  The longer it lasts, the less effective your recovery mechanisms are.

If you strength train regularly, you will get DOMS regularly as you continue to do new things. Even if you don’t get DOMS, your muscles will be forced to recover from tough work more regularly. In effect, they will get to practice recovery more. What this means is when you then do a tough running race, you will recover from the race far quicker, as your body is much better at recovering from a workout.

5. Delay fatigue during races

Part of strength training is to encourage more motor units to recruit. This means more will switch on when you are running. If you spread the load between more motor units, fatigue will happen later in a run or race. In addition, because your recovery mechanisms have been improved (see reason 4), fatigue will be delayed, OR you will be able to maintain higher levels of work before fatigue and exhaustion occurs.

6. Improve core strength

Chronic back pain is one of the most common afflictions of the modern age. If you have strong core muscles, you can help support your spine and prevent the cause of most back pain. In addition, a strong core helps power transfer to your legs, enabling faster running times. Check out my blog on core strength for more detail.

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7. It feels fabulous!

You may not believe this one if you haven’t done much strength training, but pbs in the weight room feel just as awesome as pbs on the running circuit. There is something super powerful about picking your own bodyweight off the ground! Check out one of my clients doing just that here:

Natalie

When she started training with me 18 months earlier, her core was so weak that she was unable to hold a plank for 20 seconds without shaking, and she would regularly get back pain when taking part in activities like running. Now she is strong, pain free, runs quick 5ks, 10ks and half marathons, and she feels FAB!  What’s more she recently achieved a crazy 20 minute pb on the 10 mile race distance.  YES, you read that right, 20 minutes!

What more reason do you need to start incorporating strength training into your running?

A great method of strength training that doesn’t take up loads of time, but gives great results is kettlebell training! And I have an online video course just for you called Kettlebell Training for Runners.

Learn more and sign up here.

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Angela Isherwood

Angela Isherwood is the founder of I Run Success
She is a REPs Level 3 Personal Trainer, a Run England Running coach, and a multiple marathon runner. She is a London Marathon Good for Age runner, a Boston Marathon Qualifier, a parkrun Run Director and Trainer for Goodgym Colchester.

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