Trust Me, Strength Training Comes with Benefits
Here I stand, yet another Physical Therapist telling you, a runner, that you should strength train to minimize injury and maximize performance.
But you hate strength training. There isn’t enough time in the day. You can’t get on the floor to do said exercises because there are kids and dogs and cats climbing all over you. Marathon training is already sucking up all of your free time. Your legs are tired, sore, and you need each and every extra minute to foam roll and stretch out your tight muscles. Besides, everyone tells you that you should strength train, but everyone has a different opinion how.
Okay, deep breath. Hear me out.
What if I told you that the right strength training routine can actually help reduce soreness and tightness of your muscles with exercise? Or that it helps reduce the risk of injury so that you don’t have to take any time off from doing what you love?
Interested now? Let me explain.
Strength training is loosely defined as specific exercise that challenges the musculoskeletal system, therefore causing physiological changes within the body. Research has shown a plethora of health benefits related to strength training programs, including increased bone density, resiliency of muscles and tendons to stress, and maintenance of muscle mass with aging. For runners, a stronger musculoskeletal system translates into tolerating harder training, recovering faster, and consistency in training. Consistency leads to steady progress over time, and those PR’s that we all dream about.
On the performance side, we can improve our running efficiency, delay form breakdown in races, and increase the power that we are able to produce with each stride. To explain this, I like to use a car analogy. As runners, we are really good at building our engine - by running and doing aerobic exercise - but we are not as good at optimizing our chassis - our bones, muscles, and tendons that move the aforementioned engine. I like to visualize this like a shiny, big 2023 engine sitting in a rusted out 1958 Chevy Impala. Wheels are nothing without the engine, and the engine is nothing without the wheels!
There is no one size fits all when it comes to strength training. The exercises we do and how we do them are going to depend upon our lifting experience, time/energy availability, equipment availability, goals, etc. I strongly recommend working with a professional (such as a Physical Therapist) who is familiar with the sport of running to help build a program that works for you and your lifestyle. However, below are some guidelines to follow when building your strength program:
1. Hard days hard, easy days easy.
I usually recommend that people place their strength training days on their harder training days, such as a workout, medium long run, or long run. This will vary throughout the training cycle, but the idea is to allow your recovery days to work the way they are intended - for recovery! Strength training is NOT a recovery or cross training day. Time management can be difficult if you’re completing two workouts in a day, but as a rule of thumb, don’t strength train the day before a long run or quality workout day.
2. Something is better than nothing.
Strength training with a frequency of 2-3 times per week is ideal, and I find a lot of runners prefer the twice a week cadence. Along those same lines, doing body weight exercises is better than doing nothing if you can’t make it to the gym. Sometimes life gets in the way and we have to settle for “good enough”. So, stick to your plan and do a few exercises if you can’t quite get everything done.
3. The harder you plan on pushing yourself in training, the more important strength
This is for all those PR-seekers out there. If you are trying to increase your mileage, intensity, or both, in the pursuit of doing something you’ve never done before, you have to make sure that your body is up to task. All aspects of training become more important- consistency, recovery, and doing “the little things” such as strength training, sleeping, eating well, etc. The strength training program for these athletes will be more challenging, likely increasing in weight and decreasing in repetitions. This will help build capacity for power and improve the “spring” off of the ground (i.e. running faster!)
4. Not all exercises need to be completed at once.
It is totally fine to break them up during the day! In between zoom calls is the perfect time to knock out some deadlifts, heel raises, or core exercises. A 5-10 minute window is all you need to complete 1-2 exercises. If you do that 3-4 times a day, it adds up!
5. Form first, weights second.
Being able to complete exercises properly and using the correct muscles is essential. Strength training is not just a box to be checked - it has to be intentional and done correctly. Our goal is to increase weight to the heavy lifting we see the pro’s do on Instagram, but we have to work up to that only when appropriate.
Personally, I have reaped the benefits of a strength training program and have seen leaps and bounds of improvement in my ability to recover from hard efforts, as well as the most consistency in training that I have ever had in my 15 years of running. It has taken time, effort, and consistency, but it has been so worth it. The best part of it all is that I’ve experimented enough with myself so that I can pass on my learnings to my patients!
Happy running and happy strength training!
Keep going, you got this!
Dr. Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT, OCS
Dr. Kacy Seynders is one of our amazing Fast Bananas Experts. She currently has content within our RUNsource membership on how to work on your foot strength as a runner as well as some soft tissue recovery techniques. This month we will also be adding her new strength training content. You won't want to miss these mix and match strength segments. They have been built to help you create the perfect workout individualized for you.