Strength training is intimidating. I’ll give you that. I think that’s why so many people gravitate toward something as seemingly simple as running.
When you’re looking for a way in to the health and fitness world, it feels much easier to lace up a pair of running shoes and hit the road than it does to navigate an unfamiliar world of endless possibilities with such foreign-seeming tools as dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, slam balls, stability balls, resistance bands, machine weights, cable systems and umm… shake weights?
Add to that the eleven billion ways to structure a program from bodybuilding, powerlifting, and CrossFit to boot camps, HIIT classes, hybrid training and more!
It can be confusing and overwhelming to the point that it’s just easier to avoid altogether. However, I would argue that avoiding regular strength training is the biggest fitness mistake any human can make.
It’s that important.
But it’s especially important for runners. However, the time, resources, and energy we are already giving to running can make it that much more challenging to actually get it done.
Turns out, runners aren’t the only ones who struggle to strength train consistently. A recent study found low adherence to strength training across the general population, even more so when compared with adherence to aerobic conditioning. One study found that while 50% of adults meet the aerobic exercise recommendations of more than 150 mins per week, only 10-30% manage the recommended 2 strength sessions per week.
Knowing what I know about runners … that tracks.
Runners just want to run all the miles and have a really hard time committing to a consistent strength training regimen. But I get it. There can be a lot of barriers to entry that make it a little more intimidating than lacing up your awesome new running shoes and heading out the door.
What it comes down to is perceived barriers to entry and an uncertainty about how to navigate the nuances of strength training in order for it to support our running rather than undermine it.
Here’s how those barriers and uncertainties might play out in real life:
I don’t have time
I don’t have access
I don’t have the money
I don’t know where to start or what to do
I don’t want to get hurt
I don’t want to be too sore or take away from the quality of my running
But strength training is just too important to ignore. There wouldn’t be recommendations if it weren’t.
Just look at some of the things strength training can do for your health (and more often than not, it does a better job at these things than running can):
Improves your bone density, reduces risk of osteoporosis and protects your joints
Reduces musculoskeletal pain
Improves lean muscle mass and metabolism
Encourages positive hormonal adaptations
Reduces signs and symptoms of chronic conditions like arthritis, obesity, and heart disease
Help you maintain independence as you age
Associated with lower all-cause mortality
According to that list, strength training is as close as we can get to the magic bullet, the fountain of youth, or whatever other euphemism you want to use for an effective solution to the question of how to obtain better health.
I LOVE running. Absolutely love it. But if a sedentary person were to come to me and ask about the best way to get healthy, I would recommend sustainable strength training, walking, and a quality nutrition plan.
And yet, I know who I’m talking to here!
If you’ve been bitten by the running bug in any way, you know all the positives that come from running and how much this beautiful sport can contribute to your quality of life, your sense of community and belonging, your self-confidence, your mental health, your friendships, your self-efficacy, and more. Especially if you’ve been fortunate enough to feel a runner’s high! So while I tend to put strength training on the health pedestal, I am also the first to advocate for how much good running can bring to your life!
But I have to ask:
If strength training is the go-to for health benefits and makes you this much better at simply being (or staying) alive, how could it not have a positive impact on your running and further improve the quality of your life? Especially if it’s near the top of the list of things that allow you to keep running well for a lifetime.
Here’s an abbreviated yet powerful list of the ways strength training can benefit your running:
Reduces injury risk
Increased strength, durability and resilience allows you to run more consistently without having to take time off due to injury. Running consistently means more miles, more fun, and more progress.
Improves movement quality
If you move better, you feel better while running. If aches, pains or discomfort are deterring your ability to run or diminishing your enjoyment of running, consider strength training and/or performance based physical therapy as a way to rekindle the love of running.
Improves your running form
If you are stronger and move better, you will naturally run better without having to intentionally change your form. I wrote a whole blog post here on why I advocate for improving body function to enhance the safety and efficiency of your running form rather than implementing top down changes to the way you run based on someone else’s conception of how you “should be” running. Overhauling your form on a whim greatly increases your risk of injury. Focus on function and form will follow.
Improves your running economy
Running economy is how much energy you expend to maintain a certain pace - better running economy is like better gas mileage. That means it will feel easier to maintain a given pace.
Increases your speed
Strength training enhances your motor recruitment and coordination, as well as your force output and power per stride. All these fancy things just mean, it helps you run faster and sustain higher speeds. This is true no matter how fast you are right now. Strength training can help any runner of any ability level get even better.
Essentially, done well, strength training can help you move better, feel better and run better. If you are just starting your running journey, it’s very easy to ramp things up a little too quickly. Strength training is the best way to reinforce your body to handle the miles with less risk of getting hurt. Even seasoned runners can only increase their training volume so much, and no runner can continuously increase their mileage without consequence, but strength training has the potential to help you push past plateaus and break barriers.
It truly is the secret sauce that will have you running well for a lifetime.
In Part 2, we’ll cover how to overcome the barriers to entry into the wild and wonderful world of strength training and what runners actually need to focus on to support their running rather than undermine it.
If you're interested in comprehensive strength training for runners that eliminates the programming guesswork and will help you move better, feel better, and run better, check out Run Empowered! Get access to a plan and a coach to help you crush your goals!