I am often asked how I am able to balance my training as an endurance athlete and as a lifter.
Many people have the misconception that you can only be one type of athlete (i.e. powerlifter, runner, swimmer, bodybuilder, etc.). The truth is, if you train properly, you can dabble in a variety of athletics.
Related - Guide: Weightlifting for Runners
If your fitness goal is to be a well-rounded athlete, then I encourage you to try to incorporate other types of training into your routines. You will see a difference in your stamina as well as your strength and it helps to keep you from getting bored of the same routines day in and day out.
Over the past 2 years, I have been training as an endurance athlete and I have learned a lot about the balance between time spent on the treadmill and time spent with the free weights. At 5’2” with wide hips and big legs, I wasn’t built to be a runner, but I made it my goal to complete a half marathon before graduating college.
When I began training, I focused solely on running, with 1-2 days a week of cross-training. This was usually swimming or biking.
After a year of constant pounding on my knees and a variety of injuries, I decided to substitute a few cardio sessions with lifting. Now, I dedicate most of my time to HIIT workouts and weightlifting instead of pounding the treadmill.
After recently completing my 6th half marathon and my 10th long distance race, I can say that my work with the weights has improved my running exponentially. My PRs have dropped by over 10 minutes since my first race and I am still able to hold my own under a squat rack or on a bench.
For all of the runners reading this, there is a term called “running economy” and it works very similar to fuel economy of a car. How far are you able to travel with the fuel in your body?
Runners with a higher running economy are able to use less oxygen and are more efficient with their energy use. Supplemental weightlifting has been shown to improve running economy in endurance-trained runners.
The training program followed by many of these runners did not include any sets to failure or extremely heavy weight. Instead, it consisted of low weight and high reps for more endurance training. Weight training helps improve endurance first by training your muscles to work more efficiently.
Secondly, it works by improving muscle imbalances and muscle strength, particularly in the core, which will help improve running form and coordination. Thirdly, it works by increasing motor recruitment patterns, allowing your muscles to work more efficiently.
Running and Lifting
Things I have learned from combining lifting and running:
Less time pounding on the treadmill
During a typical training season for a half marathon, I will run close to 350 miles in 3 months. All of the pounding on my joints was taking its toll and my knees felt like cement by the time my race was finished.
After substituting a few training runs with weight lifting, I noticed my joints felt better and I had more energy while running. I also noticed that my training runs felt much easier because I wasn’t constantly wearing my body down.
Research has shown that runners are extremely prone to injury due to muscle imbalances, particularly women because their hamstring to quadriceps muscle ratios are much more varied than males. Without including some form of weight training in my programs I had significant muscle imbalances that led to a variety of injuries.
During one of my first training sessions, I decided to cut one of my runs short and try some lunges around the track, which lead to injuring my IT band. It got to the point where I couldn’t even walk down a flight of steps without excruciating pain. That’s when I realized that many of my muscle strains and injuries were coming from a lack of consistent strength training.
More endurance with a longer and stronger final kick
Weight lifting has trained my muscles to work more efficiently during my races and has even helped with my endurance levels. I incorporate a lot of HIIT workouts in my weight training, which gives me the cardio I am looking for, but also helps to maintain my strength.
In my last few races, I have noticed that I have a longer and stronger kick at the end to sprint through the finish line, shaving at least 30-60 seconds off my times.
Ability to run in any condition
I have run two tough mudders and a triathlon over the past two years and without my lifting experience, I wouldn’t have been able to get through much of those races. It also helps me in unfavorable racing weather.
A few years ago, I ran a half marathon in 25 MPH headwinds and wound up getting a PR in the race by six minutes because I had the muscle strength to push through it.
If you are an athlete and have a goal of running a full/half marathon, tough mudder, spartan race, triathlon, etc., then I highly suggest you incorporate lifting into your weekly routine. Not only will it improve your posture and form while running, but it will prevent injuries due to muscle imbalances.
Weight lifting will also help improve your ability to run in a variety of conditions, such as trails, mud, wind, or rain. It is a great way to keep your workouts from becoming too routine and it will constantly keep your body working.
References1) "Hip Muscle Weakness and Overuse Injuries in Recreational... : Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine." LWW, journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/Abstract/2005/01000/Hip_Muscle_Weakness_and_Overuse_Injuries_in.4.aspx.
2) "A Prospective Study of Overuse Knee Injuries Among Female Athletes With Muscle Imbalances and Structural Abnormalities." PubMed Central (PMC), 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC522150/.
3) Saunders PU , et al. "Factors Affecting Running Economy in Trained Distance Runners. - PubMed - NCBI." National Center for Biotechnology Information, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15233599.
4) ResearchGate | Share and Discover Research, https://goo.gl/BtHAKz
5) ResearchGate | Share and Discover Research, https://goo.gl/82Mc3g