Is it true that there are gym rats and runners and never the twain shall meet? Probably an oversimplification. But what I’ve found is that a lot of serious runners really don’t do more than cursory work in the weight room. Any serious trainer will tell you that token weightlifting is not worth your time.
Each runner’s goals are different, and depending how much time is spent on the trail, in the park or on the streets, other fitness endeavors can be tough to squeeze in. But what I’m going to advocate is the old adage we use to tell people that they need to get on an exercise program: Make the time.
I’m a firm believer in weight training. It has practical applications that reach into everyday life, not just looking good in the mirror. The athletic benefits of a solid weight training program are countless, and lifelong weight trainers enjoy a higher degree of mobility as they age.
But do those benefits translate to what runners do?
Oh yes. Here are some reasons I think runners should also be weight lifters:
Weight training helps build a sturdier frame. A good, honest and moderately intense weight training program actually promotes the development of strong bones. As you challenge yourself with weights, extra stress on your bones sends a signal to the body to do more in building up bone density.
Weight training can enhance athletic performance. This is the “no duh” section of this post. But think about it: When you’re looking for some extra kick at the end of a race, or needing to push through that extra tough vert on a trail run, a little power is a nice thing to have. Squats and lunges, among other exercises, will complement your training by giving your body some extra juice when needed.
Weight training builds up overall muscular support. A good mix of upper body, core and lower body training will surround that powerful heart/lung system you already have going for you. A strong body will hold up better on longer or more grueling runs where you might otherwise begin to wither. That stronger frame will also prevent you from losing form, thus helping stave off nagging back, hip and knee injuries.
Weight training is perfect – and needed – cross training. Aside from the rock-and-root dodging you get on trail runs, most running (especially on a treadmill) is a pretty simple forward motion, almost like you’re a train on tracks. Your legs get worked, but some muscles work much more than others. A diverse weight training regimen can correct that, give you better overall muscular development and help stave off injuries.
Fears of bulking up too much are overblown, particularly for women. It’s true that you don’t see a lot of beefy dudes winning races and triathlons. Endurance sports and meaty frames don’t mix well. But a reasonable weight training program will not add any more bulk than what you want. It takes serious , intense lifting and a massive amount of calories to put on even just a few pounds of muscle. For women, it’s even harder because women aren’t genetically programmed to add copious amounts of lean mass. Just because you lift does not mean you’ll be carting around a lot of needless muscle mass on race day.
I know there are exceptions. People in the midst of training for a marathon, an ultra or an Olympic or Ironman-length triathlon get to a point where they have to dial it in on that type of training alone. But for most runners, there no good reasons to stay out of the weight room and plenty of good reasons to pick up some iron.
Next time, I’ll take on an even more dire subject: Why weight lifters should run.
On Twitter @RMHigh7088