Endurance athletes, especially runners, tend to shy away from strength training due to what I would consider a misunderstanding of what it can provide. After working with hundreds, probably thousands by now, of runners and triathletes over the last few years, I find very few have a regular strength plan. Some are afraid of getting hurt, some do not know how to effectively strength train, and some still have the ridiculous notion that if they lift weights they will get so bulky, the can no longer run!
Let’s address these, shall we?
STRENGTH TRAINING SAFETY
As with every sport, there is a calculated risk of injury when strength training. What will surprise some is that it is often much lower than the risk associated with training for an endurance sport. This can depend on whether you are single sport athlete (running only!) or have taken to the range that triathlon offers.
More can be read about sports specialization HERE from Dr. Greg Schiable. While this article is focused on sports specialization in children, the same can be shown for adult athletes who only participate, practice, and focus on one sport….an explanation why overuse injury rates are lower in triathletes compared to strict runners.
This morning, I read a great post from Chris Beardsley (CLICK FOR FULL ARTICLE) discussing the relative safety of strength training, especially when compared to endurance sports. This article launched me into, again, thinking about strength training for endurance athletes, and puts another feather in the cap of it being a great cross option to break up the often monotonous droning on that running provides.
We can show that single sport athletes are more prone to overuse injuries and burnout, as well as demonstrate the benefits strength training gives to endurance, injury prevention and movement efficiency.
An interesting point made...Beardsley writes,
“In comparison to the overall rate of injury in strength sports of between 0.24 – 5.5 injuries per 1,000 hours of training, the rate of injury during long-distance running is around 2.5 – 12.1 injuries per 1,000 hours and the rate during triathlon is around 1.4 – 5.4 injuries per 1,000 hours training.”
He goes on to state that many studies put running injuries on the higher side of the stated rate.
Let’s talk about getting bulky, to the point where you start to lose speed and endurance because you are just too massive to run efficiently. It used to be that this conversation was primarily had with female athletes, but more and more we find male runners of the same belief. In short, this is non-sense! Why is that you ask?
As a younger male, I spend countless hours, day after day, month after month, for a number of years, trying to pack on muscle and reach the elusive 200 lb mark. It was a stage in my life….enjoyable and very educational… I have since returned to my love of endurance training, but strength training remains a big part of what keeps me fit, injury free, and happy.
ENERGY & FOCUS:
I never made it to that 200 lbs mark. Mainly because I could not eat, sleep, and breath lifting weights and energy intake. To go from a slim and trim 155 to 200 is a feat which requires a lifestyle shift and not much time for anything else. As runners, we simply can not consume enough, or slow down enough to really pack on muscle. To make that shift, one would have to take all the time invested in putting in the miles...almost completely stop...and replace it with lifting weights...Not going to happen! Stop worrying about getting bulky and think of what a 10-20% increase in strength could do for you during those last miles of a long run or how you can conserve energy by moving more efficiently.
BUT GYMS ARE SCARY
Many endurance athletes just don’t know what to do when they end up in a gym. Fortunately, popular running sites and magazines have jumped aboard the strength train (locomotive type), and there are countless exercises and routines available if one simply does a Google search.
My personal advice is to first master your body weight, which allows you to more comfortably perform exercise at home or on a track after a run. Begin with push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunge variations and jumps. Once you reach a point where sets of 10, 20 or even 50 feel ‘easy’, it may be time to add in some weighted movements like kettlebell swings (my #2), deadlifts (my #1), and overhead press and pull variations.
If you feel like you have been in a rut this summer or have had more than your share of injuries lately, maybe it is time to try something new? Change up the routine a little...it is likely that you will enjoy the change and be surprised by the outcome.