Making the Case for Why Runners Should Be Weightlifting

Bumper Plates for weightlifting
Bumper Plates

Unfortunately, there seems to be a fairly adversarial relationship between runners — particularly endurance runners, like folks who run half marathons, marathons, and ultramarathoners — and weightlifters. Runners often think that they don’t belong in the weight room, lifting heavy weights, ever, and correspondingly, weightlifters often think that they don’t stand to benefit at all from including running — of any manifestation — in their fitness and training programs.

It’s frustrating to be a part of this dichotomy because certainly, runners do need to spend some time getting strong(er) in the gym, and likewise, weightlifters would often benefit from increasing their endurance capacities. Sure, most runners needn’t become powerlifters, just as most weightlifters needn’t become ultramarathoners, but this doesn’t mean that runners and weightlifters ought to avoid the other’s activity at all costs. In fact, that’s pretty far from the truth!

I’ve been an endurance runner for most of my adult life, having run about 30 marathons, as many half marathons, a 50k trail ultramarathon, and qualified for the esteemed Boston Marathon more than 15 times, and I get it — if you’re a runner, you think that the best and only way to get fitter and faster is to log more miles. However, that line of thinking is inherently flawed. Eventually, there will come a time when your muscles will become incredibly overtaxed or under-utilized, depending on which muscles we’re examining, and while you won’t simply break into many fragmented pieces, your body will begin to show the wear and tear of hundreds of thousands of “just running” miles — miles that aren’t augmented by a dedicated strength and conditioning program.

Below, I’ll outline some of the popular misconceptions that abound in the running community about runners’ needs to weightlift, and hopefully by doing so, I’ll be able to dispel some of the flawed thinking. Simply put, runner belongs as much in the weightroom as on the roads they traverse.

Mistake 1: lifting weights will ultimately make you “big” (especially if you’re a woman).

This is probably the most popular lie of them all. I’m not sure how it started, but it seems that this lie pervades every single fitness circle out there. It doesn’t seem to matter if you enjoy running, walking, rollerblading, or step aerobics; if you’re a woman, you’ve probably been told or have heard that you should shy away from weightlifting (particularly heavy weights) unless you want to become “big.” Physiologically speaking, this is almost impossible, and for runners, it’s all but impossible. Certainly there are costs and benefits to weightlifting — just as there are for any type of physical activity — but discounting this exercise pursuit because it’ll make you “big” is shortsighted and just plain wrong. Lifting weights will make you strong, however.

Mistake 2: if you’re a runner, you have no place or business in a weightroom.

Remember that dichotomy I talked about earlier? This is what I’m talking about. For many people, you either run or you lift weights; they’re mutually exclusive, so you don’t do both. Again, this is flat-out wrong! Many runners get into the thinking that in order to get faster or run farther, all they should be doing is running. While it might logically make sense, what these runners don’t take into account is the incessant wear and tear on their muscles, bones, and bodies that non-stop running incurs. Running is an excellent way of getting some of your muscles very strong, but that means that many other muscles are left out in the dust and remain completely underutilized or not touched at all. For the most part, runners often move in only one plane of motion, and that ultimately means that many of their “little stabilizer muscles” are neglected in the process. Lifting weights routinely can help to rectify this musculature imbalance, and it can also minimize a runner’s injury risk, since she will be more “balanced” across the board, rather than being really strong in some areas and really weak in others. If you need photographic proof of this, look at professional and Olympic runners, sprinters and distance runners alike. While yes, they are all quite thin, they’re all very chiseled as well; it’s obvious that they spend a ton of time in the weight room and don’t rely exclusively on running to get themselves into their top form.

Mistake 3: regularly lifting will slow you down in the long-term.

Closely related to Mistake 1, the idea that regularly lifting weights will ultimately slow you down is quite short-sighted. The logic here is that if you lift, you’ll get “big,” and if you get “big,” that means you’ll run more slowly. Again, one need only look at professional, Olympic-caliber runners, who are both fast and strong, to see that regularly lifting will not slow you down. We’ve talked already about how erroneous it is to think that weightlifting a few times a week, even if you’re lifting the heavy weights, will make you substantially bigger, but it’s worth considering how this stacks up to another popular belief in the running community: namely, that less is more. Runners often want to get down to their lowest possible body weight because they think that if there is less of them — literally speaking — it’ll be easier to move themselves through space (since they are taking up less mass) and thus, they’ll be as fast as possible. Unfortunately, for a lot of runners, this skewed thinking flows right into disordered eating habits and for some athletes, can lead to orthorexia or even amenorrhea, for women. Unless you are a professional runner, whose mortgage is on the line with the next race on the horizon, I wouldn’t worry a ton about getting to a “racing weight” each season. Instead, eat well most of the time, regularly train (and do so intelligently), and help fool-proof your training by cross-training (namely, by lifting weights), and I think you’ll blow any expectations you’ve set of yourself out of the water. Lifting helps make you stronger, and when you’re stronger, you can run faster and run farther distances. It’s as simple as that.

Hopefully, I’ve made clear my case that runners actually would stand to benefit from spending some time in the weightroom and that a lot of the so-called reasons why runners should avoid weightlifting are mere hogwash. It might behoove runners to work with a coach who is both seasoned in running training and weightlifting training, for lack of a better phrase, so that the coach will be well-versed in best practices for how to get runners as strong and fast as possible both in the weight room and on the roads. The idea that runners don’t belong in the weightroom is clearly wrong, and it’s my sincerest hope that runners realize this sooner rather than later.

Dan Chabert
Dan Chabert

Written by: Dan Chabert

An entrepreneur and a husband, Dan hails from Copenhagen, Denmark. He 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, Nicershoes and GearWeAre. Dan has also been featured in several popular running blogs across the world.

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