Popular Misconceptions About Running and Lifting


April 27, 2017

When you ask people to conjure up an image of a runner, most people envision someone who is incredibly thin, with sinewy-looking muscles and tendons, and has long, almost lanky legs; they might even go so far as to claim that a lot of runners are really weak -- lacking in any visible muscle or “brute strength.”

On the flip side, if you ask people to imagine what someone who routinely lifts weights looks like, it’s basically the opposite: someone who weighs a lot for his or her size with large, bulging muscles.

Does this sound familiar to you?

These mental illustrations are problematic for a variety of reasons, but one issue that undermines all of it is that these images assume that:

a) runners don’t lift weights (or shouldn’t lift weights)

b) weightlifters don’t run (or don’t do any sort of aerobic, cardiovascular activity)

While this may be the case for a lot of amateur athletes out there, one need only to look at the Olympics coverage, or another high-profile track meet or running competition, to see that the world’s best runners obviously do lift weights, and arguably, this part of their fitness and training routine is what makes them stand apart from their competitors.  

I’ve been running for almost my entire life, and all of my adult life, and I’ve seen this conversation topic come up again and again. I’m taking time today to help dispel some of the popular misconceptions about running and lifting weights.

Hopefully our conversation here will help clear up any confusion that you have about these topics, and you’ll walk away knowing that you can do one and the other, and that really, it’s actually in your best interests to do so.

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Misconception 1: lifting will make you big (particularly women). This is probably the biggest myth out there. A lot of people see the word “lifting” and automatically conjure images of professional bodybuilders, whose muscles have muscles, and assume that if they begin to incorporate a weightlifting program into their running training, that they, too, will begin to look like these bodybuilders. Let me assure you: it’s not going to happen!

For women in particular, the likelihood of you going from looking (and weighing) what you do to looking like a bodybuilder is virtually nonexistent. You would have to do so much more to your body and to your health (including completely changing your workout routine and your diet) to transform your body into looking like a bodybuilder, so let me assure you: picking up some iron a couple times a week isn’t going to do it to you. Without a lot of intervention, a female’s biology practically precludes her from looking like a professional bodybuilder, so don’t worry.  

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Misconception 2: runners don’t (or shouldn’t) lift weights. Perhaps with good reason, a lot of runners assume that in order to run as fast, as hard, or as long as they possibly can, all they have to do is run.

While of course, practicing running will definitely help make you a better runner, incorporating other cross-training activities, such as weightlifting (pumping iron or even doing bodyweight exercises) can also play a huge role.

Runners often get injured, thanks to annoying overuse injuries like patellofemoral syndrome (runner’s knee) or iliotibial band syndrome (ITB), or even from especially nefarious conditions, like stress fractures or stress reactions. A lot of runners find that incorporating cross-training activities helps injury-proof their bodies more, and as an added bonus, they get stronger.

Listen to any interview with American track and field Olympians, and the runners will all testify to the importance of the weight room to their training. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a 1 mile race, a 100-miler, or something in between; there’s compelling research and evidence out there that runners need to spend at least a little time each week in the weight room.

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Misconception 3: lifting weights will slow you down. Most runners want to be at their lowest possible weight that they can maintain, especially on race day, with the thinking being that the lighter they are, the faster they can move (because there is literally less of them, less mass, to move). While this line of thinking makes some sense, it’s important to acknowledge that maintaining a low body weight can be problematic in many other ways, too.

Unfortunately, eating disorders (or disordered eating habits) and running seem to go hand-in-hand, particularly for young female runners, and these types of behaviors can definitely incite other injuries or maladies that can plague a runner’s training or his/her ability to perform or compete at the highest level possible.

Regularly weightlifting can help mitigate some of this, as we mentioned before, by helping to “injury-proof” your running body and by also giving your muscles and bones a chance to operate outside the standard one-dimensional plane of motion that running provides.

Because running is a unilateral activity, some muscles get really strong, but a lot of other muscles are left behind in the dust and remain somewhat weak, fragile, or incredibly tight (and under-used).

Again, weightlifting can help mitigate this malady and can allow for some of the more under-used or under-developed muscles to catch up and be strengthened in ways that running doesn’t do for them. Plus, many runners, pros and amateurs alike, can testify about how when they began weightlifting regularly, even if they gained a few pounds of muscle mass, they actually became stronger and were able to hold harder paces for longer come race day. 

Rest assured that whatever muscle you put on, or strength you gain, is not going to slow you down in your upcoming races or in your day-to-day training. Relax.

The case for weightlifting and running is pretty strong (no pun intended), and there is increasing evidence that if you run, you really should be spending at least some amount of time each week in the weight room.

Working with a strength coach who knows runners’ needs, or working with a running coach who is familiar with weightlifting and can help develop a running-specific program for you, could prove to be really worthwhile and beneficial investments.

Though the misconceptions about running and weightlifting seem to be endless, as an informed runner, you can now help to dispel the misconceptions and show the world that runners actually do have a place in the weight room; in case there is ever any doubt, let your training log and race performances speak for themselves.

 

 

Dan Chabert is an entrepreneur and a husband.  He hails from Copenhagen, Denmark, loves to join ultramarathon races and travel to popular running destinations together with his wife. During regular days, he manages his websites, Runnerclick, That Sweet Gift, Monica’s Health Magazine and GearWeAre. Dan has also been featured in several popular running blogs across the world.



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