General Health and Running
Improved body composition through improved metabolism and fat loss
An improved body composition isn’t about being skinny, but rather having an appropriate percentage of body fat and muscle mass. How strength training can accomplish that is pretty straight forward. The first mechanism is simply burning more calories throughout the week. For most of us, we won’t burn a million extra calories through strength training, but it adds up. For instance, let’s say you run 4 days per week, essentially every other day. If we add 1-2 days of a 30-40 minute strength training program into the mix, that’s a few hundred calories per week. Over time, it’s several pounds per year.
You may be thinking that’s a long time, and it is. However, we also know that the weight you lose in this manner is much more likely to stay off than if you lost the weight very quickly. You’ll also have this going for you that will add more calories to the total. The second part of this is an improved metabolism, specifically your basal metabolic rate. This is the energy you need to simply breathe and keep all vital bodily functions in working order. Over time you’ll add a little muscle (not like bodybuilder muscle, but enough), you’ll also really be maximizing what muscles your brain is sending signals to (neuromuscular). Believe it or not, if you don’t exercise certain muscles, your brain sends weaker signals to them. This will be discussed later, but just an FYI for now. With that said, muscle is metabolically active, unlike fat. Muscle has processes going on inside it, which requires energy to perform, while fat typically just sits there (not all but the fat that we usually have too much of). So, as we utilize muscle and build muscle, it becomes more active, which means it burns more calories just to keep you alive. The benefit of that? We have theoretically infinite amounts of fat energy stored in our body. Luckily for us, fat is the preferred fuel of choice for everything from typing on your laptop to going for a walk.
Preserve muscle mass
If we don’t use it, we lose it. This is especially true as we begin to age. So, if you are in your 20’s and 30’s, you may think I am blowing smoke, but as we creep out of our 30’s and into our 40’s we gradually lose a little bit of muscle mass on a regular basis. We can tell this by the amount of effort it might take to carry in groceries. We used to just try to grab all the bags to just make one trip, but now it takes a couple trips. Preserving our muscle mass keeps our quality of life higher, a lot longer into life. It’s really more of an investment to your health in your 60’s, 70’s, and beyond. The biggest factor in being healthy later in life is not trying to get in shape later in life, but maintain your fitness throughout life!
Preserve bone mass
Along the same lines as muscle preservation, strength training has been shown time and time again to improve bone mineral density, even with simple moderate intensity strength training. Again, it might not mean much to you now, but this is an “easy” investment in your long term health.
Chronic disease is a serious problem in our country. By aiding strength training to your routine, you can get a handle on things like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, back pain, and arthritis. Strength training has also been vital in the management of chronic disease and has been shown to help patients with certain cancers cope with treatments much better.
Increased energy/Improved mood
Strength/resistance training is as good as any drug you could be prescribed! Evidence show that adding even moderate strength training over a period of 8-10 weeks can improve all of the following:
- Chronic Fatigue
- Self Esteem
- Sleep Quality
- Mental Health
Running Specific Performance
I understand that most of you are here because you are concerned with improving your running and not necessarily being able to carry more groceries in one trip! Fortunately, strength training can improve our running performance when we simply can’t just add more mileage.
Improved running economy via fatigue resistance
Running economy is essentially how much oxygen we require to run a certain pace. As we fatigue, our form starts to fade as well. Look at the last few miles of any marathon. The fastest runners look nearly the same at mile 24 as they did at mile one. Then look at people who are struggling- they will tend to have very small strides, slouched over, and no leg drive. Simply, they became fatigued and now it requires even more oxygen to run at a slower pace. It’s a brutal position to be in. By strengthening the entire body, you can keep your form together for much longer. This in turn, requires you to use less energy later in the race and ultimately keep your pace for longer and longer periods of time.
Let’s face it, running long distances breaks our muscles down a bit. Think about when you haven’t run in a while or did a really hard workout for the first time in a while. The next day might be ok, but that next day is a killer, right! That’s not from lactic acid, or anything like that. Nope, that’s from actually causing damage to the muscle. Don’t freak out, though, you’ll adjust over time. However, strength training make make those muscle fibers more resilient to the hard work that you are putting in. What this means for you is that it takes a little less to recover from each hard session and may actually allow you to do more intense work more often without breaking yourself down.
Increased neuromuscular “connectivity”
As we run, especially for long amounts of time (hours), are brain, nerves, and muscles tend to get bored with each other. What I mean is, the signals between the brain and muscles get weaker, resulting in weaker and weaker muscle contractions. So now, you can start to see the connection between fatigue, resiliency, and now, neuromuscular connectivity. It really is all intertwined. What strength training can do is maximize all the fiber recruitment it can. So, you maximize the connections between your range of fibers (fast twitch, intermediate, and slow twitch), which means you have more fibers to draw from over a longer period of time.
You may have heard the term “pre-hab” getting tossed around like a game of backyard catch, and what it’s referring to is the idea of doing a little bit of work now to avoid injury later. Some two thirds of runners will be hurt during the course of a year, so let’s face it- injury is inevitable. However, we can reduce that risk tremendously. In fact, some data suggests that overuse injuries (shin splints, tendonitis, etc), could be reduced by 50% and that total running injuries could be knocked down to one-third!