When you're a runner who's addicted to the endorphin high of cardio, it's hard to branch out and set aside time to do other things that will improve your fitness —which is why a lot of runners don't spend that much time on strength training (come on, you know it's true). It may not sound like a big deal, but Michael Olzinski, MS, Purplepatch endurance coach, Equinox run coach, and ultramarathoner, told POPSUGAR that it can have a huge impact on your fitness level — and your weight loss goals (if that's what you're going for).
Why Do Runners Need Strength Training?
The first and most important reason runners need to hit the weight room is to prevent injury, stay mobile, and keep your body balanced. "It is pretty clear that running produces the highest amount of injuries relative to the amount of people who actually participate in it," Mike confirmed. "Running is an extremely stressful activity for your body, and you need the physical capacity to successfully stay in it and be able to train for months and years on a healthy body."
"Secondly, strength training is one of your most efficient ways to make progress in your runs and your physical body," Mike continued. "Strength training will have a great effect on your body composition and the synchronization of your muscles."
By working on squats, lunges, and push-ups, you're conditioning your body to complete all kinds of movement better — including and especially running. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to pick up your legs and run at a fast pace, so strengthening those muscles will only "help improve your power and speed in your runs."
What Happens When Runners Don't Strength Train?
Like Mike said, you can really set yourself up for injury if you don't do any weightlifting while running regularly. But there's more. "Strangely enough, lots of people who start running actually GAIN body fat because they require a bit more caloric intake, but they quit doing the work that keeps their muscles active and metabolic," he explained. "So even from a vanity perspective, strength training is critical to keep your physical form."
Yes, you read that right. You could actually gain weight if you are only running and never strength training. You need to develop the lean muscle mass in your body in order to help you burn more calories throughout the day, which will help you shed more fat in the long run. And keep in mind that running a lot makes you hungry. But when you strength train, you can afford to eat more calories each day since your body needs the extra sustenance. You won't have to worry so much about those post-run snacks adding up.
What Kind of Strength Training Should Runners Do?
The first exercise Mike recommends doing is the good ol' fashioned deadlift. "It is a very pure way to keep proper muscle sequence and good posture," he said. "Plus, good butts equal good runs!" We won't argue with that.
Next up on your program is a plethora of single-leg exercises, because if you really think about it, running is a single-leg exercise in and of itself. Movements like single-leg squats, step-ups, lunges, and split squats will "continually drill the balance components that are needed during a run."
"Also, maintaining good posture and posterior strength is very key, so even keeping in some type of rowing exercises like wide-grip rows or lat pull-down is great," Mike added. "Lastly, lots of core and trunk stability work. My favorites are cable twists, hollow body holds, and some side plank raises."
How Often Should Runners Strength Train?
"I believe the minimum that any runner should strength train is two times a week," Mike instructed. "Then we can get a bit more specific into goal sets, and how many runs someone is doing."
For example, if you're training for your first 10K or some kind of other race, sticking to two strength-training sessions is still a good idea. "However, if someone has some more extraneous or general fitness goals, I would say they could do my magic formula of three and three — three strength sessions and three runs each week," Mike advised. "Then the rest can be completely fun!"
Product Credit: Model Credit: @rrayme