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Runners spend a lot of time thinking about their legs and feet, but running is a full-body activity. “Running is a result of many muscles working together, it involves the arms, back muscles, core, hips, legs, feet and everything has to move synergistically, creating the right amount of force at the right time,” says Erika Canales, personal trainer and co-owner of Outright Fitness.
Strength training is an important part of a running routine because it helps the athlete to minimize injury, protect joints, and improve overall performance. But what is supposed to help runners prevent injury can also cause it when not approached properly.
Avoid soreness and injury with warm-ups and cooldowns.
Experiencing some soreness is normal when you are starting a new workout routine and engaging muscles in a new way. Anything beyond mild soreness is not good. “If you are too sore to run, you probably did too much, too soon,” says Canales.
Just like with running, taking the time to warm up and cool down on weight training days will minimize soreness and reduce the risk of injury. “The warm-up and cooldown are as important as the strength training program itself,” says Canales. She recommends dynamic stretches (jogging, ground sweeps, walking leg sweeps, etc.) to help wake up the body and specific warm-ups dedicated to the area of the body you’ll be targeting in that session.
“Your cooldown should look similar to the warm-up, using some dynamic stretching and even adding some static stretching,” she adds.
Starting with lower weights in shorter training sessions—around 30 minutes—will also help your body ease into the new routine. If you do become very sore, Canales recommends that you continue to move by going for a walk, a short run, or doing more stretching.
How often and how long should you strength train?
“As a beginner, you may want to start with 20-30 minute sessions multiple days a week,” says Canales. This will allow you to get used to the new movements and develop a routine that you’re comfortable with. Once that has been established, Canales recommends that runners progress to hour-long (or hour and a half) sessions two to three times a week.
If you don’t have time for a workout that long, “something is always better than nothing,” says Canales. Whatever you have time to fit in will benefit you more as a runner than skipping strength days all together.
But don’t forget to consider how this all fits into your running schedule. Ideally, strength training should happen on low mileage days after the run or on an active recovery day. “The important part of planning your strength training days is making sure that you are recovered from your previous workout,” says Canales. This will help you avoid injury and underperforming. For example, it might be beneficial to save strength training for a day or two after a long run or focus on upper body workouts to allow your legs to recover. “The same recovery strategy applies when you have multiple strength training sessions during the week,” she adds. Just make sure you are focusing on different muscle groups each day.
Should runners focus on body weight exercises or free weights?
Both can be beneficial to runners. Body weight exercises have the convenience that they can be done anywhere without equipment. You are also less likely to get injured starting out. Canales also recommends body weight exercises for light strength training days or heavy running days.
“Free weights allow for more rapid progression in increasing strength,” she says. They become an external stressor that your body must adapt to and allow you to improve balance and coordination along with strength. And psychologically, you can benefit from seeing your progress laid out in front of you with the increased amount of weight you can lift.
It can be very beneficial for runners just getting into strength training to consult a coach. Not only to help learn the proper form for various strength training moves, but also to develop a program that fits their abilities. It’s tempting to start going too hard and fast in a new program. A trainer will help you assess your baseline and get you started on the correct weights.
“The benefits of strength training go beyond just improving athleticism,” says Canales. “It plays an important part in maintaining a good quality of life as we progress through every decade of our lives.”
Ready to incorporate strength training into your routine? Give this total-body circuit a try.