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Why strength training is important for runners

If you want to avoid injuries, improve your body's biomechanics and become a better runner, you need to do strength training

If you want to become a better runner, you need to do some strength training.
If you want to become a better runner, you need to do some strength training. (Istockphoto)

A common mistake many new runners make is to think that running is only about the act of running; that it just involves hitting the road or trail and taking it one step at a time. It is that, of course, but to be able to do it well, runners need to put in some work behind the scenes as well. 

Apart from all the running workouts such as speed work, interval training and long slow runs, runners need to put in a decent amount of time for mobility, flexibility and strength workouts every week. You might get away with skimping on the stretching and mobility workouts but avoiding strength training is a sure way to disaster for any runner. Here is why it’s important.

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Keep injuries at bay: Properly structured strength training for runners is immensely helpful in ensuring that runners remain injury free. Since running is a workout that involves very high repetitions of the same movement over and over again, some muscles and joints are used a lot more than others. We all know what happens when something is used repeatedly for a long duration: it wears out. In the human body the wearing out manifests itself in the form of injuries and pain.

 “Studies on long distance and marathon runners point to an injury prevalence of over 50% a year. Most of the times, it is related to repeated musculoskeletal trauma. Few prominent reasons are biomechanical factors such as muscle imbalances, weaknesses and insufficient flexibility,” says Susheel Chand, entrepreneur and running coach at Bengaluru-based triathlon training start-up Life of Tri. “Our body’s structural elements like bones, ligaments and tendons are much slower to adapt to training load as compared to the cardiovascular system. Therefore, neglecting strength training and increasing speed, is inviting trouble. Spend time in weight room and condition,” advises Chand, who is among a handful of triathletes from India to qualify for the IronMan world championships. 

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Run faster and further: Sushant Dash, chief executive officer of Tata Starbucks Private Limited, ran his first marathon in January 2020 and has run three more during the pandemic months, with the aim of getting faster. He includes three sessions of strength and core workouts every week in his training programme. The strength and core sessions are designed to improve him as a runner, says Dash. He’s quite right to do so. Running coaches advise strength and core workouts to help runners go faster and also to run further.

“Increasing speed calls for an increase in force generation by your body, reduction in ground contact time and sustained power.Therefore, to get faster one needs to make their musculoskeletal system stronger so that their body can generate more force and withstand higher eccentric loading at every step,” says Chand.    

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Running-specific strength and conditioning workouts will your improve body composition and make you a leaner and efficient runner, adds Chand. As a runner your aim should not to bulk up but to strengthen your muscles and improve your overall strength so that they can sustain the faster speeds and longer distances that you are aiming for. So, instead of isolation movements that focus on just one muscle, stick to complex movements that engage and work the entire body such as deadlifts, lunges, squats, push-ups or box jumps. If you don’t like weights, you don’t have to use them. There are plenty of body weight routines that can make you a stronger person. 

Your core is literally your fuel tank, and the stronger it is, the longer and faster you will be able to run. So, core work like planks, V-ups, L-sit, L-hang, wood choppers, glute bridges and hip thrusts is mandatory if you want to improve as a runner. The bonus is that you might just end up with a well-toned midriff.   

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Improve your biomechanics and running efficiency: Finally, stronger muscles help you improve your biomechanics. This is true for not just running but in everything. With improved biomechanics you would be able to perform your daily tasks and simple movements such as getting up from a chair or even walking in a much better, graceful and pain-free manner. With better biomechanics comes better running efficiency, which means you expend lesser energy on every step you take. And that makes you a better runner.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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