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Is Weight Lifting Good For Runners?

By: Jerry Hopkins

Weight lifting is not compatible with running. You like most people probably run and lift weights. After-all almost all the books you pick up on running teach that lifting weights helps to improve running, and prevent injuries. Your personal trainer also gives you this advice.

Letís look at weight lifting and running. Because, there is a lot of confusion even among trainers. I believe that some of the confusion is caused by terms being mis-applied.

Aerobic vs. Anaerobic
Running is an aerobic and endurance activity. What is an aerobic activity? Aerobic means that the work that your muscles have to do needs oxygen. You suck in oxygen through your lungs and this gets transported by your blood to your muscles, which soak up the oxygen. It then converts this to energy and sends waste products to back into the blood, which then transports it back to the lungs, where you exhale it.

Weight lifting is an anaerobic activity. This means without oxygen. Your muscles are asked to do some kind of work, like lift something heavy and your muscles use a chemical process to generate energy. In exchange for this, your muscle will go into oxygen debt. I.e., you muscles says I can do this for a short time, if you give me oxygen later. If it doesnít get oxygen, then your muscle gets tight and sore, because of the waste products that built up into the muscle.

Letís compare and contrast these two. You can improve your anaerobic conditioning by doing weight lifting routines. This is called strength endurance. The ability to do heavy lifting for a bit longer. However, you can only increase this by a small fraction of time. You are not going to be able to lift heavy weights for hours on end. Your body will just collapse from all the waste products that have built up. In fact, if you try and lift a weight repeatedly, you will find that no matter how hard you try, your muscle will just not move.

As you can see, this doesnít seem to do much to help your aerobic ability. However, it can help to improve your sprinting, or for a short term boost to your run, say to the finish line.

Slow-twitch vs. fast-twitch
A second point is that running uses slow-twitch muscle fibers, while weight lifting uses fast-twitch muscle fibers. Each muscle in your body has two types of fibers. Slow twitch fibers which use oxygen and therefore are used for aerobic activity. These produce lower levels of force, but can do it for a longer period of time.

Fast twitch fibers are, you guess it, used when you need anaerobic energy. I.e., you need to produce more force to move a heavier object. Again, these are used for a relatively short period of time.

Unless you are sprinter, exercising your fast-twitch fibers isnít going to help improve your running too much.

Yes, but I want to protect myself from injuries and my personal trainer put me on a weight lifting program to do it.
The problem with most weight lifting routines is that they are body building routines. Well whatís wrong with that. Several things.

In the 1960ís and 1970ís body building started to get pretty popular. We all see images of people with large muscles and think that they must be pretty strong. Yes, most body builders are stronger than the average Joe, but they are not the strongest people around. The reason is, is that body builders do not lift weights for strength, they lift weights for large muscles and for a well sculptured body.

Here is how body building works. Body builders do several exercises per muscle to get as many fibers involved as possible. Their routine also breaks down the muscles, and with plenty of protein and a good diet, their bodies build the muscles back up, by resting, larger than before. This is why you feel tired all the time, if you are following a body building routine. Your body is basically needing to repair itself all the time.

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You shouldnít be body building all the time either. Even body builder donít build up their body like this all the time. Once, they get to a certain level, they are in maintenance mode.

This is not good if you want energy and need to run. You canít go and lift weights one day, break your body down, then go for a run the next day. This doesnít give your body time enough to repair itself.

Not only that, but one of the ways to get a bigger muscle is to isolate that muscle, so it does all the work. This is great for getting a larger muscle, but not good for functional strength. It doesnít teach your muscle groups to work together. This makes you prone to injury.

Not only that, but when you isolate a muscle, you also isolate the joints. This is double trouble because you are not strengthening the connective tissue. Plus, you are making a muscle stronger than the connective tissue and you are just asking for an injury.

Think of it this way. Do you think you could take some of the best body builders and put them in a marathon, or 10K? How well do you think they would fair? Iím not knocking body building, just saying it is not the ideal way to train for running. I donít think that the worldís best marathoners are going to fair well in a body building contest either.

Some of you may asking this question, ďBut, Iíve been lifting weights and I have improved my running time.Ē
Correct, and this is because weight lifting is going to use both fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers. Although, it is mostly the fast twitch fibers that are getting worked. But, if you have not done any exercises for your muscles, and you start to lift, then you will see a gain in the slow twitch ones. However, this will be short lived.

Letís look at an analogy. Think of it as someone who hasnít ran at all and they pick up running. At first, it will be difficult to jog a block. They will be out of breath. After a while they will be able to jog the block. So, they see an increase in their aerobic ability. But, if they never go beyond the block, they will improve anaerobically, but not aerobically.

Now, do you still think I am off my rocker?

So, what should I be doing instead of lifting weights?
Good question. You need to be doing exercises that are going to:

Improve aerobic endurance by increasing a muscleís ability to exchange oxygen. High rep exercises that are functional will do this.

Trains your slow twitch muscles by allowing you to do many repetitions. Ever asked this question: Why am I doing 8 to 15 reps of a weight lifting exercise, when I take hundreds or even thousands of steps during a run?

Prevents injuries by increasing the strength of your connective tissue. Only high reps and non-isolation type exercises do this.

Prevents overuse injuries by building up the endurance in a muscle. Wonder why your muscle gives out half way through your run? Itís because your muscle is tired and it starts to protest by tightening up. We ignore that and we get injured.

Just think how well you would run if you could do 500 push-ups? A lot better than if you did a 500 pound bench press.

I have designed an exercise program for runners that does all of the above. Itís not a pill, itís not a quick fix, and itís not a fad. If you are tired of getting injured from running and/or you are serious about improving your performance or looking for a great cross-training program, then check out

Remember, if you are experiencing pain, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Copyright 2004


Editor's Note:


This article is for educational purposes only. Always consult your own personal doctor for medical advice and follow it even it contradicts what is said in this article.

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