Why Weights Matter

Lift much? If you want faster times and fewer injuries, you best start now.

Runners are notoriously weak athletes. While many can run 10 or more miles on a whim without getting sore, shouldering a heavy bag or doing squats can leave many of us winded.

But building muscle through weight or strength training can benefit runners in a number of ways, says Edwin Vera, a National Strength and Conditioning-certified personal trainer and USA Weightlifting sports performance coach. From helping shave time off their PRs to preventing season-ending injuries, pumping iron is a great way to give your body the solid foundation it needs to hit the road, day after day.

“By increasing the strength of the tissues that make up and surround the hips, lower back and knees, injuries occur much less frequently and are easier to recover from,” Vera says.

Vera recommends runners consider their total body strength, but focus on their back, gluteus, quadriceps and abdominals.

“Runners should look to strengthen all basic movements, but the development of these muscles will increase speed, endurance and the joint stability,” Vera says.

Hitting the gym can be intimidating for runners used to exercising outdoors, but adding just two days of strength training a week to your regimen can provide benefits that you’ll see on race day, especially in longer races where fatigue can take over your legs.

Vera recommends starting small and working on form before touching the weights. Runners should practice squats, lunges, pull-ups and push-ups. “Become proficient in these movements using only your body weight. When you feel ready for new stimuli, move on to light barbells and/or dumbbells,” he says. Use a full range of motion with each exercise to maintain flexibility.

It can be hard to incorporate strength training into your training regimen, especially when heavier weightlifting can leave you sore and lethargic before a long run. For that, Vera recommends doing the bulk of your strength training during your “off-season,” and lightening the load when you’re training for a specific race.

Click here for an introductory strength-training circuit for distance runners.