Why Strength Training Is Important for New Runners‍

Why Strength Training Is Important for New Runners‍

Lisa Jhung
Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
December 12, 2023

Don’t be fooled by thinking you don’t need to start weight training until you get “serious” about running, whatever that might mean to you. The truth is weight training is just as important for beginner runners as it is for those chasing PRs and marathon goals. In fact, weight training is arguably more important for beginning runners in that integrating strength training can help ward off injury as your body gets used to running.

If you’re running on smooth surfaces of any kind, running is a linear movement; you’re repeating one motion along one plane. If you’re running trails riddled with rocks and roots that require you to channel your favorite Ninjago, you’re building some strength as you run due to a wider variety of movement. Still, no matter the surface, strength gained from running is limited to your lower body. And the repetitive nature of running can leave the rest of your body wanting to get in on the fitness fun—and, will help you become more durable.

Lifting weights and/or doing bodyweight exercises, like planks and crunches, strengthens your core…and a strong core helps mitigate injuries of all sorts. (Every movement comes you’re your core.) Strength training your upper body can help improve your running stride by both giving you better balance and even make you a more efficient runner. With a strong upper body, your arm swing becomes more fluid and controlled, which contributes to the efficiency of your overall stride.   

RESOURCE: Check out the quick N2R strength routines

Strength training for overall health

The American Heart Association recently released a statement about how just 15-20 minutes of resistance training—done with just body weight exercises, or with resistance bands, free weights or machines—improves blood pressure, glucose and lipid levels, and body composition. The statement also cites that resistance training improves everything from chronic inflammation and cardiorespiratory fitness to depression and anxiety and the quality of sleep.

Considering the fact that running has long been praised for its cardiovascular benefits, the AHA touting strength training as a widely beneficial addition to a runner’s fitness plan is a big deal.   

Also, beginning a running regimen means your body composition is changing. Supplementing your running with weight training keeps you balanced and strong.

How and when to strength train

The AHA statement states that focusing on 8 to 10 different exercises involving major muscle groups, from chest press/pushups to squats (weighted or unweighted), for one set of 8-12 reps is “highly effective.” Those 8-12 repetitions should be done with a weight that is moderately challenging, or 40% to 60% of your one-repetition (1-RM) maximum weight. If you don’t know your 1-RM, choose a weight that you’re ready to put down by your last repetition, but that you don’t strain excessively to get to that last rep.

Figuring out when to do your weight training comes down to personal preference, which you may find through trial and error. Some running coaches praise tacking on weight training sessions after hard workouts, so that “easy” days are just that: easy. For beginning runners, the strategy would be to do your strength training on your run/run-walk days, not on your days in between runs.

Others prefer running one day, and strength training another. This strategy is good for those who feel they benefit mentally from exercising every day. For people who alternate days between running and lifting for this reason or others, taking a day completely off or with something like a gentle walk or swim is important to allow for recovery.

However you integrate resistance training, know that the benefits are well worth the effort.   

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