Heavy Weights

I’ve done a lot of reading on the inception of running, and while the etymology of the word jog is reportedly unknown, this much I know to be true:

When distance running came into fashion in the 1970s, much conventional wisdom surrounding the sport was misguided, sexist or downright wrong.

Take a quick glance back through the past five decades of casual and competitive road racing—fine, I’ll do it for you—and it becomes painfully clear that in the 70s, sports science related to my favorite pastime was still in its infancy. Also in their infancy in 1970? Current forty-three year olds, if my math serves me, the odds of which, uh, requires more math.

Take, for example, the following popular misconceptions of the early running boom. These since-refuted claims—while not held by everyone—were oft repeated nonetheless in the literature of the time, or so this non-time-traveling 1985 baby has read:

  • Marathon running causes sterility in women.
  • It’s best not to hydrate at all during a 26.2-mile race.
  • Weight lifting has no place in a runner’s training schedule.

The first two have been overwhelmingly refuted in both scientific study and anecdotal evidence in the generation since, but the third—that weight training and running are mutually exclusive—has somehow persisted.

Many runners—including this one—shy away from strength training even in today’s day and age because:

  1. We don’t want to gain bulk that will weigh us down come race day.
  2. We don’t want to injure ourselves or increase muscle and joint soreness.
  3. We don’t want to waste precious time in the weight room when general consensus says the best way to run better is to simply run more.
  4. We can’t do a push-up. Oh? What’s that you say, other runners? Huh. Well, good for you. I guess that’s just me then.

Or in other words, for the last two years of race training, every time my schedule read this:

schedule

I saw this:

schedule2

(I could upgrade to Photoshop, sure, but the rebellious teenager in me would miss Paint’s spray paint tool too much.)

Skipping strength training (and, let’s be honest, stretching as well) didn’t seem to do me much harm as I trained for my first marathon, having little goal in mind except to finish. But with my race times having since plateaued, I’m starting to think running alone isn’t going to cut it for me anymore as I look to improve. Enter strength training.

Although common knowledge used to dictate strength training was detrimental to the distance runner, science now suggests the addition of some lean muscle can actually improve a runner’s VO2 max, strengthen joints and connective tissue, ward off injury and prevent muscle imbalances, particularly when it comes to the smaller stabilizer muscles that are often underutilized when logging flat mile after flat mile. With that in mind, I rolled up to a group strength training class at my gym last week, and while the bicep curls left my forearms screaming, I’m optimistic the net benefit will be well worth the strain.

Weight training scares me, sure, but just like corralling up at the Verrazano Bridge this November 3 isn’t going to make me sterile, I think pumping some light iron on a weekly basis can only serve to improve my overall fitness, making me a better runner at the end of the day. Yes, it might leave me aching, but I think given the reported benefits, I should just grin and bear it.

Smile.

Grinning and bearing.

Do you supplement your running with weight training? Have you seen improvement and/or been elected California governor as a result? 

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2 Responses to Heavy Weights

  1. I love weight training. I’m first a weightlifter, then a runner.

  2. todkehrli says:

    I’m a big proponent of weight training. I slacked off last summer and ended up hurting my knee. There are lots of programs designed for endurance athletes (yes, that’s what you are) that focus on core strengthening and joint stability. Just remember to stretch after you lift and it will be all good!

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