First off, what is running? Moving your body as quickly as possible from point A to point B through bipedal locomotion. This requires a constant absorption of force by bones, tendons, and muscles (along with everything else in the body) followed by redirection of the absorbed force from those same organs through a springing/jumping motion. We want the constant absorption and redirection of force to be transitioned as efficiently as possible to gain fast speeds and efficient movement patterns. This can be accomplished without the addition of a greater stimulus on the body. However, if we can build a stronger kinetic chain by utilizing higher levels of motor recruitment we build a stronger runner. If we can enhance power development, then it makes sense for a runner to be more explosive and more capable of directing force through triple extension, unilateral movement, the transverse plane, etc. in the weight room and out on the track/trail. If we can enhance force absorption, wouldn’t the change lead to a decreased risk of injury in runners because they can handle their load a little better? Hopefully you’re already seeing how weight training can be used to create a faster, stronger, more efficient runner with a decreased injury risk. However, I am not advocating for runner’s to not run and solely lift.
Based around the training specificity principle, a runner must become great at running if that’s their sport. First, train the energy system – i.e. train the runner to utilize the energy pathway (a 100m sprinter running 10-20m start speed sprints/top speed sprints at 50-80m/speed endurance up to 120m versus an ultramarathon runner running 100 mile high volume weeks/high volume build ups). Would it make sense to give them each other’s work outs? No. Why? #trainingspecificity. It should make sense why every athlete needs to prioritize training within their sport first and foremost. Followed by sport specific training in the weight room.
Traditionally (if Gold’s Gym and your local YMCA are considered traditional), people go to the gym to put on size and strength. Well, what if you could put on strength without putting on size? Good news, you can! What if other sports put on tremendous strength without ever putting on size? Have you heard of weight classes before? Sports like wrestling, MMA, Olympic Weightlifting, Powerlifting, etc. have size restrictions yet their athletes still get insanely strong and powerful. How do they do that and how can this information be applied to you? Imagine a fuse box. You have a battery that’s linked up to your fuse box but you only have access to three of the fuses. You keep doing the same thing over and over (running) and you get really good at accessing those same three fuses. You peak out your oxygen consumption abilities quickly so you reach a point where you try new running techniques so you start to run in different kinds of ways but really you’re still presenting the same stimulus on the fuse box that you were before. So maybe all of the extra training you do gives you an extra cable to access another fuse. Boom. Four fuses. Well when you lift heavy
weight, you gain access to more fuses. Quickly. Instead of four fuses, you gain access to 10, 20, or 30. Your bones, tendons, and ligaments get stronger, and those connections you already have made get even stronger. You become more coordinated because you have more control over your fuse box. Most importantly, you need to understand that when you’re lifting heavy weight you’re also accessing more of your muscle – BOTH slow twitch and fast twitch (see Henneman’s Size Principle for a mindblowing understanding of how the body selects muscle fibers from slow twitch to fast twitch). If you lift the right way, you won’t gain size like you think you might. Instead, you’ll gain greater control of your muscle fibers. Do you know the key to gaining muscle size? It’s using high volume. So if your concerned about gaining weight, just don’t use high reps. Pavel Tsatsouline makes a great point about how bodybuilders will use high reps to chase a muscle pump to generate a lot of muscle growth. Hint: Don’t do that. Not to mention, using high reps stimulates a hormonal response to build muscle whereas low reps just doesn’t. Train to withstand high forces and train to produce high forces. Running is an extremely high impact movement so get more efficient at high force production and absorption. If you get stronger and become better at handling higher forces, then won’t running be easier?
A few things will happen when you lift correctly – 1. Your musculature (that is being activated from the weight) will get stimulated to become stronger. 2. By lifting heavy weights it teaches your body to control high rates of force – which means increases in rate of force development. 3. By building stronger muscles, we’re not getting rid of your aerobically trained cells. But because of motor unit recruitment and hopefully some myofibril hypertrophy, the slow twitch fibers you’ve worked so hard to build up aerobically are being trained to move with higher rates of force through greater muscle activation. There are benefits to just about every traditional lifting technique for runners, and unsurprisingly we find that unilateral work is good for preventing and resolving bilateral asymmetry in total body strength which will enhance running efficiency. Along with increases in performance, weight training will help reduce your chances of injury, it’s already been proven to increase bone, ligament, and muscle strength, as well as flexibility and muscle health. What’s stopping you from becoming a stronger, faster, more efficient runner?