Should runners pump iron?


By Gary Droze


Can strength training – an activity associated with those who stand and fight – benefit distance runners, whose chief objective is to improve their ability to flee? Opinions run the gamut, and the pantheon of running legends includes some who lifted daily, and others who never ventured into a weight room. Among American stars, onetime national champion miler Joe Falcon could reputedly bench press 240 pounds, while Tallahassee’s All-American Herb Wills eschewed pumping iron for pounding out more mileage. Logging relentless 100 mile weeks, Wills felt that any distance runner who had the time or energy to lift weights simply wasn’t running enough. His still-standing distance records at Florida State University bear testimony to Wills’ theory.

On the other hand, few mortals can run more than 10 miles per day without breaking down from illness or injury. Perhaps the substantial majority of us who aren’t biomechanically equipped for big miles can gain some advantage by adding strength to our endurance.

Consider these scenarios:

The Injury-Prone Runner. Irish national team member and area resident Breeda Dennehey-Willis puts heavy demands on her body with high-intensity running workouts. For her, even a slight muscle imbalance or joint weakness may result in downtime due to injury. Thus, she engages regularly in what she calls “core stability” strength training. Dennehey-Willis develops trunk strength through a vigorous routine of abdominal and hip flexor exercises. Additionally, she performs leg extensions and lunges, to improve joint and connective tissue strength in her legs. Lunges, in particular, help to strengthen the gluteal and hamstring muscles that are prone to weakness and strains in distance runners.

The Posture-Challenged Runner. Some runners carry their arms right up against their chests, or shuffle along, understriding. While simply practicing a more erect and powerful stride may help them, strengthening the muscles involved in correcting each of these form flaws may also help. Arm carriage may be improved by strengthening the shoulder girdle and pectoral muscles. Pull-ups, pushups, seated rows, and arm curls (with palms facing down) can all develop the basic strength needed for confident arm carry. Stride length can be improved by performing lunges, squats, or sprints up short hills of 50 yards or less.

The bottom line: if you possess textbook running form, display great posture even when fatigued, and can handle high mileage without injury, you may be one of the lucky few who needn’t supplement your runs with strength training for optimal performance. As for the rest of you…see you in the gym!