Most runner coaches, myself included, preach about the benefits of strength training for runners of all ages and experience levels. Regular strength training promotes healthy bone density, builds more balanced and stronger muscles (especially those glutes), and decreases risk of injury.
But also, let’s be honest: for those of us who love spending time outside running, strength training is a bit of a struggle.
As I shared on Instagram, yesterday I ran for a hour on the treadmill, which flew by. Then, I headed over to the free weights section and stared at the clock tick by slowly for 15 minutes that I lifted. From the comments other runners offered on Twitter and Instagram, I’m not alone in mentally struggling through even a short strength training session.
What is it about strength training for runners? It’s certainly not lack of time or fitness, especially for those of us who regularly log miles. I think, rather, most runners have an innate love hate relationship with strength training.
A Runner’s Love Hate Relationship with Strength Training
We runners tend to be a stubborn group. Running is an individual sport and thus attracts independent, strong-willed personalities (what other type of person would run 20 solo miles?). Some may call us stubborn; we prefer the term dedicated.
While many runners thrive in group fitness classes or personal training sessions, others of us find it opposed to our stubborn, independent runner personalities. Group fitness classes are where we runners find ourselves questioning if that exercise will make us too sore for our next run and swearing at the instructor under our breath. Unless you’re my running coach, don’t tell me what to do!
Solo Strength Training
Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar to you: You plan on including 15-30 minutes of strength training after your run. You write it into your training plan and find a good workout on Pinterest. Then, partway through your run, you decided a couple more miles sounds a lot better than lifting weights. Those hills counted as strength training anyway, right?
For runners, strength versus bulking up seems to be a tricky balance. You feel every ounce of weight during the later miles of a marathon, but strong muscle equate a stronger runner. Many personal trainers will remind us that it’s difficult to get bulky, but let’s be honest: we’re already prone to large quads and all know what squats will do. Although perhaps some upper body work will help, to decrease that stereotypical appearance of a T-rex runner?
Gym vs. Outside
Although many of us tolerate treadmill running, a majority of us would choose to run outside over the treadmill anytime. Runners are a hearty group who would rather run through any sort of horrid weather than confine themselves to a boxed-in and stuffy gym. Where’s the fresh air? The wide open spaces? That is not to mention how less air circulation makes you highly aware of just how bad you smell when you sweat.
I know I’ve contemplated hauling my kettlebell outside to soak up some vitamin D while strength training. The only thing that has stopped me is worrying that my apartment complex may not quite see eye to eye with me on the benefits of open air strength training, particularly when that strength training involves plyometrics and swinging around a heavy metal bell.
Power through it
You know what else requires a lot of mental focus and motivation? The final miles of your race (no matter what distance), the monotony of long runs in training, and going for a run on those days you’d rather just sleep in for another hour or spend some quality time with the sofa.
Staying consistent in strength training as a runner does require a lot of dedication, discipline, patience, and intrinsic motivation. But guess what? So does running! In addition to strengthening your anatomical muscles during strength training, you strengthen your mental muscle as well—which any runner will tell you, is more vital for happy and fast running than the strongest glutes or core.
Tips for Including Strength Training (Without Hating It):
- Find what works for you. Yes, I repeat this ad nauseum, but only because it’s true. Some runners thrive on barre. Some runners enjoy Crossfit style workotus. Other runners want to pull their eyeballs out after a strength training session exceeds 20 minutes (wait, is that just me?). There are plenty of options out there: bodyweight, dumbbells, kettlebell, plyometrics, barbell/Olympic lifts, group fitness, barre, even more intensive types of yoga and Pilates. Find one or two types of strength training (variety does help) that you at least somewhat enjoy, determine how long you can tolerate it, and stick to that.
- Bribe yourself. Yes, sometimes we have to bribe ourselves to instill a habit. Perhaps if you consistently strength train for 2-3 times per week for a full month, you’ll purchase that cute running top you’ve been coveting. Maybe you reward yourself to (one) beer or cookie after strength training (just remember, moderation and balance).
- Write it down ahead of time. Show up to the gym with a detailed workout. Otherwise, you will skip out early, do just a hodgepodge of exercises (which is still better than nothing, but not ideal), or, if you’re like me, spend every 5 minutes looking on Pinterest for new workout.
- Have your coach write it into your training plan. You’ll be less likely to skip if you are held accountable. Some runners find that hiring a strength coach helps as well!
- Stay consistent. If it takes 21 days to make a habit, give yourself time to adjust to having strength training in your schedule. You may feel sore now and dread each workout, but soon strength training will become a habit.
Strength Workouts for Runners
How do you feel about strength training? Love it or hate it?
How do you motivate yourself when you don’t want to workout?