To improve your running performance, it would logically make sense to focus just on running and increasing your mileage. While this strategy might be beneficial for building endurance, if the muscles are not strong enough to absorb this extra stress from running, stress will get absorbed elsewhere and will eventually lead to injuries.
If you want to perform at your full potential, you need to take a comprehensive approach to your training. That means targeting areas of fitness you may not normally pay attention to like flexibility, balance, mobility, and strength. The focus of this article will be on the benefits of strength training.
When we say strength training, we mean exercises that are used for the purposes of increasing one’s strength. This can be accomplished by performing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups or performing exercises with weights, bands, chains, etc. Strength training can be beneficial to everyone, but more specifically to running, it has the following 3 main benefits:
1. Improving Running Economy
Want to run greater distances? Want to run for longer but keep the same pace? Like the fuel economy of a car, the less energy and oxygen you need to run at a certain pace, the longer you can run. Several research studies have shown that runners who incorporated strength training into their routine increased their running economy, i.e. they were running at a faster running pace at the same distance and/or run longer at the same running pace, due to a decrease in required oxygen consumption (energy demand).
2. Improving Running Speed
Many runners perform hill running, tempo running, sprint and interval running as a tool to improve their running speed. Even though this is a good way to improve your speed, it will only take you so far. To fully develop your speed potential, you will need to build your strength which will provide foundation for power and speed. With properly designed strength training program we are teaching our body to recruit more muscle fibers more quickly which will allow you to run faster. In other words, the stronger you are relative to your bodyweight, the faster you will get.
3. Injury Prevention
Best way to protect body from injuries is to make it stronger. Strong muscles, tendons and ligaments protect against impact with each stride, improve form and prevent any form breakdown. Strong body properly activates stabilizers before the foot hits the ground and keeps pelvis and leg stabile and in the right position. Most runners lack strength in at least one muscle group, which as a results will lead to other muscles becoming overworked. Furthermore, one of the greatest injury risk factors are body asymmetries or relative differences in muscle strength, mobility, stability and mechanics between sides of the body. Properly designed weight training can correct and/or diminish the degree of these asymmetries, that may prevent most of the overuse injuries like knee pain, plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band syndrome and shin splits, etc.
A lot of runners worry that by doing strength training they will add too much muscle mass and become bulky. This concern stems from the fact that increased bodyweight will increase the metabolic cost of running and thus make you slower. One only has to look at the best distance runners and notice that they are all very light. However, to make any meaningful increase in muscle mass one needs to train for a prolonged periods of time, periodize their strength training, have adequate protein and calorie intake and also almost eliminate any form of running from their program. In addition to this, female population has a lower blood testosterone concentration which makes it even more difficult to increase muscle mass in this population. Considering all this factors, it becomes clear that runners should not worry about strength training making them bulky and slowing them down. To the contrary, as shown previously, properly designed and supervised strength training will make you faster, more resilient and decrease the risk of injuries!