Resistance training for runners is for more than building strength
Posted Mar 09 2010 7:18am
In the running world it seems that many people still hold onto the idea that the goal of lifting weights is to build muscle and strength. Additionally, the runner tends to see the results of resistance training to be primarily aesthetic in nature with little to no functional carryover to his performance on the road. While I’d be inclined to agree that the majority of popular media published “exercise” advice is undoubtedly geared toward looking better, we need to be sure that we don’t fall into the trap believing that good looks are all it has to offer. Resistance training can bring a lot more to the table than simple gains in muscle size and strength. Resistance training can and should be used to challenge the develop resiliency of connective tissues, cement motor patterns, and improve performance.
Resistance training, depending on how it is applied, can have profound effects on not only strength of muscles but also connective tissues holding your body together. We know that when stress is applied to the body, it will adapt, and connective tissues are no exception. Loading a tissue not only creates a variety of stresses from many angles upon a tendon/ligament leading to remodeling, but it also can beget endocrine outputs that facilitate recovery and/or tissue proliferation. One can consider connective tissue strength to be foundational to muscle and motor strength as muscles that exceed connective tissue strength are ones that will cause injury.
The body is an extremely complex system of pulleys and intervening tissue that are driven by spinal reflexes and also long-loop reflexes that involve higher centers of the brain and the cerebellum. When we perform a series of movements, the nervous system is required to dictate the activation sequence and intensity of the muscles involved and over time, it becomes more and more adept at controlling or producing the movement. Once an athlete reaches this level, one of the best ways for continued development of movement competencies is to add an external load against which the brain must battle by ensuring appropriate activation sequences and stabilization systems off of which to move. Perhaps most importantly, this allows us to address movement impairments that will later lead to injury with repeated loading.
Finally, and most importantly to the athlete, resistance training can improve performance on the track. Volumes of evidence demonstrate improvements in running economy following bouts of resistance based exercise. Strength developed via lifting serves as a foundation to power production and musculotendinous stiffness that are constitutive of fast running.
Remember, resistance training is far more than for looking pretty.