If you are reading this it is likely that you are a runner with aspirations to maintain or even improve your current running ability. If this is true of you then I want to make the case why you need to start lifting weights immediately. My reasons are three-fold: One, weightlifting will provide you with the muscle strength required to support the demands placed on it in training and races. Two, lifting weights will result in a more favorable body composition by building more lean muscle tissue. Three, the frequency and severity of running injuries will be dramatically reduced.
Reason #1 — Weightlifting will provide you with the muscle strength required to support the demands placed on it in training and races. If you remain a one-dimensional athlete (limiting your exercise only to running) for too long the result will be inefficient and slower runs. Weakness in one area of the body leads to compensation in other areas of the body. The inevitable result are inefficient running mechanics, higher energy demands at a given pace, and slower running times. For example, if you drive on a deflated tire on a long road trip your gas mileage will decrease resulting in fewer miles driven on a tank of gas. If you were to run a marathon with this “deflated tire” you would either need to increase your energy output to sustain your early race pace before slowing down significantly later in the race, or slow down for the entire race in order to conserve valuable energy. Both choices result in a slower racing performance.
Reason # 2 — Lifting weights will result in a more favorable body composition. While long distance running may promote weight loss, it’s not always the best sort of weight loss. Muscle loss in distance runners is very common, and fat loss from aerobic exercise alone has its limits. By incorporating regular weightlifting 2-3x week the distance runner will soon notice more development in lean muscle tissue in conjunction with reduced body fat storage. The benefit is a leaner runner with more energy for longer and faster training runs and races.
Reason # 3 — The frequency and severity of running injuries will be dramatically reduced by regular weightlifting. Connective tissue like your muscles, ligaments and tendons are sensitive to overuse by repetitive movements such as running. If our bodies are properly strengthened so that no weaknesses exist to inhibit efficient movements, there will be no overcompensation resulting in overuse injuries. Our bodies are designed to move in fluid and functional patterns, but when these optimal patterns are interrupted by weak or overdeveloped muscles it is only be a matter of time before the structure breaks down and injury results.
If these reasons have convinced you to take up weightlifting I urge you to start immediately and maintain a schedule of no less than two lifting sessions per week. Don’t know where to start? Try Googling “weightlifting for runners” and choose a routine that best suits you. Your longevity, performance and injury status as a runner will be greatly improved in just a matter of weeks.
Tim Ives, CSCS, is a personal trainer and private running coach with The Body Project, Inc. in downtown Des Moines. He also coaches cross country and track at Dowling Catholic High School, winners of 4 of the last 7 state cross country championships. More info about The Body Project can be found at www.bodyprojectiowa.com.