Strength Training for Runners

Strength Training for Runners

strength training for running - Runner lacing up running shoes

Runners often neglect strength training, and even when they do add strength training to their running program, it’s typically not structured in a way that maximizes potential benefits. For a long time when it came to strength training for runners, the focus was on high repetitions and low load to the point of fatigue. While that approach will build strength, it will do so very slowly. Our innovative care strategies at MoveMend will help you find quick relief.

Along that same line of thinking, runners have avoided lifting heavy weights to avoid “bulking up” and hurting their running economy and ultimately their overall speed. However, recent research is starting to change that way of thinking when it comes to the way runners should approach strength training. Newer research indicates that adding strength training that focuses on high load (heavy weights) and low repetitions combined with some plyometric (jumping) exercises seems to be much more effective at eliciting benefits when it comes to endurance running compared to low-load, high-repetition training. 

When the high-load strength training is combined with running, improvements have been shown in running economy (the energy consumption at a given speed), 5k and 10k time, and 1-repetition max strength compared to the low-load group, which has shown to produce very little in the way of changes. 

While this information is great, it does not mean that every strength exercise for runners should be all high-load exercises or that there is no benefit from doing anything else. There is still value in doing training that focuses on single leg stability and control to help with motor control to reduce injury risk. A focus on motor control (the ability to successfully plan and execute a movement correctly) exercises still have a place in any good strengthening program. Since running is a single leg exercise during which there is only ever one foot touching the ground, that means that having good single leg motor control is vital. If there is a problem with motor control or mechanics, it is only going to be made worse as your muscles fatigue during a run, which will make an injury more likely. 

Here are 3 strength training exercises you can do at home to improve your running and decrease the risk of injury:

  • Single leg step-up – this is an exercise that works to improve motor control through the glutes and quads in single leg stance. See example from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Single leg RDL – this is an exercise that focuses on single leg stability in addition to hamstring strength. 
  • Hip abduction with side plank – this is an exercise that works to improve gluteus medius activation and strength, which is vital for single leg control during running. 

Not sure how often you should be doing these exercises or how to add them effectively to your running program? Get started with a two-part running assessment to see what areas you specifically need to focus on to run more efficiently and reduce your risk of injury. Our trained physical therapists are dedicated to helping you achieve a pain-free life.

Strength Training for Experienced Runners 

For more experienced runners, advanced strength training combined with running drills can be a good way to improve power and speed with your running. Combining strength training that incorporates high load – low volume training, challenging plyometrics, and some single-leg stability and core exercises provides a well-rounded strength program that will build strength and improve motor control. When this is done as part of an off-season training program, it will set you up for improved success during your next running training plan. 

Another tool that can be useful to employ for improved performance and form is to add in some running drills. Running drills and strides can be done not only as part of a pre-season leading up to your training plan but also during your training plan to dial in the form at the beginning or at the end of an easier run. 

The ABCD running drill is a good way to break down running form into the major components and movements in a more isolated way and work on timing and motor control. Strides which consist of short (30 sec) bouts of running while slowly building up speed to near max effort (90%) work on running power. The addition of these exercises into a training plan is a good way to establish a well-rounded program that will allow you to progress running fitness, speed, power and efficiency all while lowering your injury risk. Contact us today.

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