Marathoner Pallavi Aga demonstrates the importance of strength training for runners especially women.
The world seems to have woken up to the benefits of staying fit and this is quite evident when you look at the increased number of people who have taken to running. There has been a sudden outburst of running events that happen every weekend across the country and we have seen a lot of fitness enthusiasts who have taken to running in a big way.
Unfortunately, as is the case with all sporting activities, there is a dark side to it – sports injuries. This is more common than you think and the best way to minimize the risk is strength training.
Strength training is of paramount importance, especially for people who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Such a lifestyle leads to under-development of the muscles and they may not be firing at an optimal level. With an increase in mileage and overload of training, they begin to experience muscle weakness and instability which ultimately causes muscle strains and sometimes a muscle tear as well. This is because runners neglect one very basic requirement that is muscle strength which can only be built through strength training. Research has shown an 8% increase in running efficiency in people who do regular strength training.
Strength training and women
Strength training is extremely important for women to prevent them from getting osteoporosis because usually after the age of 40 is when the pre-menopause period starts and during this time the bones tend to start weakening. Sarcopenia, i.e. muscle loss also sets in causing various postural imbalances. In fact, there is a myth that strength training should not be done by older women but the benefits you reap with strength training exercises are immense.
Common myths about strength training
- It makes you bulky
Strength training helps in reducing body fat and builds lean muscle. Bodybuilders focus on a carbohydrate-rich diet which primarily contributes to the bulky look. If the nutrition is clean and focus is on adequate complex carbs and lean protein with some calorie deficit, then it helps to tone up the physique, giving the lean look.
- Strength training means lifting heavy-weights
For people looking at building endurance, the focus should be on doing multiple reps and lifting lighter weights. Compound and complex bodyweight exercises can also be done. This kind of strength training is important during the marathon season for runners.
However, for muscles to get really strong you need to lift heavy weights with fewer repetitions. The time between reps should be kept lower so as to build leaner and stronger muscles. Use the off-season to train using heavy weights to build the muscles well for the next season.
- Spot reduction
This is a complete myth and no amount of crunches, twists or squats will help in spot reduction. If there is a lot of fat, the muscle definition will not show up. The only thing which works is eating clean and staying on a calorie deficit diet. It is the correct amount of carbohydrates, proteins as well as the eating window (how much and which type of macronutrients are consumed before and after a workout) which leads to the reduction of fat.
Benefits of strength training
- Helps the muscles become strong and hence less prone to injuries
- Builds muscle coordination and balance
- Builds bone strength
- Body weight strength training helps in building endurance and form.
- Builds neuromuscular coordination and power
- Increases running efficiency
- Prevents muscle loss and osteoporosis
- Posterior and kinetic chain development
Runners usually put in a lot of mileage and hence cannot have large muscle gains. Runners during the running season should focus on compound movements targeting major muscle groups in a complex manner. They can also look into gaining heavy muscle with strength training during the off – season which helps the running muscles become stronger further helping in building a toned, leaner physique.
Some of my favourite strength training workouts
Below are a few of my favourite weight training exercises that have proved beneficial. To build your own workout, you can focus on one area or multiple areas (upper body, lower body, or core) and create a tailor made circuit. As running itself adds a lot of cardio in the fitness regimen , we do not need a lot of added cardio during the strength training sessions. I would suggest to keep the rest period between the sets less to increase the fat burn and to keep a tempo pace. Rest in between the sets can be utilized to do abs or push-ups to promote the maximum effort.
- Push-Ups : inclined, declined, hindu push ups, close grip and even using Bosu ball
Works : chest and core muscles
- Bent Over Row
Works: back and core muscles
- Lat pulldown
Works: mid-back, posterior shoulder, and rhomboid muscles
- Planks : all the variations
Works: core muscles
- Bulgarian split squat, Single- leg dead lifts, Straight leg Deadlift
All of these work : hamstrings, glutes, back, and core muscles
Works : leg, quads, and glute muscles
- Squats and sumo squats
Works: hip, adductors, quads and glute muscles
- Shoulder overhead push press
Works : hamstrings, lower back, core, trapezius, shoulders and arms
Compound movements are the best. Hence always include squats, deadlifts and shoulder overhead push press to your exercise schedule.
Running, as a sport, has to be respected and focus should be on overall fitness and running injury-free. Strength training, yoga and Pilates plays an integral part in running. Foam rolling is a must after a strength training session.
For me, the Mantra to life is – stay fit and enjoy life and hence I want to run injury-free and focus on both strength training as well as yoga.