Incorporating weight training (also referred to as strength training and resistance training) into one's overall fitness program can provide many benefits to a runner training for events ranging from the sprints to the marathon. In this section, the benefits of total body conditioning through a weight-training program will be highlighted. It is beyond the scope of this web site to discuss in depth the techniques and specific exercises regarding the use of free-weights or resistance machines such as Nautilus or Cybex. I recommend that you visit a gym in your area and consult with a weight-training or fitness instructor to receive a demonstration of the various exercises that can benefit your running as well as your overall health.
Benefits of a Weight Training Program
Related Benefits of Total Body Conditioning Through Strength Training
- Upper Body - A strong upper body helps minimizes fatigue and stiffness in the arms, shoulders, and neck areas that in turn, enables a runner to maintain form late in a marathon or long run. Legs move only as fast as the arms swing. The runner with a strong upper body will find more power for the sprint to the finish line, an easier crank up a hill, and better balance when running on trails. In short, all of these add up to an ability to run faster and more efficiently.
- Legs - Running creates a slight muscular imbalance in the legs as the hamstrings and calf muscles develop at a faster rate than the quadriceps and shins. Weight training helps address this imbalance. Additionally, strong quads and hips help protect these areas from a variety of injuries. Strong legs also offer protection from the possibility of injury when running at a fast pace downhill.
- Abdominals - A strong abdominal region helps protect the back while at the same time, assists in maintaining proper running form and posture.
Guidelines - Precautions
- Fat Burning - The increase in lean muscle mass that results from strength training is the key to your body's ability to metabolize glucose and thus burn fat. This occurs because muscle cells require more energy (and also burn more calories) than fat cells.
- Body Composition Changes - As one ages, the body changes in composition as lean muscle decreases while fat deposits increase. Muscular strength also declines approximately 5% per decade for the untrained individual. Strength training slows down this process even as one reaches their senior years.
- Bone Protection - Weight training helps protect bones. This is an important benefit, particularly for women, as decreased estrogen production causes bone demineralization. This in turn increases the risks of osteoporosis and the additional risk of incurring stress fractures. Muscles tugging on bone structure as a result of weight training facilitate bone regeneration.
- Diabetes and Heart Disease - According to the literature, weight training seems to reduce the risk factors for adult-onset diabetes as well as heart disease.
- If you are over the age of 40 and/or have a history of serious medical problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., check with your physician before beginning a strength-training program.
- Seek the advice of a trainer to insure that you utilize proper form. If you are using machines, be sure that the seat and pads are properly adjusted to the correct setting.
- Warm up with some cardiovascular activities such as running or cycling before lifting.
- In planning your daily fitness routine, schedule your run prior to lifting.
- Avoid weight training legwork on days before races, speedwork sessions, or long runs.
- Make sure that your muscles get adequate rest between sessions by lifting every other day or a minimum of three days per week. Don't forget to get enough sleep.
- Emphasize lighter weights and more repetitions (12-18 reps) as opposed to lifting the maximum weight you can handle a few times.
- Plan your routine so that you begin with the legs first, upper body second, and mid-section last. On a similar note, focus on the exercising the large muscle groups first followed by the smaller groups. For example, when working the upper body, start with the chest and lats and conclude with the biceps and triceps.
- Don't forget to work your abdominal muscles.
- Don't hold your breath while lifting weights. Breathe in on the relaxation phase and out while performing the resistance/lifting part of the exercise.
- Move your body through the entire range of motion of the lift. Don't "lock" your joints while performing the exercise.
- Be sure to stretch thoroughly after lifting.
- You may find it helpful to wear weight-training gloves.
It is important to keep in mind that you probably won't lose weight when you infuse a weight-conditioning program into your overall fitness routine. Assuming that you eat sensibly, your percentage of total body fat (the true measure of progress) should decrease. Thus, weighing yourself on scales can be very misleading and perhaps may also be discouraging.
Many people who first begin a weight-training program express concern that they will develop huge, bulky muscles. Unlike power lifters and body builders who focus their workouts on lifting the heaviest amount of weight they can handle for a few repetitions, the notion of "bulking-up" is not grounded in reality. By following the recommendations outlined in this section, you will instead become a stronger runner with improved muscular tone and definition.