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Should Runners Lift Weights?

March 31, 2017

Should Runners Lift Weights?


The age old question surrounding distance runners is whether or not weight lifting is important.  For sprinters, the answer is clear:  more muscle equals more power, which leads to faster finishing times.  For distance running, a common misconception is that weight lifting unnecessarily builds body mass, resulting in slower races.  The truth about running and weight lifting is discussed here.

see also Gaining Muscle While Running

Benefits of Weight Lifting
There are numerous benefits of weight lifting for long distance runners.  First and foremost, strengthening muscles, tendons, and ligaments surrounding bones and joints is important for injury prevention, especially in the lower body.   Strengthening is also important for improving running efficiency.  Many flaws in a runner’s form, such as poor knee drive or hunched posture, are due to limited strength.  Finally, weight lifting increases power output while improving metabolism, meaning each ounce of muscle continues working throughout the day to help maintain your lean body composition.  

Does More Body Mass Equal Slower Times?
One reason runners balk from weight lifting is that they mistakenly believe gaining muscle mass will slow them down.  While there is some truth to this statement, it generally does not apply to the type of weight lifting that runners perform.  Instead, adding muscle to areas such as calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and core serves to improve your running; not hinder performance. 

Is Upper Body Strength Necessary?
Thanks to an article published in Runner’s World about Galen Rupp and his leaner upper body physique, runners began to question whether upper body strength was necessary.  Consider this:  the harder you pump your arms while running, the faster your legs will move.  If your arms are weak, you will struggle to push through the final miles of a marathon, or power up a hill.  However, there comes a point where too much upper body strength can be detrimental.  Swedish researchers followed ultrarunners throughout the Transeurope Footrace and took various measurements along the way.  No variable was predictive of running performance except bicep circumference, including measurements such as height, weight, and calf or thigh diameters.  When the upper body becomes unnecessarily large, running performance may suffer. 

Are All Forms of Weight Lifting Beneficial?
While any form of strength building is better than nothing, each type can target different weaknesses.  For instance, explosive weight lifting and circuit workouts strengthen the cardiovascular system while also providing a total body workout.  If choosing to lift weights the traditional way, low weight with high repetitions improve muscular endurance, while heavy weights with fewer repetitions can help build fast twitch muscles.

What are the Best Strength Exercises for Runners?
The most important muscle groups for runners to target include calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, lower back, obliques, abdominal muscles, and shoulders.  Exercises such as single leg Russian deadlifts, squats, pushups, planks, walking lunges, chin ups, and seated running with light weights are all useful.  Whenever possible, modify exercises to incorporate balance elements, such as a Swiss medicine ball or BOSU ball, for greater benefits.  If in doubt, consult a trainer or someone knowledgeable about weight lifting, as improper form can cause injury or muscle imbalance. 



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