The Benefits of Strength (resistance) Training
You have probably heard that we should all be doing a mix of cardiovascular and strength training. The Government guidelines say that for adults “muscle strengthening activities should be done at least two days a week”.*
Yet many of us are not clear on what strength training is or why it is beneficial.
In this blog, I aim to provide you with this knowledge and demonstrate why strength training is a useful addition to your exercise plan, particularly if you are a runner.
What is Strength training?
Strength training is any form of exercise where you push or pull against a resistance with the aim of building muscular strength and endurance. Commonly, equipment is used such as dumbbells or kettlebells, but resistance training also includes training with just your bodyweight. A press up or a plank, for example, with no equipment is resistance training and exercises such as these can form part of an effective workout.
The terms strength and resistance training are often used interchangeably and this can be confusing. In essence, they are the same thing, using resistance to build muscular strength, but often strength training refers to adding a load (weight) with the goal of increasing muscular mass (hypertrophy).
Both bodyweight and loaded exercises are effective for building muscular strength but body weight training is a great place to start. Using bodyweight alone means you can focus on your form and technique, perfecting these before you add a load (weight).
Once you are comfortable you can perform exercises with bodyweight then you can start increasing the resistance by adding weight.
Why strength train?
There are many reasons to strength train so why should you do it?
It will improve your overall strength and consequently make everyday tasks much easier, keeping you fit for a long and active life.
As we grow older we lose muscle mass, this is called sarcopenia. Strength training will help combat this by increasing muscle mass and helping to improve bone density. Women aged 40+ lose muscle mass at a faster rate than men so strength training is particularly important and it helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Muscle mass can increase your metabolism and aid a healthy body composition.
All great stuff for a healthy active life but there are also some specific benefits to runners:
It can help protect your joints, correct muscle in-balances and improve muscle activation which helps reduce your risk of injury.
It can improve your running biomechanics, increasing your efficiency which in turn improves your performance.
Also, let us not forget that feeling strong feels great! It is empowering and brilliant for your self-esteem.
How to build strength training into your exercise plan.
They key thing to remember is that something is better than nothing. If running is your main form of exercise adding in additional strength sessions can seem overwhelming.
There are many ways to do this, however, so start small and choose a way to integrate it that works for you.
I have included some ideas here.
Choose 3 bodyweight strength exercises (e.g squat, press up, inchworm) and spend a few minutes performing them before or after each run.
Use things like cleaning your teeth or boiling the kettle as triggers to do a bodyweight exercise. You could try lunging as you boil the kettle or using the kitchen worktop as a surface to do press ups on.
Build in 30 minutes each week specifically for resistance training. This might be going to a group exercise class or completing your own circuit at home.
The key to making a strength training program sustainable is to start small. Take one small step in week 1, possibly by incorporating one of the ideas above.
Once you have achieved that, look at how you can build on this further. You really don’t need to be training for numerous hours a week for it to be beneficial.
The key is consistency so find something you can manage, that fits in with the way you live your life. It won’t be long before you are reaping the benefits in your everyday life and your running.
Carole Dowling is the Founder of The Enjoy Movement, a personal training and fitness business in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Carole has 10 years experience of working with women, breaking down barriers to exercise that have been created over lifetimes. Her mission is to positively encourage ‘exercise haters’ to enjoy and embrace moving their bodies for life. www.theenjoymovement.co.uk
*UK Chief Medical Officers Guidelines for Physical Activity – January 2020