Many distance runners shun upper body strength training because they fear it will give them too much muscle bulk and thus impede their performance.
Distance runners, either competitively or recreationally, really should do some strength training.
Now, when you hear “strength training,” you might automatically picture some big bruiser at the gym bench pressing half the gym’s metal plates.
But strength training can also mean using light weights for many repetitions—with the goal of strengthening joints and reducing injuries, rather than packing on muscle.
Weight lifting doesn’t have to be synonymous with bulking up or getting heavier.
Distance runners should lift weights because this will aid in preventing muscle fatigue for their long excursions, particularly in the upper body.
Those new to long distance events often report that, during the activity, their arms get tired.
Some of these athletes will even run with their arms down at their sides to alleviate fatigue—the fatigue of maintaining bent arms (elbow flexion) during the race or training run.
Imagine having to hold both arms up in a bent position for two hours straight. Now add to that the shoulder motion to keep them swinging.
That can be very fatiguing. Lifting weights will help combat this fatigue.
Another reason long distance runners should strength train is because lifting weights improves range of motion.
This is important to those who do lengthy runs, because increased range of motion helps lower the risk of running related injuries such as hamstring strains.
Another benefit of lifting weights is that it will help stave off stiffness as the athlete progresses into the race or training course.
Distance running is very hard on the body. Some even say it’s harder on the body than bodybuilding is.
The strength training that runners should do is not to be confused with that which bodybuilders or physique athletes do.
Strength training for runners can be in the form of tension bands, even.
Any implement can be used, nevertheless: free weights, kettlebells, machines, medicine balls.
The distance runner should lift twice a week for 45 minutes, hitting all major muscle groups with light weights and 15-20 reps per exercise (sets should feel like there is work involved, but not to the extent that it’s difficult).
Good exercises include the lat pull-down, seated row, dumbbell press, shoulder raise and biceps curl.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.