Strength Training in Distance Runners
Strength training in distance runners use to be a controversial topic. Research now shows that there are many benefits and few detriments for distance runners to incorporate strength training routines into their weekly schedule. I’ve been involved with running and the running community for as long as I could remember. I started running in middle school and I’ve heard many different opinions on strength training for distance runners. While in high school, my Cross Country coach made sure we did at least one hour of weight training 3 days a week. Other runners at different schools and the other sports at my high school would always ask why we lifted. Their remarks included, “Doesn’t weight lifting slow you down by adding too much weight?”, or “I don’t lift because I do not want to get big”. This had me wonder if any of these comments were true but it was never enough for me to not trust my coach so I continued to lift. The result – I did not get “swoll”, I did not slow down (I actually got faster), I felt stronger, and I never had an injury in high school while running 70 miles a week. I later ran for Cal State LA, an NCAA division 2 school, and we were required to lift 3-4 times a week and upon graduation from CSULA, I continued to lift to reach many personal bests. I believe that it is essential to have a strength training routine if you plan on reaching your personal bests, goals, that BQ or even an OTQ.
The two biggest benefits you get from strength training is improvement in your running economy and a reduction in your risk of injury. Running economy is defined as the energy demand for a given velocity of submaximal running. This basically means how much work is required to run a certain speed. A better running economy would make running a certain pace much easier. Research is now certain on how this occurs but there are a few suggestions. Strength training increases the amount of muscle fibers that are recruited when performing a specific task which means when you run, your body will have more muscle fibers to perform run a particular pace. Think of it has trying to lift up a piano. If you only have two people trying to lift this piano, they will both utilize a lot of energy. If you recruit two more people to help you lift the piano, you’ll now have four people to lift it and less energy will be used to perform the task.
In addition to recruitment, you’ll also get an increase in muscular stiffness. Muscular stiffness is not technically a bad thing. An optimal amount of muscular stiffness increases power output and force. I like to think of this as a spring. If you stretch out a spring, then try to push it down to launch it, it will not go as high as if it wasn’t stretched out. This stiffness will increase the amount of force you produce per stride and will make your muscles more resilient to use. Overuse is one of the most common methods of injury for runners. Increasing muscular stiffness through strength training can help your muscles (AND BONES!) become stronger so that they can handle the hundreds of miles that you intend to run while training for your next race.
When starting a new strength training routine, it is important to consult with a strength and conditioning coach. Strength training does have its own risks and it is common to make mistakes and get injured in the weight room. Before you try a new workout or technique, make sure you have a professional teach you, observe your form and to double check to see if you are lifting the appropriate weight. Two common ways to get hurt in the weight room is improper form during a lift or too much load. Please consult a professional strength coach if you plan on starting your own strength training routine.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below or send me an email. I'd be more than happy to chat with you about running, recovery and training.
Thank you for reading,
Dr. Andres T. De La Cruz, D.C., CSCS
Doctor of Chiropractic
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist