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Breaking the Stigma of Weight Training and Runners

This week we are pleased to have a guest post from performance coach Zach Bettis.

Imagine finishing your run and realizing you’ve set a new personal record, yet you don’t feel exhausted. Your body feels good; you feel like you could run longer and keep the quicker, newfound pace as you go. That’s what training for strength and power can accomplish for runners. However, weight training isn’t always seen as a complement to running: it’s often viewed as more of a nemesis. In reality, it should be a best friend relationship, the peanut butter to the jelly.

Some of the most frequent misconceptions about weight training and running that I’ve heard are as follows:

“Weight training doesn't mesh with my running.”

“Weight training will slow down my running times.”

“I don’t have time to weight train.”

“I need plyometrics/I should be doing plyometrics since they transfer to running.”

With a closer look, we can see that none of these statements is true. Despite the participation increase in strength training as of late, runners still try to stay away from training for strength and power. Instead, most runners I have come across tend to train between the 10-12 repetition range. Typically, the range of 10-20 reps is used to establish some type of muscular endurance and since running is an endurance sport, it’s easy to see the misconception of carryover.1

Many runners jump to the point that the concept of “specificity” isn’t met when it comes to strength/power training due to heavier load and less volume. This counteracts the runner mindset of lighter load and increased volume. Runners stick with the belief that since they run for long periods of time, it only makes sense to train in a similar fashion. The more you do and the longer you go, the better your muscles can handle the workload during an event, right? The kicker is that intermediate or elite runners won’t see significant results while weight training in the endurance repetition range. The “I should weight train for endurance because I’m an endurance athlete” thought process doesn't stick or prove beneficial.

Why does it mean that runners should lift for strength and power? Research has proven that strength and power-based training, paired with plyometrics WHEN YOU ARE READY FOR THEM*, is particularly effective, especially since multiple sides of the power curve are being enhanced. The power curve, aka force-velocity curve, shows that as contraction velocity increases, contraction force decreases, and vice-versa.2The increased production of force is the star here because it allows a more forceful muscle contraction in shorter time periods.

The increased force production will lead to an increased stride length, which means that the muscular effort needed to cover a distance will be less! With less muscular effort, each step is better sustained over the run, and your running economy improves, resulting in better performance throughout the run. In other words, the stronger a muscle is, the more innervated the muscle fibers are and the LESS your body works to use that muscle and cover distance.

I can bog you down with facts about weight training and how it will benefit your runs, but the following points are some of the biggest payoffs:

-Weight training increases running economy – fewer steps to cover distance3

-Weight training increases running power – less work to cover distance4

-Weight training increases aerobic capacity – remember the heart is a muscle5

-Weight training increases muscular strength, which in turn develops the core to assist in keeping the ribs stacked over the pelvis and engaged for anti-rotation during runs – no more cross-body arm swings = better efficiency6, 7

Knowing this information can change the running game across the board and gives you a leg up. If you aren’t there yet, embrace the weight. You’ll be in front when everyone else figures out the secret behind just how much weights boost your performance.

Zach is a performance coach in Atlanta. He has his Masters is Sports Conditioning and Performance, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (NSCA), and has worked with youth to professional athletes, as well as tactical military. Zach is also a teammate, partner, and consultant to other coaches in the community and enjoys connecting with people in all areas, both business and professional.

*Plyometrics performed without an adequate strength base have been shown to lead to an increased injury rate, as the body lacks the ability to absorb force properly and efficiently.8

1. Baechle, T., & Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of strength training and conditioning(3rded.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 

3. Balsalobre-Fernandez, C., Santos-Concejero, J., & Grivas, G. (2016). Effects of strength training on running economy in highly trained runners: A systematic review with meta-analysis of controlled trials. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 30(8), 2361-2368.

4. Guglielmo, L., Greco, C., & Denadai, B. (2009). Effects of strength training on running economy. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 30(1), 27-32.

5. Ozaki, H., Loenneke, J., Thiebaud, R., & Abe, T. (2013). Resistance training induced increase in VO2 max in young and older subjects. European Review of Aging & Physical Activity, 10(2), 107-116.

6. Sato, K., & Mokha, M. (2009). Does core strength training influence running kinetics, extreme stability, and 5000-m performance in runners? Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(1), 133-140.

7. Nicolle, H., Behm, D., & Young, W. (2007). Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 21(4), 1108-1112.

8. Turner, A.N. & Jeffreys, I. (2010). The stretch-shortening cycle: proposed mechanisms and methods for enhancement. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 17, 60-67.


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