Our resident PT Alice Liveing on strength training for runners
While everyone knows bread and butter were made for each other and to separate Batman and Robin would be blasphemy, many exercisers believe running and weights training should never mix – for fear of cardio burning off that hard-earned muscle. So you might be surprised to hear that marrying the two can improve both cardio fitness and strength.
The key is in the combination. Yes, significantly stepping up a running regime, without adequately fuelling your body through food or doing any complementary training, may indeed burn so much energy that you drop muscle as well as fat. But add weights into the mix and you’ll find that not only can you maintain your body’s muscle mass while pounding the pavement regularly, but that the two methods of training can be mutually beneficial.
Research shows aerobic training, such as longdistance running, can help make strength sessions more effective. How? Lower-intensity endurance exercise helps build the aerobic capacity of fasttwitch muscle cells – those you rely on for strength and power. It also increases blood flow, which can help your body recover between intense bouts of strength training by reducing soreness.
Flip reverse it and you’ll find lifting regularly aids your running practice far more than just maintaining muscle. A Norwegian study found that maximal strength training improved running economy in distance runners, who were randomly assigned to an intervention or a control group.
The former did half-squats (four sets of four reps), three times a week for eight weeks on top of their normal endurance training. The latter continued their usual routine (sans squats) for the same period. Results showed improved running economy and increased time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed among the squatters.
The benefits of strength work on running ability are threefold: it prevents injury by strengthening muscles and connective tissues; it can help you run faster by improving neuromuscular coordination and power; and it can improve running economy by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency.