As runners and ultra-distance enthusiasts, we are all well aware of the incredible time demands, physical challenge and mental grit it takes to complete our training. This also means we know that we are all too familiar with both the drive to do just about anything to give us an edge or prevent the little nagging injuries that sneak up along the way.
While running is absolutely necessary to improve running, could strength training also give you the extra edge you have been looking for? Luckily for us, science says YES! Let’s unpack the top 5 ways strength training can benefit runners, yes – all the way from the local 5k to 100-mile ultra-marathoner!
- Decreased Injury and improved connective tissue strength.
Miles and miles of our bodies landing on pavement or trial puts a toll on even the most strong and resilient runners. When lifting weights, the weight pulls on our muscles and connective tissues causing short term muscle damage. When this is recovered between sessions, it leads to both stronger muscles, stronger connective tissue, and fewer injuries over time.
- Improved type II muscle fibers
Our bodies have 3 major muscle fiber types – 1) Type I: Really good at endurance 2) Type IIa: Strong but decent at endurance and 3) Type IIb: Very strong and powerful. As runners, our natural inclination is to get the best type I muscle fibers. But over time, these can fatigue or may not be as ideal when we are running up a big hill or sprinting to the finish and need to dig a little deeper. By strength training, we can also develop more of those type IIa/b fibers giving us that extra boost we need and removing all the stress going to our type I’s while running.
- Improved power output
These stronger and more powerful type IIa/b muscle fibers and new stronger connective tissue? Yup, those all make you MORE POWERFUL. When you are running it’s your muscles and connective tissue that pull on your bones, and then spring to propel you forward, making you more powerful.
- Improved running economy
All this power output and strength talked about above? It then can result in a greater running economy. Or simply, you expend less energy to produce the same speed/intensity in your running. This means you get less fatigued and more efficient as a runner! Possibly allowing you to clock in that slightly faster speed with just as less effort than before.
- Bone health
Last but not least, in a sport that has an impressively high level of women, bone health. While endurance training is amazing for many health benefits, it doesn’t do quite as much as strength training when it comes to our bone health. Women are more at risk for long term bone density loss across life, but runners as a whole often suffer from stress fractures and small bone injuries. As mentioned above, when we lift, we put resistance on our muscles which then pull on our bones, resulting in denser and stronger bones long term!
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