Here it is 2014 (Happy New Year!) and the mythology still persists amongst many that as long as you run, your legs will be plenty strong. Or worse, as long as you run, your fitness needs are “taken care of”.
A few months ago I discussed the three bases: aerobic, strength, and movement. Running takes care of your aerobic development. No argument there. If you do most of your training at an easy, comfortable pace and touch on faster paces regularly, you're good.
Yet, here's the problem with running as your only fitness activity. To a large extent, it neglects 2 of the 3 bases. Not only that, I'd say over time it ERODES those bases. That's right, if you're like the average person (seated most of the day) and only run, then your basic movement patterns AND whatever strength you have will get worse over time.
Why is this?
Running is highly repetitive and uses very small ranges of motion (unless you're sprinting all out).
What happens to your movement quality?
I don't know about you, but I don't feel loose after a long run. I feel tight! And that's for good reason – “tighter” runners are more efficient and use less energy to run. The more you run, the tighter you'll get. It's how we adapt and become better runners.
But to maintain or grow your movement base smart people practice yoga regularly. Yoga is an awesome way to maintain or improve your movement quality because you're not simply stretching passively. You're actively engaged in the movements, exploring large ranges of motion, and integrating some balance and body control into that flexibility work. Even a 15-20 minute sun salutation series will do for starters!
Beyond yoga, simply engaging in a large variety of movements like climbing, dancing, rolling, swimming, or any sort of play really, will have you moving and feeling great.
And what happens to your strength?
When something is highly repetitive then that means each unique repetition isn't all that costly to us. Each repetition doesn't require much strength. (Unless you want to run fast.)
I don't care that you just ran a marathon, 5K, or Ugly Sweater Run. Have you noticed the form and pace of most of those people? (JUDGEMENT FREE ZONE, just sayin!)
How many pull ups can you do? How much can you deadlift? Can you do a beautiful single leg squat?
You may not think that these things matter, but I assure you if you neglect them you are underperforming, less durable and more prone to injury.
The benefits of getting strong go way beyond running, too.
Think the woman who can bang out 3 or more perfect form pull-ups has to count every single calorie? Hell no.
The stronger you are, the more a 'reserve' you have. In other words, when you possess more strength, you have more lean muscle, which is a very metabolically active tissue, and you can tolerate the occasional piece of cake. (<---I did NOT say go eat cake every day)
All else equal, who's more likely to get injured - A weak person or a strong person?
The strong person can tolerate a mis-step here and an awkward landing there. Their tissue is resilient and handle the load. If you're weak, that's a sprained ankle or worse.
If your form sucks because you're too weak to even create the possibility of good form, well hello plantar fasciitis, IT Band Syndrome, or any number of issues.
All else equal, who will win in a race? A weak person or a strong person?
I don't even have to answer that. I bet you know!
Ok, here's something to think about. The amount of distance you cover with each stride depends solely on one thing. Your ability to produce force.
The basic ability to produce force comes from... drumroll... STRENGTH.
Summary and dramatic conclusion:
Many aspects of your life will improve by becoming stronger. Nothing will change (for the better) by being weak.
Have you incorporated strength training? What's been your experience? Has it helped? Do you regret becoming stronger??