Did you know that strength training is crucial for runners and cardio enthusiasts? That’s right! To optimize your athletic performance (hello, improved race times!), mitigate injury, and strengthen your joints and muscles, you can’t rely on cardio alone. Resistance training is especially important for runners. In fact, we will go as far as to say that strength training is as important as cardiovascular exercise for distance runners. In this article, we will explain the why and how of incorporating strength training into your routine.
Why is Strength Training Important?
Most avid runners are mainly concerned with endurance and speed. It is not so often that you will hear of a group of track stars comparing six-packs, bragging to their friends about “getting yoked,” or flexing their guns for fame. That is largely because the runner bod is typically leaner due to long-term movements with a higher quantity of less-impactful reps (i.e., running). Over time, however, too much focus on cardio, without any focus on strength training, can lead to depletion of muscle mass and connective tissue and loss of flexibility. This will lead any athlete toward a greater propensity for getting injured.
For runners, strength training is an imperative counterpart to decrease the risk of injury and improve performance. For example, with weight training, your body will actually build muscle mass. The appeal of cardio exercise for many is that you will burn fat and lose weight. That is true, but what is also true is that you can deplete your muscle mass. Here is the kicker with all of that jazz:
The more muscle mass your body has, the more calories you will burn.
Read that again. Have you ever heard of the term “skinny fat?” If you haven’t, it describes slender people (like, they look great in their clothes) who are soft because they have no muscle and lack strength. If you only focus on cardio, you may end up “skinny fat.” While the importance of strength training exceeds your reflection in the mirror, it will help that too. The notion that to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume is nothing new. The more muscle mass your body contains, the more calories you will burn.
One of the other benefits of strength training for runners is a boost for your metabolic rate. This is because during your recovery period after finishing your workout, strength training demands a higher level of post-exercise oxygen consumption. This essentially means that the amount of energy needed to return your body to a resting state after lifting weights (or any other strength-building exercise) is much more work than doing the same post-cardio. In turn, your resting metabolic rate (MRM) will be boosted for more than an entire day after strength training!
Resistance training for runners can also lead to increased bone density, healthier heart functionality, and better blood flow. All of the connective tissue in your joints will benefit from the fresh influx of blood, which will greatly reduce your chances of injury. Your flexibility may improve as well, since you can focus on training ranges that wouldn’t otherwise be worked, decreasing the gap between active and passive flexibility.
(Related: Four Tips to Improve Flexibility)
The Best Strength Training for Runners
Now that we have covered why strength training is important, let’s move on to incorporating it into your fitness routine and/or athletic training.
Use Your Own Body Weight for Resistance!
We have found ourselves in a new situation where going to the gym (if it is even open) poses a considerable health risk for ourselves and others. The good news is that you don’t need gym access to change up your training routine. Your own body weight can be used to strengthen and build muscle mass. Don’t believe it? Look at the aerialists and acrobats in Cirque Du Soleil! There is a sizable range of challenging exercises that can be performed without the use of any equipment. You can work your major muscle groups and your stabilizers (which will help you in your battle against injury).
Consider holding planks
You can gradually increase your hold time as you get stronger. You can also add in side planks to work your obliques. (Always make sure to work both sides evenly.) You can also do lunges. If you really want to feel the burn, maintain a squat with your back up against a wall. Hold it for as long as you can and keep adding time as you get stronger. Another full-body equipment-free favorite is “air swimming.” Lay on your stomach with arms and legs fully extended, pulse your hands and feet up as high as possible, and back down to a hover above the ground. Repeat as many micro pulses as possible. You will surely feel the burn!
Incorporate a medicine ball into your workouts.
Another perfect home-gym option is the medicine ball. If you want to get started with strength and resistance training, but you aren’t too keen on bench presses, weightlifting, and the otherwise iconic, “macho” gym feats, a medicine ball is a perfect starting point. It isn’t intimidating or fussy (there are no bolts, gadgets, or know-how as far as equipment features are concerned). Plus, it can be incorporated into exercises that you probably already know and practice in your running warm-ups.
The other reason why we love the medicine ball is that it is so diverse. You can use it for exercises that require lifting, pushing, and isometrics. One of our favorite medicine ball exercises is reps of lunges with a twist while holding the ball. We also love medicine ball push-ups, which can be done by placing the ball underneath your hands with your body in a plank position. From there, execute push-ups as usual. You will not only be targeting all of the typical muscle groups used in standard push-ups but also all of the stabilizers that are keeping you from rolling off of the ball. The best part of the medicine ball is that it is just a weighted ball! It is simple, and there are no rules. Pick it up. Put it down. Move it around. Really, any way that you can think of manipulating it is going to build strength. Typically, medicine balls come in sets of different weights, so choose your own adventure!