Functional Fitness for Runners and Why it’s Important

We've designed Formula's workouts to deliver three benefits: strength, stamina, and function.  Strength and stamina are pretty straightforward; lift weights to gain strength and run more intensely to increase stamina. But what do I mean by function? And why on earth should you care?

 

Functional fitness refers to the ability to take what you do in the gym and translate it to a specific purpose.  For a lot of our clients, that purpose is to run faster.  You might be able to squat 200 lbs. or rip thru an hour of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) but are these workouts aiding you toward your particular fitness goals?  If your goal is to improve your running, it’s important to understand the concepts that surround functional fitness.

 

One concept of functional fitness that is important for runners is being able to distinguish between absolute strength and relative strength. Absolute strength is the maximum force you can exert, regardless of body size. Relative strength, on the other hand, is how strong you are for your size, and this is particularly important for runners. While it’s true that we don’t need to be overly concerned with how much weight we can pile on in a bench press, we also don’t need to lift lighter weights just because we are runners.   

 

 Jon works on his balance, posterior-chain strength, and form at the same time.

Jon works on his balance, posterior-chain strength, and form at the same time.

I’ve heard plenty of runners suggest in the past that they do not want to lift weights for fear of bulking-up.  The truth is, when you lift weights, you actually create little microtears in muscle fibers. When these tears repair you become stronger and the muscles do become a little bit bigger. Muscle tissue, however, is much more dense than body fat; when you replace fat with muscle you will look actually look leaner, smaller, and have more power.  Bodybuilders spend hours working out along with consuming a diet that promotes massive muscle gain; you will not, however, bulk-up by lifting more frequently or lifting heavier weights.  

 

An increase in absolute strength will always increase your relative strength, which of course has a number of positive outcomes. Improving strength will increase the force you generate off the ground and better propel the body forward.  Physics aside, just know this means your stride length will increase and you can run faster, stronger, and more resiliently.  You will also delay the muscle fatigue that comes later in workouts, long runs, or races.

 

A strong body is also crucial to tolerate the repetitive load of running and injury prevention.  Overuse injuries can be avoided with the addition of strength training to your regimen.  I like to explain it this way: if you have an overuse injury like plantar fasciitis, you know the plantar is working too hard. Rest is an answer, sure. But come on, you and I both know you aren’t taking more than a day off without losing sanity! If you are able to strengthen the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, calves) to carry more of the load that your plantar is currently taking, you will reduce the use of your plantar and improve its function.

 Some very serious, very professional folks demonstrating functional strength training on the Fitbench.

Some very serious, very professional folks demonstrating functional strength training on the Fitbench.

 

At Formula, we focus on multi-joint exercises and functional movements that will help you become a better runner. Whether it’s strengthening the posterior chain to harness your power, working on mobility to improve range of motion and running mechanics, or plyometric exercises that will improve your efficiency, there is never aimless exercise. You work hard here, so that you can run harder elsewhere!