So you’re just starting running and have heard how beneficial strength training can be to improve your running performance. However you’re not sure if strength training is worth it, or how to implement it into your training routine. Let’s look at why beginner runners might want to take up strength training or leave it for later in their training journey.
Running economy is the major reason why runners would want to use strength training to improve performance. Running economy is how efficiently you can run at your VO2 max, it is multifaceted and strength plays a role. If you are looking to optimise your running, performing some form of strength training will be highly beneficial as it helps improve running economy.
No. Running economy in beginners is so far from optimal that strength training will likely have little to no difference. If you are running once or twice a week, the amount of running economy improvements you will see from adding an extra running session into your week will be huge in comparison to adding a strength training session. For people who have extremely low force production this might not be the case, but the point of diminishing returns can be reached relatively quickly.
Just because it is not necessary does not mean it is not beneficial. Strength training is one of the core behaviours when it comes to optimising physical health and therefore should be done by anyone looking to be in excellent health.
When we are just getting into running, our bodies are not able to deal with large amounts of volume (amount of kilometres ran in a week). This is because our bodies are not adapted to doing lots of volume within the week, so we have low volume tolerance that needs to be built up over time. When we perform too much volume and are not ready to for it, we often find ourselves injured due to repetitive strain. Hence why building volume slowly over time is so important.
Why does this have anything to do with strength training? When volume tolerance is very low, often we can only run once or twice a week, meaning we have a lot of spare days where running isn’t the best idea but we still want to move our bodies in a way that creates progression. This is where strength training comes in. If a beginner can perform two running session, two strength training sessions and a yoga session, we take little to no risk in terms of going over volume tolerance while moving 5 times a week.
Beginners who are just getting into running are most likely not aiming to become professional runners. When we run recreationally, we drastically improve our cardiovascular health but we do not improve all aspects of our physical health. In order to be extremely physically healthy it will be essential to do some form of resistance training.
Full body resistance training is the most efficient way to gain strength for individuals looking to train one to two times a week (as advised for most runners). Full body resistance training is simply where we train multiple movement categories (muscle groups) during the same session. This differs drastically from traditional body building splits where one muscle group is targeted at a time. If you’re interested in full body resistance training, try our training application, Programme .
Although it might seem strange, sometimes beginners shouldn’t try and add strength training into their schedule. This by no means that it is not the optimal choice, just that sometimes the optimal choice isn’t the best choice for the individual.
Consistency is king. It will dictate your success in almost any endeavour in life and especially in strength training and running. When building a running routine, often times the hardest thing is getting used to doing something difficult multiple times a week. Often time running twice a week can require a lot of discipline, adding on top of this a strength training routine can mean we are trying to do too much too soon.
Personally, with clients who are taking on endeavours such as this, I build volume over months and years, not weeks. This is especially true when the individual does not consider themselves “sporty” and doesn’t see physical activity as a core component of their week. This needs to be built over a course of three to five years, not six months. When we get to the point that running twice a week becomes automatic and requires little will power, thats when we consider adding another session, be it running or strength training.
Beginners need to find what they are doing interesting and fun to at least some degree. Otherwise the desired behaviour will not stick. If you are considering starting strength training but hate it and are not interested in adding it to your routine, then don’t. Enjoy your running training and wait until you find the inspiration or desire to want to start strength training.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.