One widely held misconception regarding strength training is that it makes those who do it slow. The belief itself is based on two half truths that if put together and wrongly assumed as gospel, have been putting people off a great method of improving themselves as athletes.
The half truths in question are that:
1) Weight training is always as heavy as possible and so is always performed slowly.
2) Weight training makes you gain weight and so this slows you down.
Let’s take a closer look.
1) Weight training with an absolute maximum load (the most weight you can physically move in that exercise) happens very slowly. That’s because it takes time to generate the force required for that one single effort. The reason this is only a half-truth is that we don’t actually do that many single maximal effort lifts when we are training to improve other qualities – qualities such as speed or power. Not all weight training is the same. Just as you don’t run 400m the same speed as you run a marathon (unless you’re Eliud Kipchoge maybe).
We train speed using lighter external loads, usually around 1/3 to 1/2 of your actual maximum. This means we can move it much quicker and rather than make us slower can serve to improve our velocity. There are many other examples of resistance training that are not performed slowly or with a maximal load, but many don’t immediately spring to mind for the average gym goer. You can find easy to implement examples throughout our Facebook and Instagram feeds.
Does lifting weights really make you bulky?
2) You CAN gain weight using weight training BUT you’d have to also be eating more than you really require and training using high volumes of work in the same muscle groups with the AIM of muscle gain. It rarely happens by accident!
The way to gain weight is always using a calorie surplus meaning the way to ensure you don’t gain excess weight is to be in a calorie balance. Take in roughly what you use on a daily basis with only a few extra to assist recovery. You can actually add very small amounts of muscle without gaining weight on the scales due to the simultaneous equivalent loss in fat mass. This is only small amounts and has been frequently shown to aid, not hinder performance.
Training for muscle gain – the way a body builder would – needs lots of volume for each body part, lots of working to failure/exhaustion and a lot of very general training in terms of exercise selection. You pick an exercise that works the muscle you want to grow and you hammer it until it does. We don’t programme like that for runners. Runners need as much training benefit from the least amount of work possible, with careful consideration of running volumes, and exercises that are shown to transfer into running performance and the prevention of injury.
The moral of the full story
In reality, when using a properly designed and individualised weight training programme, no runner should gain useless muscle mass or start to produce force more slowly. A good plan will in fact improve performance and reduce your injury risk.