Marathon Training Week 20: Are strength Training & Distance Running Compatible?

by Karl Gruber

When it comes to strength training, many runners, both newbies and experienced, shun the idea. I have often dabbled in lifting weights but have too, fallen to the myth that strength training is a deterrent to distance running. I am fortunate, in that respect, to always be open to learning new things, especially when it helps me become a better runner! 

Recently one of the runners that I coach turned me on to a study from the Poliquin Group, "Ten Reasons Why Runners Should Include Weight Training." The ten reasons are:

  1. Get Faster
  2. Have a Better Final Kick
  3. Decrease Body Fat
  4. Have Better Body Composition
  5. Prevent Injury
  6. Strengthen Your Core
  7. Increase Antioxidant Levels/Decrease Oxidative Stress
  8. Better Reproductive Health
  9. Better Insulin Health
  10. Best Results With heavy Weights & Varied Tempo

Of course, our big fear as runners is that consistent weight lifting will make us heavier and less flexible from the added muscle mass. This is not true, as pointed out in the Poliquin Group study:

“A common concern for competitive endurance athletes is gaining body mass with strength training. Even lean muscle gains have been a concern because elevated muscle mass is thought to be detrimental for optimal endurance sports where muscle forces are generated to support the body mass against gravity.  It is well established that endurance exercise creates a catabolic environment that degrades muscle and bone and shifts the proportion of muscle fibers to type I. Therefore, if you are doing a large volume of endurance training, the most you can hope to get out of your strength training program is increased speed and endurance with decreased body fat. Strength training will counter this muscle degrading process and result in strength gains but the anabolic environment will be blunted.”

Adding a strength training program will not only increase your performance but also create a fitter, leaner you! I have only been semi-consistent with strength training but have seen a correlation between weight lifting and my faster races.

If you are like many runners, finding time to insert yet another workout into your already jam-packed day can be a challenge. As always, it’s up to you. What are your running priorities and goals? Do you wish to be competitive in your age group or hit a certain time? Most runners are striving to be a little lighter or a little faster. The Poliquin Group study  states, “the right strength training program will also help you lose fat – lightness is always a benefit for runners.” Make the time in your weekly schedule to do some weight training. Your training and race results will surely reflect your effort. 

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