I talked to a friend recently about her training dilemma. Like a lot of runners, she’s looking to shave some time off her race PRs, but as soon as she increases her weekly mileage, her knee starts hurting. My first question to her was, “How much are you strength training?” Her response was pretty common: “Huh? Won’t lifting make me bulky and slower?”
Whether you’re new to running or you’re a seasoned veteran, you can benefit from strength-training. Here’s why:
1. Better running efficiency and endurance. Ever hit that awful point in a long run or race when you’re hunched over, staring at the ground, and slowly shuffling to the end? Strengthening your core and upper body can help improve and maintain your running form, so you’ll run more efficiently. And you’ll be able to run longer before extreme fatigue sets in.
2. Improved speed. Believe it or not, most runners pick up some speed fairly soon after adding strengthening. Better form, endurance, and running efficiency means you can take seconds, maybe even minutes, off your race times. Regular strength-training may also help you lose some weight, which can also contribute to increased speed.
3. Reduced risk of injury. Muscle weakness or imbalance is often a factor in overuse running injuries. Stronger muscles mean more stabilized joints, ones that can better withstand the stress and strain that comes with running.
To get the benefits, all it takes is two or three 15- to 20-minute strength-training sessions a week. And you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) pump serious iron. Use light weights with a high number (12-15) of repetitions, or try body weight exercises such as squats, lunges, planks, and push ups. Just don’t strength train two days in a row or on a day you’re running long or really hard. You need to give your body a chance to recover from tough workouts, so it can re-build itself even stronger.