Sarah asks: Do yoga and pilates count as strength training even though you can’t “bulk up” with either of them?

Sarah, any exercise that challenges or overloads your muscles will help your muscles become stronger  (notice I didn’t say “bigger”). I think that strength training is important for everyone. I like to think of myself as a fit person who runs, rather than a runner who is fit.

There is an endless approach to strengthening your muscles. Free weights, machines, body weight as resistance, medicine balls, etc. are all methods that people use to challenge, stress, overload their muscles.

I think the real key to improving your muscular strength is to overload your muscles. For example, if I do 10 push-ups every other day for 4 weeks, how many push-ups  will I be able to do at the end of 4 weeks? The answer is 10.

The human body is amazingly adaptable. If you present the same challenge to you body, you body will eventually adapt. In order to continue to improve, it is important that you continue to increase or modify the challenge.

I think yoga, pilates, and core training are all valuable and important approaches toward being a well-balanced and fit person. Both yoga and pilates challenge your flexibility, balance, core fitness and strength; all of which are valuable to a runner. 

So why is strength training important to a runner? When you become fatigued, your form deteriorates (poor running economy). It is not just because of tired legs, but it is also due to tired arms and a tired back and abdominals. Having a strong torso helps hold your form together in the latter stages of a workout or a race.

Strength training has many benefits for runners including the following:

  • Prevents the gradual loss of strength and bone mineral content that occurs naturally with aging.
  • Eliminates muscle imbalances between opposing muscles.
  • Improves running economy (one of the key determinants of running performance).
    • By improving running economy, a runner should be able to run faster over the same distance due to a decrease in oxygen consumption.
    • Improved running economy would also increase a runner’s time to exhaustion.

    The goal of strength training for runners is not necessarily adding muscle mass but… 

    1.    Improving muscular strength,
    2.    Improving local muscular endurance,
    3.    Maintaining current muscle mass,
    4.    “Pre-hab” for injury prevention, and
    5.    Post-injury rehabilitation.

    I think the real question is: Can yoga and/or pilates help accomplish these goals? I think the answer is “possibly.” The answer to this question is whether or not the yoga and pilates you are doing is progressive. Do the workouts gradually and progressively increase the challenge to your muscular fitness? If so, then you may be fine to continue with your current approach. However, if a progressive aspect is missing in your yoga/pilates workouts, then you may want to consider modifying your approach.

    Here’s an idea for your consideration: complete your yoga/pilates workouts as normal and add one day of a more traditional strength training program. The combination and variety may be just what your muscles need.

    Scott Murr, co-author of Runner’s World: RUN LESS, RUN FASTER, is the Training Performance Director of the Furman (University) Institute of Running and Scientific Training [FIRST] and is a member of the Health and Exercise Science Department at Furman. Scott is an 11-time Ironman Triathlon finisher.

    This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.

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