There exists a myth in the running community that strength training is bad for you. Or at the very least unnecessary. Both have what we call “face validity”. Meaning that if you look at the thought from just the surface of the logic, they make perfect sense. Which is likely why they are so pervasive. But, with current evidence demonstrating that a vast amount of running injuries could have been avoided by simple strength training programs, it’s time to address these myths head on!
Let’s start with the first. Strength training will cause me to gain muscle mass and that will make me slower! If I want to be a fast runner, I can’t spend time in the gym!!! When you look at just that concept, it almost makes sense! But you can probably tell where this is going if you’ve spent any time around resistance training.
Gaining mass is actually a very hard thing to do, and it takes a targeted hypertrophy program to put on the kind of mass that would affect a runner. We discuss “load dosing” in strength training a lot. And while a low rep, high weight, long duration lifting session with appropriate nutrition will allow someone to make great gains in muscle mass, that is a lot of specific variables! An appropriately dosed training program of moderate weight, moderate repetitions, moderate session length with nutrition tailored to your running program will minimally affect any body mass specifically. The extra caloric burn alone from a running program would prevent that as your body needs to have an excess of nutrients in order to be able to gain weight. Which is the reason most bodybuilders will not train long distance running in their programs! It would be extremely counter productive to their sessions!
So, definitely not bad for your to lift as a runner!
Benefits to a Resistance Program
But just because something is not bad does not inherently make it good! So we should look at if there are benefits to a resistance program for a runner too. Otherwise why should we spend unnecessary time in the gym?
The answer is, actually, a resounding yes! Weight lifting can affect runners in two very important ways. Number one is that it increases resilience in the muscles and tendons. This is vital because a large number of running injuries seen in clinic are related to what are often known as “overuse” conditions. Meaning that the tissue’s load has exceeded its capacity and it is no longer able to support the body. Conditions like plantar fasciitis, IT-band syndrome, hip flexor/adductor strains, and hamstring strains have been shown to have drastic reduction in risk with simple resistance training additions to running programs. In addition, as force capacity improves, muscular efficiency also improves. Meaning that runners often also experience improved endurance in how long their muscles can fire before giving out. Just as important a factor in a successful run as our cardiovascular condition!
So in the end, the takeaways are simple. If your primary sport is running and you have an appropriately designed program, not only should a resistance program not cause you to gain weight and become slower, but it should improve both your injury risk factors and your overall running condition too! Peak athletes across sports will almost always agree that cross training is one of the best tools to success. Weight lifting for runners is no different!