Why the weight room is my friend
As a distance runner, do you lift weights at all?
A question I get asked wayyyyy too often!
Growing up almost exclusively as a soccer player, the weight room was always an important and integral aspect of my training from a young age. After beginning my collegiate soccer career with Sweet Briar College, it became especially apparent just how much I could improve my soccer game using the weight room. After transitioning from soccer to running my sophomore year of college, my habit of strength training stuck despite the all too common notion that distance runners don’t lift (do YOU even lift?). However while the habit of strength training stuck and is something I continue to rely heavily on, the intentions of my lifts changed. I was no longer lifting with the intention of helping me kick a ball harder or getting HUGE to help me out-muscle an opponent, I was now lifting weights with the intention of being the most efficient I could be at running (in mostly straight paths). I was working to build a leaner and less explosive muscle type.
I often get asked how often I lift as a runner and between running collegiately and professionally it really hasn’t changed- strength training twice per week seems to be the sweet spot. Throughout college we focused a bit more on Olympic lifts (i.e. dead lifts, hang cleans, and squats) with the intention of building a strong posterior chain (back+glutes+hamstrings). As a pro we definitely still do include some heavy lifting, and the posterior chain is a focus, but there is also a lot of focus on strengthening the smaller muscles and activation chains that really hold everything together. Below I’ve included two examples of my lifts from this winter’s training block (courtesy of our trainers at Hypo2), and as you can see it is a great full-body workout. While we may do slightly more leg strengthening exercises overall there is still a good mix of arms, core and back included. You are using your entire body to run after all!
Another common misconception that should also be addressed:
Do you workout your upper body as a runner?
If you saw my arms, or those of my teammates you would be able to answer that question for yourself and you can see from my weight plans that we do in fact do exercises to work our arms. In fact, I’m very proud of the amount of chin-ups and pull-ups I can do even compared to the non-runner gym community! Now, I am not trying to look like Popeye and it is true that everything is good in moderation BUT there is something to be said about having a strong upper body in relation to your overall strength as a runner. Remember when you’re at the end of a race, you have 400m or less to go, everything has gone to sh!t and you’re pretty sure you don’t even have legs anymore? Well guess what, you still have arms! While those silly bystanders at races usually don’t know what they’re talking about, they are definitely onto something when they scream “GO TO YOU ARMS” at the end of a race. So yes, I urge you to workout your upper body. The added weight that you MIGHT gain from increasing your muscle mass in your arms will be far outweighed by the overall strength you will gain at the end of your races. You will be able to hold your posture better throughout the entirety of the race and might even help you get that nasty kick you’ve always wanted. So I urge you, go ahead and do some chin-ups, do some push-ups, work those lats, its going to be alright. I promise.
Now for everyone’s favorite: CORE. Ahhhh the ever elusive 6-pack which seems to be synonymous with being a distance runner. While I do 100% agree that a strong core is necessary to be a strong and efficient runner I do not think that you need to have a 6-pack. I try to do at least 4 core sessions a week. For me I have found that having a strong core has also really helped me to maintain good posture and efficiency while running. A lot of the core exercises that we focus on are those that involve core stabilization. Exercises that work to activate the core muscles in order to prevent any sort of unwanted twisting or rotation of the hips and/or upper body. A few of my favorite core exercises for this purpose are ab wheel roll-outs, plank, deadbug, and hollow body holds. If core is something that you get bored with easily (like me!) stay tuned as I am trying to get a lot of the core exercises that I do out to you to keep you less bored and working toward those abs of steel.
Lastly, if you have made it this far and I still haven’t convinced you to give weight lifting a try to help you as a runner then listen to this. I was hurt October-December of 2018 and while I was forced to take complete time off and then work back into cross training over those 3 months I still stuck to my lifting routine. Mostly as a reason to get out of the house twice I week I still did my best to complete all of my lifts without hurting my injury or creating any imbalances and let me tell you, I think it worked. While it is only the 2nd week of January and I am back into (almost) full training, I can already tell that all the strength that I built and continued to maintain in the weight room while I was injured is saving me. I am certain that this strength has helped me to come back into training healthy and stronger than ever before. While my aerobic capacity is likely still catching up, I am able to rely on the strength I have built in my arms, core, and legs to power through workouts when things start to get tough.
So while I am not a certified personal trainer and have no professional expertise on the subject, I am speaking from a lot of personal experience and evidence when I recommend weight training to those looking to take their running to the next level. I am certain that weight lifting has played a large part in my success as a runner and if you haven’t tried it yet I recommend you give it a shot. It’s totally worth it and you might even get to use fun hashtags in your photos like #yoked.
Happy lifting folks!
Lifting examples, courtesy of Hypo2 in Flagstaff-