Fitness tips: Why runners should hit the weight room

Hey runners: You should be here!

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.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


6 thoughts on “Fitness tips: Why runners should hit the weight room

  1. Hi there! I just came across your blog while searching for running related sites and I am very glad I did, as I have been wondering if strength training is what I need.

    I am new to running, have been doing it off and on for about 8 months now. I’ve recently committed to a half-marathon in July of this year and have begun to run more regularly. In my last few runs, 4 or so, I have noticed that my energy is just not there. My legs feel like lead and I am tiring out quickly.

    To make a long story short, I think it’s because I am not eating right and am doing zero strength training. I’ve started changing my diet and am eager to add weights too, however, I have no clue where to start.

    Do you know of, or can you recommend any books or online programs that I can start with? I have access to a wide array of exercise equipment at my job so I am open to anything.

    If not, I still appreciate your time in reading this. Thanks so much!

    Have a great day,

    • Thanks for the comment! Oh, where to start…
      There’s a lot of things that could be working against you. Here’s where I would start:
      – If you don’t have a run training schedule to get you up to half marathon ability, I would start checking out running sites online and see what sort of plans there are. You may be increasing your distances to quickly, or you may not be doing enough. One thing that will help your training is mixing up your runs: trail runs, short/fast runs, intervals and long runs.
      – How is your sleep? Especially since you are training for a half marathon, you will need your rest. Get your 8 hours a night, or as close to that as possible.
      – Make sure you have a rest day. One day a week where you do not train at all.
      – For a beginner into weight training, Let me kill two birds with one stone and suggest you pick up “Body for Life” by Bill Phillips. He has an excellent and proven weight training program that builds strength and helps you lean up. He also includes some really good advice on diet, what to eat, how much and how many times a day. I’ve followed his plan and it has worked for me.
      – Last, make sure you’re getting enough iron. If you are iron deficient, you will have poor recovery and suffer from anemic symptoms. If you are unsure of that, ask your doctor to check your iron levels and hormone levels. But I’d start with diet first before investing too much in doctor visits.
      Those are some places to start. As I think of more things, I may suggest them to you. Let me know how your training works out and good luck on your race training!

      • Thank you so much for your reply! You have given me a great deal to work with already and I very much appreciate it. In fact, I went out and picked up Body For Life this evening.

        As far as a running program, I just “graduated” from a couch-to-5k program and am now using a “bridge to 10K” program. The 10K program is 6 weeks long and I thought it could be helpful in getting me to running for a longer amount of time than I am used to before I started Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon for Beginners. On my 5K program, I was only running up to 35 mins at a time, which came out to roughly 2.3 miles (I am slow). My plan was to get up to running 45 mins/3 miles comfortably before I began the Half Training. Maybe this is wrong?

        The one thing that you said that I know that I DON’T get enough of is sleep. Despite my best efforts of going to bed between 9:30 and 10 every night, my twin daughters and snoring husband like to take turns in keeping me up at night. I know for a fact that I NEED more sleep.

        Again, I thank you for taking the time to reply to me! I will be sure to keep you updated on my training. 🙂

      • That’s awesome! Sounds like you have a lot of good resources to work with.
        As far as your running training goes: I’m pretty sure that your programs will have you do a series of shorter and longer runs, with usually at least one longer run a week.The step you’re talking about: Being able to go 45 minutes (3 mi.) comfortably sounds like that would be a good entry point for your 10K training. Once you get that licked, then it’s probably time to start your half marathon training schedule. Depending on your pace, the half will take anywhere from 2 to 3.5 hours to complete.
        One thing that helps me sleep: Keeping the place where you sleep as dark as possible. No nightlights, no TV on, and maybe even turning a lighted clock away from you. Wish I had an answer for the snoring hubby!
        Keep in touch!

  2. Pingback: Fitness tips: Why weight lifters should run « proactiveoutside

  3. Pingback: A call for cross-training: Dealing with dead-butt syndrome « proactiveoutside

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