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Ace Your Next Race with Strength Training

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When it comes to training for runners, cardio might be the first thing that comes to mind. While cardio training is critical, it’s equally important to include strength training as part of your fitness routine.

Why should runners also strength train? Which exercises are important to keep in mind? To answer these questions and more, we asked Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Debi Wilkins for her advice to give you.

1. Most people probably think cardio when thinking about training for running. Why is it important to incorporate strength training?
It is very important to incorporate strength training to your running program because it increases stability, power, posture and balances muscular strength to all muscle groups. These are all important in preventing injuries and increasing the efficiency of your running. Greater strength does equal greater endurance. What runner doesn’t want that! While cardio training is still extremely important to runners, adding strength training will provide greater output and give you the edge when competing.

2. What does cardio do for your body when training versus strength training?
Cardio exercise raises your heart rate and keeps it elevated for an extended period of time. Benefits of cardio exercise are increased heart strength, increased lung capacity, and lung strength, increase in metabolism which helps you lose weight, increase in energy, decrease in stress and increase in sleep quality, to name a few.
When performed properly, strength training can increase muscle, and ligament strength. If all of the muscles and joints work properly and are strong enough to withstand all the repetitive motion of running, the chance of injuries are decreased. Strength training can also improve joint function, increase bone density, metabolism, cardiac function and HDL (good) cholesterol.

3. What are some great strength training exercises for your legs when considering running?
When deciding which strength training exercise to do, you need to remember that you are not training like a body builder. Functional exercises are a better choice and can include body weighted exercises, free weights, bands, exercise balls or even machines in gyms or your home.

Leg muscles move the bones to produce movements such as walking, running and jumping. Since these muscles are some of the strongest, it is extremely important to strengthen them through weight training to improve the motion, power and stability. Here are a few exercises for your legs:

  • Squats: Work the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings while working through certain range of motions. Equipment includes a stability ball behind your back and against a wall, a stand up machine or your own body weight. Only perform in a comfortable range.

  • Lunge with twist: Works the glutes, quads, hamstrings and obliques while challenging balance.

4. What are some strength training exercises for your arms?
Strength training for the arms is equally important for runners as the legs. Try these arm exercises:

  • Bicep Curl and Tricep Extension: Stand so the core can also be utilized. Change the position of your feet (scissor step or one leg only) to challenge your balance and core strength.  

  • Shoulder Press: Works the deltoids, triceps, and if performed while standing, abdominals.

  • Push-Up: Works the arms, back and core.  Use your own body weight as resistance and change hand or foot position for an extra challenge. 

5. What are some strength training exercises for your core?
The core muscles are probably the most important for distance runners. These include the torso, back and abdominal muscles as well as glutes and hips. Core muscles act as a structural foundation for the body to move. They provide the stability, power and endurance that runners need for hills, sprinting to the finish line and maintaining that efficient form during the whole race.  A strong core also helps relieve pressure on the lower back, keeps the spine erect and helps to isometrically hold the body in a position so you don’t move from side to side.  Here a few core exercises for runners:

  • Plank—basic and side: Use a stability ball, bench or own body weight.  You can add a single leg lift to challenge yourself even more. 

  • Crunch with a twist—bicycle movement: Alternate elbows to opposite knee when in crunch position. This recruits the obliques to help with the controlled motion. 

  • Superman: Lay on your stomach, head down, and lift your arms and legs at the same time.

6. Is strength training important for injury prevention when running?
Absolutely. Strength training improves the strength of the muscles, tendons and even the ligaments and bones. Muscle imbalances are one of the most common causes of injuries in athletes. Your strength training program must work all muscles, especially your weaker ones. I recommend that you meet with a certified professional fitness trainer to have a fitness assessment, determining which muscles are weak, strong, stable and not stable.

Strength training is a great tool for injury prevention, but performing these exercises correctly is equally important. Remember to always use proper form during the exercise, rest between days of lifting, warm-up and cool-down and practice proper breathing and stretching. 

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center, click here or call 972.233.4832.