I’d always been of the opinion that weight lifting was for weightlifters, running was for runners, and ne’er the twain shall meet, writes Neil Turner. Going to the gym was strictly for treadmill use, and the further away I was from poseurs pumping iron, the better. Then I did some research.
After speaking to a runner-cum-gym-enthusiast who swore that strength training had not only improved his running form but also helped prevent injuries, I started to take the idea seriously. “It’s all about the core,” he told me. And he didn’t mean apples.
As much as I was enjoying running, I found my calves often hurt during longer runs and I had an inkling my chicken legs were to blame. The benefits of strength training are said to include making you a more efficient runner and improving your balance; the Chris Hoy-esque thighs and ripped abs are just a bonus.
Following my friend’s advice, I booked a session with an instructor at my local gym in the hope he’d devise a routine for me. What was the worst that could happen? I mean, other than total emasculation.
You’re So Vain
People often worry about going to gyms, assuming they’ll be laughed out the door for not being buff enough. The prospect of rubbing shoulders (rather broad ones no doubt) with some of the more sculpted specimens in the gym can be a little daunting, I’ll admit. What you soon learn is 1. gyms are full of people of all shapes and sizes. 2. they’re far too concerned with themselves to be interested in what you look like. “You’re so vain, I bet you think this Romanian deadlift is about you,” as Carly Simon might’ve sung had she gone to her local leisure centre.
“You’re a runner? You’ll be tight!” was the instructor’s initial reaction upon hearing I worked for a running magazine. I assumed he meant my muscles rather than my purse strings. I’d imagined some beefcake turning his nose up at my rather unimposing physique, but my instructor was not only friendly and helpful he’d actually heard of runABC! “You’ll already have a good base level of fitness, so I’ll push you a bit harder than I would otherwise”. “Oh ok, that sounds fine,” I replied unconvincingly.
After demonstrating several exercises, which would apparently strengthen my core and improve my level of fitness, he handed me a sheet listing my new routine. It consisted of squatting, using the chest press and low-pull machines, and culminating in a circuits routine involving something called a farmer’s walk. It was like another language. Give me ‘PBs’, ‘cadence’, and ‘pronation’ any day of the week.
As I staggered back home, I was left in no doubt that my body had endured a thorough workout. Any passersby would have assumed I was three sheets to the wind, so hard was it for me to stop my legs from collapsing. How am I going to run when my limbs have been turned to jelly?!
Tried And Tested
What I discovered within a week or so of trying these exercises was my calves no longer hurt during runs, I had more stamina, and my times were improving. My body also quickly got used to the added strain I was putting on it.
The main issue I had with incorporating gym sessions to my routine was finding the time. Balancing work, social life, running and the gym seemed like a big ask, but I had similar thoughts before I started running. As with running, the key is to assign specific days for the gym and fit your other activities around that. You soon find that it isn’t so hard.
I accept that strength training isn’t for everyone – running in the great outdoors will always be more appealing than sweating it out lifting kettle bells. If you are looking to incorporate cross-training into your routine though, as every runner should, it will both complement and improve your running. Remember, good things come to those who weight.