Lifting Weights Won’t Make You Bulky
“You can do anything for 30 more seconds!” I told myself as I looked up at the clock counting down from 12 minutes on the wall at my CrossFit gym.
Twelve minutes was the amount of time we had to find a heavy clean and jerk—basically, the heaviest you can lift that day, which may or may not be a PR. If “clean and jerk” sounds like a weird, foreign phrase, you’re not alone. Just a few years ago, I felt the same way—I would not have been able to tell you what it meant. But here I was, about to PB the Olympic lift.
With chalk on my previously sweaty hands, I grabbed the barbell—40kg in total—and ripped it off the ground and up to my shoulders. That was the clean. Halfway done, I thought to myself. Now, it was time for the jerk. I took a deep breath in, bent my knees slightly, and gave it everything I had to drive the barbell up over my head, dropping back under the bar afterwards into a split jerk. I slammed the bar back on the ground—my favourite part—and shouted for joy, feeling on top of the world.
A common misconception is that the minute you pick up a dumbbell, you’re well on your way to looking like The Rock.
Forty kilograms might not sound like a lot to some people, but as a runner who had never really spent much time strength training before stepping foot into that CrossFit gym, I’d come a long way.
I’ll admit, Olympic lifting isn’t for everyone (although I encourage you to give it a shot before you write it off completely—you may surprise yourself, because I know I did). However, strength training in general—using dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, or even your own body weight—is for everyone. Yes, including runners.
A common misconception is that the minute you pick up a dumbbell, you’re well on your way to looking like The Rock —you’ll get big and bulky, and your race times are doomed to suffer forever. But that’s simply not true.
If you scan the starting blocks of professional track and field events, you’ll notice the men and women racing have lean muscle. Sure, most of us aren’t running pros. And regardless of whether we’re fast enough to qualify for the Comrades Marathon or just go out on the weekends for a few feel-good kilometres, the general majority of us don’t need to be lifting that heavy. (Although if that becomes a goal of yours, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!) The point is: These athletes are lifting serious amounts of weight and aren’t “bulky.” What they are is fast.
It’s important that you build strength in all your muscles—not just your legs. While it may seem like your legs are doing all the work as you run, your upper body and core play an important role in logging faster miles, too.
“Your core is your power centre, the home base of your body,” Lindsey Clayton, RRCA run coach and senior instructor at Barry’s in New York City, previously told Runner’s World. “Having a strong core stabilises your body as you run, and adds power to your arms and legs to drive your body forward.”
Plus, building muscle is a huge part in remaining injury-free, Runner’s World+ coach Jess Movold tells me.
“You’re asking a lot of your body [when you run], and without strength training, your joints and bones and body aren’t as well equipped or durable to be able to continue challenging efforts,” she says.
Movold ran her first marathon in 2008, but didn’t start hitting the gym until February 2016 to train for that year’s New York City Marathon. In those eight years, her race times didn’t vary much. But when she added strength training consistently to her routine—about three to five times a week—her marathon PB went from 3:36 to 3:16.
THERE’S SOMETHING SO SATISFYING ABOUT A HARD LIFT