If you're a runner, chances are that your training schedule is filled with workouts like tempo runs, track days, hill repeats, and long runs. After all, if you want to be a strong runner and improve your performance, you need to log more miles, right? Not so fast. Runners need to do more than just run. You need to spend some time in the gym, too. Whether your goal is to prevent injury, run a little farther each week, or snag yourself a new personal best, there are plenty of benefits of strength training for runners.
Keep in mind that your goal shouldn't be to achieve six-pack abs or the biggest muscles on the race course. Instead, strength training can help you develop endurance and the power you need to run your best. The main areas you should focus on are your glutes and hips—most running injuries are caused by weakness in these areas—and your core. But don't forget about smaller, stabilizer muscles like your ankles. Still not convinced? Here are five reasons why runners need to strength train.
1. Prevent Injury
While running has been touted for its many health benefits, there is one common downside: injury. Some research shows that injury rates can be as high as 85 percent. One of the best ways to reduce your risk of injury and pain is to stick to a strength-training program; don't wait until after you're hurt to focus on getting stronger.
This will help fortify the muscles that surround and support these injury-prone areas—we're looking at you, knees! Gym sessions also help strengthen your tendons, ligaments, and muscles so they can put up with the impact and wear and tear of running.
2. Go Faster and Longer
While running improves your aerobic capacity, your muscles need to be prepared to run faster and farther, too. A targeted strength training for runners program can help develop the endurance and neuromuscular pathways you need to perform running-specific movements for a longer period of time.
3. Improve Running Economy
Every runner wants running to feel effortless. Research has shown that one way to improve running economy is with plyometric training—think box jumps and single-leg hops. These dynamic motions teach your body to improve communication between your brain and muscles, and help you recruit muscle fibers more efficiently.
4. Finish Fast
Runners tend to rely on slow-twitch muscle fibers for endurance. However, you need to learn to call on, and use, your fast-twitch muscle fibers, too. These are the fibers that are responsible for power and explosive movements, and they will help you run faster. Plyometrics can help you learn to call on fast-twitch muscles, and research has shown this could mean faster finishing times.
5. Improve Your Form
When you think of strength training for runners, you likely think of lower body exercises. But don't forget about your core and upper body. These muscles are key to maintaining good form while you run. Your core helps stabilize your upper and lower body, as well as your pelvis. Your upper body muscles help you stand tall and keep your chest open when you run. If these muscles are weak, it's easy to break form when you get to the end of a race or workout.
So whether you're just starting to run or ready to take your running to the next level, make time for strength training. Just dedicating 10 to 20 minutes, two to three times a week, can make a big different in your performance and how you feel.