When runners lift weights, more often than not they lift for endurance, opting for lighter weight and higher reps. This sounds logical (after all, running is an endurance sport), but is it the best way to train in order to improve your running? We spoke with Alena Luciani, strength & conditioning coach, educator and founder of Toronto-based professional coaching service TRAINING2XL, who explained why runners shouldn’t be afraid to lift heavy.
The purpose of hitting the gym is to strengthen your muscles so that you’ll be stronger and more powerful while you’re running, and to make your body more resilient to avoid injuries. Running already does a far better job at enhancing endurance than lifting weights, so opting for high reps and light weight won’t improve your endurance much.
“In order to build strength, you need to load the tissue enough to challenge the body and force it to adapt,” says Luciani. “In order to build the strength necessary to increase performance and build resiliency, an individual must prioritize strength training as part of their training schedule.”
Luciani explains that progressive overload is a key component of an effective strength training program, which means making gradual changes to the strength training plan to progressively challenge the body over time. This is accomplished by changing the volume, intensity, exercise selection, or time. Reducing the volume allows you to lift a heavier weight, helping to increase the strength of your muscles. This, says Luciani, can be very beneficial for runners, but she warns that it must be properly dosed, so you can reap those benefits without compromising your running performance.
“Start small and build,” she suggests. “It’s so important that you introduce things gradually, so starting with one session per week with strength training is a great way to get going.”
She adds that once you feel confident and understand how your body will react to the workout, you can increase the frequency, and says that twice per week is usually a good complement to a heavy running schedule. If you, like many runners, feel intimidated or out of place in the gym, Luciani encourages you to seek guidance from trusted resources and coaches to help you build a proper foundation and empower you to make strength a key component of your training.
Of course, because of provincial or municipal pandemic restrictions, many runners across Canada don’t currently have access to a gym with heavier weights. If this is your situation, Luciani suggests using this time to work on the foundational movement patterns, which include the squat, hinge, lunge, press and pull. Performing these movements with just bodyweight will go a long way in cementing good habits with your movement patterns so that when you do finally get your hands on some weight, you can perform the movements safely.
“My approach is ‘do the simple things, do them well and do them often,'” explains Luciani. “The foundational movement patterns will not only translate to your running, but also your everyday life.”
Strength training, specifically lifting heavier weights, can make you a stronger, faster runner, but more important, Luciani says it gives you longevity, allowing you to run for years without being sidelined by an injury or burnout. Since consistency in training is the number-one key to success in running, lifting weights should be a high priority in every runner’s training program.