Why Cross Country Athletes Need Weight Training

I’ve had the opportunity to weight train DII cross country athletes since 2017-2020. I learned quickly how difficult this sport is on these kids because of how long their performance season is. If your college has a cross country program and a track and field program, your cross athletes are most likely apart of the track team too, running from 800-meter to 3200-meter races. For perspective, these athletes have cross country during the fall, indoor track during the winter, and outdoor track during the spring. That means that these athletes are competing for 9 months out of the year. One of the most common injuries for long-distance runners is overuse injuries from the repetitive action of running for miles and months on end. Stress fractures, shin-splits, knee pain, hip pain, and back pain were some of the most common injuries I was fighting against to keep my athletes healthy as best as I could. Stress fractures are without a doubt the most frustrating for all parties involved because of how long they take to heal and how easy it is to re-injure the same area if you try to do too much too soon, setting you back another couple of months before you’re 100%. Which is why I’m here to explain why cross country athletes need the weight room.

For a long time, there has been this negative connotation about cross country athletes training in the weight room. One of the common fears is that it’ll make you too bulky and slow you down. I’m here to set the record straight that, if you train correctly, YOU WILL NOT BULK UP. Long-distance athletes do not realize what it takes to achieve that bodybuilding type muscle. The amount of weight training it takes (4-7 days of training a week) and the amount of food you have to eat to stay in a calorie surplus daily to grow muscle to that kind of level, is extremely difficult. I would also like to add to the fact that one of the factors that keep you from being too bulky is… running/cardio. Rest assured that unless you are: weight training over 4 days a week, eating in a calorie surplus every day, and doing NO cardio or running, you will be just fine!

Weight training is what could make or break your season as a runner if you’re constantly getting injured or in pain all the time. The weight room is a great tool to keep you healthy and it will let you be able to handle tougher workouts, which means you’ll enhance your performance too! The weight room can also help reduce ground contact time per step because you can apply more force into the ground and push off quicker from increased strength and power. For example, let’s say it took you 10,000 steps to complete a race. If you were able to reduce ground contact time for each foot on average .003 seconds over 10,000 steps, you would shave off 30 seconds off your time! To me, it’s about how to make each stride as efficient, strong, and powerful as possible over the length of a race, as well as strengthening the athlete’s body to handle running for long periods of time.

Increased strength and power will help you stay healthy, reduce the energy requirements to move your legs and arms, apply more force into the ground with your legs creating a stronger push off into a longer stride, and reduce ground contact time. My recommendation is that cross country or long-distance running athletes weight train 2 days out of the week on their hard-running days. Keep the hard days hard and the easy days easy. Also, running should still be the priority so do your running workout first, then head to the weight room. If you must weight train first for schedule reasons, give yourself at least 6 hours before you start your running workout, so that it doesn’t affect your running program. Research has shown that either option works just fine. If you are interested in a cross country/long-distance running weight room plan feel free to email me at bcharles16@winona.edu! Good luck to all you runners and remember to get in the weight room and GET AFTER IT!

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