The picture on the right was taken of Ryan Hall during his career as a professional distance runner. The picture on the left was taken 3 months post-retirement during his new strength-training program.
Ryan won the marathon at the 2008 Olympic Trials and proceeded to pace 8th overall in Beijing. He currently holds the US record for the half marathon.
Now, Ryan has a makeshift gym in his garage where he trains olympic lifts 6 days a week.
According to an article in Runners World, Ryan stated,“I’ve been small and weak my entire life—just, like, totally underdeveloped,” Hall said. “I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be big and strong. I feel like it’s giving life to my body instead of taking it away,” he said. “Now I can go run and not feel fatigued and feel good. But I’m also doing so much less running-wise than I ever have—like, 12 miles a week compared to 12 miles a day.”
I feel like there are several stories just like Ryan’s; distance runners who have put excessive mileage on their bodies and have seen their muscle wither away, or in some cases, have experienced the inability to actually lose weight.
The catch with running is that it’s addictive mentally and physically. In the endurance athlete bible, Survival of the Fittest, Dr Mike Stroud explains, “The cocktail of drugs the body produces during a run includes the pain-relievers endorphins and dopamine (also produced during an orgasm), the anti-depressant serotonin and the “fight or flight” hormone adrenalin, which increases strength and concentration. It’s quite a cocktail.”
1. Stop Getting Injured.
There is a strong correlation between strength training and improving overall pace and posture. IT band issues, shin splints, stress fractures, Plantar Fascitis, and knee pain generally come from a lack of stability in the hips, ankles and feet, which stems from a lack of muscular strength in the legs and torso. Drawing parallels between your neuromuscular pathways through aerobic and anaerobic exercise counters these injuries, helping to prevent bad posture and alleviate core weakness.
2. Start Olympic Lifting.
Why? Let’s dig deeper than the obvious: incorporating lifts into your existing cardio regiment makes you a stronger athlete. But does stronger necessarily mean faster?
They key is that lifting teaches athletes to move with greater skill. Once an athlete starts to move with more torque and better posture, his or her body neurologically responds by intuitively adapting to running with better biomechanical tendencies. Without increasing these tendencies the body just adapts to running at the same level. The movement patterns are the same day after day, and there are no signs of improvement. It’s just like if you were to try and solve a problem at work utilizing the same tools given to you day after day. The end result will always inevitably be the same.
3. Core. Core. Core.
Lifting weights, specifically olympic lifting, is core.
How? Multi-joint movements, that require full hip extension, mold you core into the power house of your body. Everything comes from your abs.
For example, think kettle bell swings. Kettle bell swings have very little to do with your upper body, although it may appear that way. The kettle bell is thrusted upward through the momentum provided by your glutes and abdominal muscles.
Olympic lifting teaches us the importance of proper alignment in common athletic positions. It teaches us the importance of muscular tension in the correct areas. Take for example the overhead squat. I like doing this particular lift with my clients who run, as it teaches bodily awareness from every angle; most importantly throughout the trunk. This movement will teach you stability throughout the entire body.
It is important to note that you don’t have to become a power lifter to be a better runner. However, what you do need to do to become a better runner is apply the mechanics and principles you learn in your strength training to your running.
When you begin to fatigue while running, you lose your posture. Developing better mechanics through strength training will make your body more intuitive of where the weakness is coming from so that you can automatically adapt to compensate for your weaknesses.