When you say “To be a better runner”, I’ll assume you mean faster runner – in which case training should be to run faster and harder. Your training runs should be intense enough to cause your muscle to create more mitochondria, thereby allowing your muscles to produce more ATP on demand which will make your muscles capable of firing faster (read ‘make friends with your mitochondria’).
But if you equate being a “better runner” to running further (not faster), then your training runs should focus on ever-increasing distances. This will train your muscles to get better at recycling calcium and will expose your joints and connective tissue to stresses to bring about the adaptations that you’ll need if you’re going to try and run even longer distances.
So how does strength training effect running? Well, your triathlon club friend is right… kind of. If you did intense strength training and built up a ton of muscle over time then it probably won’t help you run faster or further (imagine Sylvester Stallone trying to run a 10k race). Unless, we’re talking about sprinting, that is. Because strength training is vital for short distance speed and acceleration.
Why runners should do strength training
So will strength training help a distance runner? Yes it will! (Providing you don’t massively bulk up, of course). Strength training can help prevent injury to your muscles and joints. Most experienced runners will have been injured at some point in their life – usually from overtraining. Strength training can help prevent this, but to avoid injury, you really need to make sure that you’re not overtraining.
So take days off. Running too frequently will cause you a world of pain – your body needs time to adapt. If you’re a runner and you think you’re exempt from this advice because you’ve been running for years then think again: you’ll probably have even better training runs if you let your poor little muscles and joints rest for a day or two between runs.
And remember that I’m referring to strength training (or ‘resistance training’) in the lower body. Doing bicep curls won’t keep you from injuring your knee or hamstring.
So lift some weights, do some lunges, perform a calf raise. But if for some reason you start to swell up like The Incredible Hulk, just ease off the weights. Remember the saying “use it or lose it”? It doesn’t just apply to sick days at work.
Answer by Matt Linsdell