Unfortunately, there’s still a misunderstanding around how and why strength training can benefit runners performance and running longevity.
Most running training programs consists only of running… interval running, easy paced running, aerobic running..sometimes there are “core” or “gym” sessions thrown into the week but generally correct strength training isn’t regularly built into a runners weekly schedule…If you want to continue running and perform your best, it should be!
For quick reference, I’ve split this article into the following:
- What is strength training?
- Why should you strength train as a runner?
- Run efficiency & Injury prevention
- Strength specific training for runners.
I help runners become faster, run further and ensure we resolve any running niggles – with scientifically proven periodization & progressive overload strength training principles. When we start strength training, as part of the program, we begin to create a runner who is stronger, lighter, niggle free and of course more athletic! With improved athletic strength comes improved performance.
What is strength training
Strength or resistance training involves the movement of your body or limbs against a resistance to strengthen the muscles, tendons and mobility/flexibility around joint.
Resistance training can be undertaken with many different types of equipment, for example: barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, swiss balls, monkey bars, mini bands, power bands, medicine balls, hurdles/boxes and body weight to name a few.
It really doesn’t matter as long as the resistance stimulus is undertaken with a high degree of effort and depending on the individual and the exercise; within the 1-15 repetition maximum range.
Strength training isn’t purely about building muscle. It’s also about improving strength endurance, muscular strength without the associated size, improving power to weight ratio, increasing the stiffness around a joint for stability and also to assist with losing fat.
For a strength training program to work for an individual the key is to know injury history, health history, running history, areas of body weakness /tightness / or strengths, running style and of course specific goals.
Understanding and knowing your ‘why’ for strength training will make motivation high, keep progress happening and will help you hit your desired goals.
Why should you strength train as a runner:
Strength training is complimentary to a running program and essential if you want to run better and achieve desired goals.
Adding strength training will improve your running efficiency – making you faster and able to run further (and more frequently) + reduce the likelihood of injuries.
How strength training improves your running efficiency:
When your foot hits the ground, there are forces (ground reaction forces) pushing back. The harder you hit the ground, the larger these forces are, the more you slow down each time your foot hits the ground. Decreasing your ground contact time reduces your impact with the ground and therefore the push back force is less – making you more efficient.
How do you speed up ground contact time? Increased cadence. Having a stronger and better functioning core / glute ‘combo.’ When they’re stronger, the rotational impact of ‘push back’ forces on your trunk/lumbopelvic region is diminished. This lends itself to less energy required to generate your next stride > decreasing ground contact time = you are a more economical/more efficient runner!
Further, as the glutes main role is to extend your hip and drive you forward with each running stride, if they aren’t working properly it means other muscles need to compensate – normally this tends to be the quads and lower back. With stronger glutes we’re far more likely to have a balanced running stride, meaning we don’t overload the lower back and quads. Therefore our running efficiency is better and we don’t fatigue as fast.
Summary: Stronger glutes + Stronger core = Biomechanically more efficient runner.
How does strength training reduce injury:
Overuse injuries are common in runners – tendon injuries, bone stress, lower back pain, knee pain, hip pain, achilles pain all occur as result of overload in that particular region.
Normally the solution to the problem lies in not overloading those muscles that are already stressed, but looking along the body’s ‘kinetic chain’ and determining which muscles are under-active and hence require prescription of corrective strength training.
Strength specific training for runners:
Making the program specific to running requires an understanding of the mechanics and loads that a running body is subject to during each stride.
To make the program effective, it needs to be specific to that individual.
An individualised program ensures injury history, age, gender, run training age, strength training age, stronger and weaker body regions, running biomechanics and habits are taken into account before prescribing.
Once known, the following essential elements can then be incorporated correctly:
- Running is a single leg sport. Single leg exercises must be included.
- Mastery of squatting, lunging, hinging, rotating, pushing and pulling with control. These movements need to be mastered before adding more weight, complexity or speed to the movement.
- A focus on efficiency of kinetic chain movements (not muscles) to improve athleticism.
- Variety of exercises across sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes.
- A focus on weak regions or weak muscles – ensuring these muscles are contracting when undertaken the prescribed movement to build the necessary strength.
- Jumping as well as landing – with the goal: explosive and light.
- Alignment of strength and running schedule block periodization – modulating volume, frequency and intensity over time to ensure appropriate recovery and gains.
Becoming a lighter, faster, more durable and efficient runner does take time and effort. Incorporating specific running strength training can be daunting and challenging to begin but know that neuromuscular adaptations and real running performance improvements can take as little as 6 weeks after you start a run specific strength program!