Do you prefer to hit the pavements or trails instead of hitting the gym? You are not alone. When the topic of strength training comes up, many runners, well, run away from it! Putting some time into strength work, alongside running, can reap lots of rewards.
One of the major reasons that runners get injured is because their bodies are unprepared to handle the physical demands of the activity. Tissue overload then occurs, either because of a sudden introduction to the sport, or a relatively sudden change or increase in training mileage or intensity.
Supplementing running with strength training exercises will not only help you prevent injury, but it will also make you a stronger, faster, and a more efficient runner.
“Don’t let your engine outpace your chassis”
We don’t want you to fall into the trap of your aerobic fitness (endurance built up by running) outpacing your structural fitness (bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles). If you do, you’re setting yourself up for injury.
When running, the ground reaction force is 2.5-3 times your body weight, with some of the highest forces going through your calf muscles, which can be up to 8 times your body weight. Strength training can protect your joints by making the supporting muscles and ligaments stronger and more able to withstand impact while running.
Goals of strength training for runners
Strength work accomplishes three big goals for runners:
- Prevent injuries by strengthening muscles and connective tissues, to better handle the loads while running.
- Run faster by improving neuromuscular (nerve-muscle) coordination and power, which translates into more propulsion.
- Improve running economy by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency. This isn’t limited just to your lower body; improving your upper-body strength can also boost your running efficiency. With a stronger core, you’ll be able to maintain a stable upper body, minimising side-to-side movement – and better hold your form at the end of a run when you begin to tire. And by developing strength in your arms, you’ll improve your arm drive so you can inject more power into your stride, especially uphill.
Before we provide some guidance on the type of strengthening exercises you can get stuck in to, let’s bust some of the common myths (or maybe excuses!) around running and strength training.
Myth 1: Strength training will build too much muscle and bulk for running and add extra weight which may overload my joints.
Reality: The correct type of strength training is very unlikely to cause massive increases in muscle bulk and the fact that you are running alongside this training can also prevent weight gain due to its endurance component.
Myth 2: Strength training should be low weight and high repetitions to mimic the endurance training needed for running.
Reality: Greater performance benefits have been shown in studies to come from runners doing high weights/loads and low repetitions as well as explosive exercises.
Myth 3: Higher training loads causes higher injury rates
Reality: Across a wide range of sports, well-developed physical qualities are associated with reduced injury risk. Overuse type injuries are not caused by training itself, but rather by incorrect training programmes.You should always be mindful of the risk of excessive and rapid increases in training loads, which are generally responsible for a large proportion of injuries.
So you now know the benefits, but how should you execute your strength training appropriately? Check out our top tips and example exercises below.
Remember, there is always benefit in getting your osteopath or physiotherapist to assess you for any muscle imbalances when embarking on a strength programme. This can help identify areas to focus training on and provide options to modify exercises for you in order to maximise your chances of injury prevention. You can book a consultation with us here, or feel free to reach out to us via email, or on Facebook at Dominic Malone Osteopathy and Instagram at @dm_osteopathy if you have any queries.
- Runners get enough of a cardiovascular workout, so focusing on training with a relatively heavy weight (between 60 – 80% of your 1 rep maximum) for a moderate number of repetitions with full recovery between sets is ideal. But if picking up a barbell or dumbbells is a big stretch for you, remember your own body is weight so ditching the weights going for bodyweight exercises can still help build strength.
- Try coupling higher weight, lower rep weight training with explosive jumping-type exercises (such as jumping squats or jumping lunges) and those that test your balance (check out one example on our YouTube channel).
- Don’t only focus on big muscle groups like quads, hamstrings and glutes. Also strengthen calf, hip muscles and your core.
- Employ an approach of periodisation – this involves progressively and gradually increasing the load on your body in a strength session. The old adage of “too much too soon” really applies here! When you are building strength over weeks the running intensity should be less.
- Allow ample rest. Following a heavy strength training session allow 24 hours recovery before doing a hard run. If you wish to run and hit the gym on the same day, always run first so you don’t run on fatigued legs and try to get at least 3 hours rest & recovery after a hard run before doing a strength session.
Click here for the downloadable handout of strength training exercises for running.