A Runner's Love Hate Relationship with Strength Training

A Runner’s Love Hate Relationship with Strength Training

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

A Runner’s Love Hate Relationship with Strength Training

Personality

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?

Bulking Up

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?

Go! St. Louis Half Marathon Recap
Thankfully my form has improved since this race, in part thanks to strength training.

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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

Total Body Strength Training Workout
Kettlebell Workout for Runners
Stability Ball Core Workout
Ab Workout for Distance Runners
6 Stuck Inside 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?

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31 Responses

  1. Lately it’s worked well for me to set aside a day to strength train with no running. I try to look forward to that morning because I can sleep a little later and wear whatever I want because I’m just going into my basement. When I try to add it on after a run or in the evening I come up with all sorts of excuses to skip it!

    1. That’s a really smart strategy! I strength train in the evening and it is SO easy to make excuses and just have a glass of wine or beer instead, ha. I bet it’s nice in winter also since you don’t have to even bundle up to go outside!

  2. you know how I feel about strength training! thank gd for pure barre, it totally tricks me into getting the strength work done a few times a week. even when it’s only body weight exercises, I feel and see the difference AND can lift heavier weights when I am in the gym.

    1. Bodyweight really does make a difference! Especially when you don’t rely on momentum, it’s incredibly effective. It’s awesome that you found something that works so well!

  3. I’ve been guilty of slacking in the weights department especially when deep in training. But I found I do best with doing weights on non running days or later in the day after running. I learned that if I’m super sweaty after a run, all I can think of is eating, drinking and a shower therefore Id skimp on weights.

    1. You and me both! It’s difficult to keep up both race training and lifting at the same time, because hard training is so tiring and time consuming during those peak weeks. And yes, definitely later in the day – food, water/coffee, and shower are musts after a run. All I can think about as well 🙂

  4. Hire someone to keep you accountable! Honestly. Having a coach or a personal trainer who knows how to work with runners (bonus points because you are improving your running muscles) will help motivate you (as will the cash).

    1. I totally get why runners hire a strength coach! Ryan and I are working on keeping each other accountable which is great – having a workout buddy helps so much!

  5. I get so lazy about strength training. I know that it helps so much and I can tell a difference in my running..but once I get out of the habit it’s so hard for me to get back 🙁 I need to work on that for sure!

    1. It is such a hard habit to get back into, especially because going back into it means soreness! Training always has something that needs work, which is why I think we all love it – there’s always something to improve or something new to try! 🙂

  6. This post really speaks to me right now. I hate strength training. It’s boring and I just don’t want to do it! But I know I need to in order to be a better runner. I try to force myself to include it at least twice a week, but that doesn’t usually happen. I think I need a variety, so I ordered a Kettlebell to try. Maybe that’ll get me a little more excited for it. It’s definitely a struggle!

    1. I adore kettlebells because they bring so much variety, and they’re very effective and efficient! Since they’re harder the workouts are usually 15-20 minutes, which is SO much better because it’s less boring! The only frustrating thing is when you advance and need to buy a heavier kettlebell, but otherwise they’re fantastic.

  7. Like I said on IG yesterday, the one thing that motivates me to do strength work is the fact that I need my core to be strong so that I don’t hurt my back like I did in December. I’m getting some pretty cut abs in the process. Almost a little tooooo muscly looking for me, but I certainly feel stronger and more supported when I carry Callum around and such. Even yesterday on my speed work I felt stronger. Maybe it’s a mental thing or maybe not, but it helps nonetheless!

  8. I actually really like strength training–especially since you tell me exactly what to do, haha! I like feeling strong and seeing muscle definition in myself, it makes me feel like my hard work is paying off!

    1. One of the great parts of having a coach! I actually thought to myself after writing this to give myself a workout sheet like I give you and my other clients – take my own advice 🙂 The results of strength training definitely are motivating! 🙂

  9. Laura – this post is great and something that I was thinking about last night after finishing my workout. I say that I completely half-assed the workout. Which I truly did not, but I did less than I (think I) should have. BUT, it was better than just sitting my butt on the couch watching the Mariners game. 🙂

    1. Thank you Aimee! Most of the times we’re hard on ourselves (runners tend to be type As in some way or another), but the truth is something is always better than nothing. There’s a bit of that Jillan Michaels culture out there still (I STILL hear her yelling at me not to phone it in even though it’s been years since I’ve done one of her videos) that everything needs to be push, push, push. when often, what we think is half assed is really a strong effort! (Also, I called my strength workout half-assed yesterday, so it’s funny to see you use the same term 🙂 )

  10. I actually like strength training, it’s just so hard to find the motivation to do it. I think another component to the love-hate relationship is that for goal-oriented people, like myself, it’s hard to do something without an incentive structure or end game in place. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve been able to stick with running, because races and race goals provide great motivation and a clear, specific, achievable objective to work toward. If my only goal is to get “fit” or “strong”, it’s hard to stick with it because what do those things even look like/mean? How will I know when I’ve achieved them? It’s a weird psychological game I play with myself – I KNOW that strength training is good for me, and yet, I’m just not *compelled* to do it. Same with yoga and cross training – there is just some piece missing. Maybe it’s because I didn’t start running to get more fit, I did it because I like to run, so my brain says – why not just run, then?

    1. YES to your comment on needing incentive. My next marathon is downhill so not trashing my quads during a race is my incentive – and comparatively for a hilly race being able to manage those hills could be an incentive also, but since hill running will help with that, the incentive isn’t as strong.
      Oh and yoga. Don’t get me started on yoga. I can’t actually remember the last time I did more than 2 minutes of yoga stretching! So you’re not alone on that 🙂

    2. Wow…I have never thought of strength training in that matter, but I think you really might be on to something. There is (typically) always an end goal with running. Strength training…not so much!

  11. I have never really focused on this, and know I need to going into my first marathon. I’ve only gotten thus far with limited injuries without strength training because I am a former ballet dancer and gymnast who has a pretty strong core from those activities (although it’s been nearly a decade since I did either…) but I find it so challenging to be indoors and not “out on the run”!

    1. Especially for hilly marathoners it helps so much! A strong core works wonders, along with strong legs…but only recently have I realized how much a strong back makes a difference. I agree so much – the hardest part is being indoors and not out running, especially in spring/summer/fall!

  12. I love strength training – I probably actually love it more than running sometimes. I am much more naturally strong than I am naturally fast, so I think I see improvement more quickly in strength training. Plus sometimes it’s just more enjoyable to do something you’re naturally good at!

  13. Haha, I’ve definitely had a few clients who are runners and did no strength training before working with me 🙂 I love that you highlighted consistency – I think that’s key to success!

    1. Thank you! It is surprising how many runners do not strength train – so that’s good some of them found strength training and all its benefits with you 🙂

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