The majority of runners have heard that they should strength train in addition to their running. If you ask any runner why, most of them will respond with injury prevention. While injury prevention is a huge benefit of strength training for runners, there are many other benefits that few runners know about but could help them preform at higher levels. For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on strength training for runners. Although it should be noted that there are many other types of cross training that can be beneficial as well.
| Injury Prevention
Overuse injury for runners is the bane of our existence, anything that takes us off the roads is no good. Strength training, using a variety of weight training, bodyweight exercises, and plyometrics can help prevent overuse injuries from occurring—or at least prevent their reoccurrence. Most overuse injuries are due to inadequate recovery and rest, muscular imbalances, and/or improper footwear.
Strength training can’t help you rest more, but it can make your muscles stronger so that the repetitive forces of running aren’t such a problem for your body to handle. If the muscles are stronger, then the forces of running won’t wear them down as much. In the end, you won’t be as sore after hilly runs and will end up with less muscular damage which means recovery will be quicker.
Concerning muscular imbalances, properly strengthening the major muscles of running—the gluts, hamstrings, quadriceps, gastrocnemius and soleus (calf), as well as the low back and core as a unit—are key to keeping form tight. Keeping these muscle strong will prevent the overuse of one or more muscle groups. In a perfect world all these muscles mentioned would work together in harmony and handle the load they’re supposed to so that balance would be achieved.
When an injury does sideline you, strength training can be a huge rescue to runners who still need to stay in shape for future races and events or to maintain fitness so they don’t have to start over from scratch. Properly chosen strength training can help to correct the muscular imbalances that possibly caused the injury in the first place and strengthen muscles groups that a primarily used in running. It can also give runners a chance to maintain fitness while improving in other areas so that the return-to-running goes smoothly.
Strengthening areas you normally have issues with feeling; weak, unstable, loose, or “not pulling their weight’ can be key to preventing further injuries that stem from the same root cause and can make your running form stronger once you return to running.
| Running Economy
Running your goal times comes down to running efficiently and running efficiently comes down to having the proper strength to maintain a good running form under stress. Strength training can correct the key muscles used in running to produce optimal force as well as strengthen the core to maintain good posture while running. If we can keep the form perfect while under stress, like in the late stages of a marathon, we won’t begin overusing muscles due to form breakdown. We will continue to produce more optimal force to keep running speed and cadence up—which means we’ll be able to finish strong and catch that PR we’ve been chasing.
| Strength Exercises
When choosing a strength program to compliment your running there is a few things to consider.
Try and pick multi-joint movements—things like a squat and deadlift will be more beneficial in the end as compared to single-joint movements such as the quad extension machine at the gym.
Consider single-leg exercises, since running is essentially hopping from one leg to the other, being strong in a single leg position is important and beneficial for all runners; from sprinters to ultra-runners.
Check out plyometric training, being more explosive will translate to running as having a quicker turnover and cadence which will help keep us moving forward more efficiently. Keep challenging the body with new exercises!