One of the concepts that I repeat over and over is that resistance training will improve (almost) every aspect of your life. Heavy resistance training will increase your overall strength, body composition, bone density, and metabolic rate. But what if you are an endurance athlete? Even if you are a marathon runner, and nothing else (yet), don’t count my teachings out just yet. Supplementing your distance running, or cycling, with heavy resistance training will do nothing but improve your performance in your sport.
Heavy strength training and endurance training could not be more opposite. They are both physical activity that contribute to your overall activity level, but that’s about it. Endurance training and strength training tax two completely different energy systems and muscle types. Endurance training taxes your aerobic energy system, while strength training taxes the anaerobic energy system, either the creatine phosphate (CP) system or the glycolytic energy system. The aerobic energy system kicks in after you have been exercising consistently for over 90 seconds, and allows you to continuously produce energy to be able to fuel the duration of your workout without rest. Anaerobic systems produce powerful energy in short bursts, up to 15 seconds for CP and 15 seconds up to 90 seconds for glycolytic, and require rest to be able to replenish energy sources. As well, endurance training exercises mainly type I muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are full of mitochondria, meaning they are able to continuously supply energy and oxygen, allowing for longer periods of work without fatigue. Strength training mainly works type II muscle fibers. Type II muscle fibers are those most associated with strength and power, and are beneficial for quick bursts of energy before needing to recover. To be a well rounded athlete, whether you are a distance runner or a strength athlete, both energy sources and muscle types should be trained. Sprinters can absolutely benefit from heavy strength training, as both types of training require heavy use of the anaerobic energy systems and type II muscle fibers.
Specifically for endurance athletes, strength training can have many benefits. Heavy resistance training, specifically for the lower body, can help to improve overall running mechanics, as well as muscular balance and strength. Unilateral training, which means training one limb at a time, is one of the best things that you can incorporate into your routine. Training one leg a time can help to improve any muscular imbalances that you have between legs, which helps to improve proper movement patterns. The better you move in general, the less likely you are to encounter an injury during a run. As well, training single legs will improve tendon and ligament strength. This strength will translate into more stable joints, continuing to improve muscular balance, while also helping to reduce your risk of sprains and strains. As well, heavy strength training incorporating both limbs, such as a barbell back or front squat, will help to build up muscle strength, tendon and ligament strength, and bone density. Your bones build up against resistance, so movements where your body is working against gravity, will help to build up the vertical bone density. This newfound muscular strength and bone density, combined with regular endurance training, will help to improve leg strength and elasticity, which will reduce the energy you expend to take a step. You will also be a much lower risk of multiple injuries, include strains and sprains, and shin splints.
Distance running and strength training are not mutually exclusive. When combined for a distance runner, these two forms of training can keep you running longer with a lower risk of injury. Strength training can also help to decrease muscular imbalances that can be exasperated by running. Running can cause overactive quads and hip flexors, while decreasing activation of hamstrings and glutes. Strength training can actively help to even out these imbalances. Though you’re a distance runner, and probably pretty tied to it, don’t count out strength training. It can help improve your running from good to great.
Sample workout for runners:
-Glute activation 2 sets 10 reps
(Lateral walks, Glute kickbacks, donkey kicks)
-Barbell Back Squat (or heavy goblet squat) 4 sets 6 reps
-Weighted Stationary Lunge 4 sets 6 reps
-Single Leg RDL (DB in opposite hand) 3 sets 8 reps/leg
-Single leg calf raises 3 sets 8 reps/leg