How many times have you heard a woman say “I don’t want to do weights because I don’t want to get bulky”? If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it one hundred times… It’s one of the biggest misconceptions out there, but contrary to popular belief, strength training is beneficial to so much more than just muscular strength. Strength training is one of the most underestimated and under-utilised aspects of a sports specific program, and while it doesn’t need to form the foundation of your training, you shouldn’t avoid using weights to prepare your body adequately for pounding the pavement or playing ball. Outside of improving your performance, weight training has so many more benefits.
The most common injuries I see are knee, lower leg, and lower back, and are for the most part caused by structural imbalances, poor posture and consistently incorrect movement patterns. The major imbalances that I see are:
Anterior versus posterior chain
Our glutes and hamstrings are our primary drivers, especially when it comes to moving faster and more explosively. Having a strong posterior chain can be the difference between conquering Heartbreak Hill, and winning that 100m one on one finish.
Runners are unilaterally dominant, so if you have a weakness on one side, you will compensate on the other side, setting yourself for injury. Single leg movements such as lunges, single leg-off box squats, step-ups, single-leg deadlifts and split jumps are all advantageous when correcting side to side imbalances
Lateral versus medial imbalance (outside vs inside)
A good proportion of knee injuries are caused by an imbalance between the outside of the leg being too tight (the major culprit being the IT Bands), and the inside of the leg being too weak. This causes incorrect tracking of the knee, leading to friction, inflammation and pain. I suggest foam rolling every day if possible for myofascial release, and then adding in VMO step ups (with heel elevated) or even wall sits squeezing a foam roller between the knees, to strengthen the inside of the leg.
Improving Power to Weight Ratio
One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to lifting is that you will get bigger, but muscle mass is not necessarily synonymous with strength.Having an optimal power-to-weight ratio just means that you have the right amount of muscle to carry your engine for the duration of your task. It comes down to picking the right exercises in the right rep range with the right load.
For maximal strength and power gains without adding unwanted mass, I suggest picking compound “task-specific” movements like front squats, back squats and deadlifts, and perform them in sets of 2-6 reps at 80 percent of your one-rep maximum.These movements are relatively easy to learn, pack a muscular punch on the legs and posterior chain, and emphasize core stability and posture. They’re also guaranteed to tighten and tone that tush!
Improving posture and breathing
When you think of running, the last thing you think of is training the upper body. However, your posture dictates the efficiency of your breathing, so if you’re hunched over with the rounded shoulder posture typically seen in many desk jockeys, chances are you’ll be compressing your diaphragm while you’re running. This is very inefficient and will cause you to tire much more quickly. Alleviating poor posture can be achieved by adding corrective upper body movements into your program (I like to do them on my recovery days) like external rotation, lower trap raises, bent over lateral flys, face pulls, Turkish get-ups, planks (straight-arm and side) and bent over rows, to pull the shoulders back and allow you to remain much more open and upright for the duration.
Improving Body Composition
Cardio may make you a smaller version of yourself but only weight training has the power to truly change the shape of your body. No amount of cardio will build that booty for you! Training with resistance can be used to elicit a specific hormonal response from the body. For women, this is particularly beneficial as lifting weights can have an anti-estrogenic effect on the body – something that has been shown to specifically target weight unevenly distributed over the hips and thighs. Lifting weights also makes the body more insulin sensitive ie more efficient at using carbohydrates and sugar for fuel, instead of storing the excess as fat. Say goodbye to thunder thighs and muffin tops.