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Strength Training: A Complete Guide For Runners

Quite often resistance training gets overlooked by runners in favor of clocking up as many weekly miles as they can in preparation for their endurance event. However, a well-designed strength training programme can help you break that PB plateau, prevent injury, avoid burnout and save a lot of time.

In this blog post we look at the key benefits of strength training for runners and share some tips on how to include strength training in your already busy training schedule. Sounds intriguing? Then read on…

Can Strength Training Make You a Faster Runner?

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The short answer is YES!

Fact – once you are running fit (a good cardiovascular system), faster running speeds aren’t necessarily achieved by running more but rather from improvement running mechanics. The greater the ground reaction force you can produce, the faster your times will be.

This is one of the simplest ways to understand and see that developing general strength qualities is crucial for becoming a faster runner – sprinter or distance runner. The stronger you are the potential for you to produce more force into the ground will be that will enable you to travel further distance forward with each stride.

Developing a runner’s general strength qualities will help strengthen muscles, connective tissues and joints, making runners more robust, resilient to fatigue and, as a result, get injured less. So, not only is strength training helping you to produce more force into the ground, it also will keep you fit and healthy.


What type of strength training will help you become a better runner?

1. Resistance Training

Resistance training causes chronic adaptation and increased cross-sectional size of the muscle fibres resulting in an increase of muscle strength and power critical to all forms of sports performance.

Resistance Training can be done using simple bodyweight exercises, kettlebells, dumbbells or barbells. The best exercises to use for resistance training will be the basic compound, multi-joint movements like squats and deadlifts along with the unilateral exercises like step ups and lunges.

Notice anything about these exercises? They’re simple, basic exercises that everyone should look to include as they are functional everyday movements. From a running perspective, they are the primary muscles that strengthen the hamstrings, hips, quadriceps and glutes that are key to powering running performance.

2. Low Level Plyometrics

Using low level plyometric exercises is all that is needed for the majority of recreational runners to help develop reactive strength qualities and reduce the amount of time the foot is in contact with the floor. Ideally, a fast contact time with a large amount of force will help to increase your efficiency and running mechanics.

A great example of a low-level plyometric exercise we use regularly in the gym is skipping. This plyometric exercise helps to develop strength through the foot and ankle complex creating stiffness in the ankle joint, which is critical to running ability.

If you are strong, lower limb wise, but unable to create stiffness through the foot and ankle joint, then you will lose the potential of force you are able to create through your lower limbs. When your foot hits and collapses to the ground and you land during sprinting, the energy will be dispersed. Create stiffness and you will be able to apply more force into the floor.

Simple Progression for Low Level Plyometrics like skipping would look like this:
Week 1 – 3 sets x 15 reps
Week 2 – 3 sets x 20 reps
Week 3 – 4 sets x 20 reps

3. Core Stiffness

Core stiffness is the core’s ability to maintain stability in response to the influence of external forces, which may vary in magnitude, direction and speed.

“Good Proximal (Core) Stiffness will unleash all Distal (limbs – arms and leg) Athletic ability” – Dr.Stuart McGill.

As Dr. Stuart McGill has stated, “Core stiffness is essential for injury prevention. Core stiffness is essential for performance enhancement. Core stiffness is not optimized in body building exercises. Core stiffness requires dedicated training.”

The ability to create large amounts of stiffness through the core, allows you to produce greater force through your limbs. The greater the force we can create through our limbs, the more force we can apply through the ground. This is a big factor in running and producing ground reaction forces.

One of the greatest ways of developing strength and stiffness through our core within the gym is, again, using compound lifts like Squats and Deadlifts. These exercises teach you how to efficiently activate your core, creating stiffness and strength to perform the required exercise.

Core Stiffness can be created through a number of exercises developing both strength and endurance within the core. Combing specific core work like isometric holds (planks, side planks, hollow holds, paloff presess) with a resistance programme will help develop your core strength and stiffness making you a more efficient runner.

Gym-based Sample Session

Mini Band Hip Prep./Activation (Try our Bulletproof Hips routine showed in the video below)

Skipping – 3 sets x 15 reps

Squats – 4 sets x 6-8 reps maximal loads not necessary
DB Walking Zercher Lunges – 3 sets x 6 reps E/L
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift – 3 sets x 6 reps
Calf Raises – 3 sets x 12 reps

Plank Holds – 2 sets x 30 seconds
McGill Sit Ups – 10 reps x 3 sec Holds
Side Planks – 2 sets x 30 seconds (each side)
Paloff Presses – 2 sets x 8 reps (each side)

Most Common Running Injuries (And How To Prevent Them)

It is estimated that up to 70 percent of runners are injured each year. The most common causes of running related injuries often is a result of a sudden increase in training volume (training for an upcoming 10k or half marathon) and not allowing the body to gradually adapt to the stress placed on it. Injury can be easily avoided by respecting the principle of ‘progressive overload’. Other causes of running injuries can also be a result of an individual’s poor biomechanics and the repetitive strain placed on the body due to running.

Here are some of the more common injuries experienced by runners…

Plantar Fasciitis

The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibers that run from the base of the heel to the metatarsal bones of the foot. Pain in this area can be due to inflammation known as plantar fasciitis and can be due to a number of reasons – poor ankle range of motion, especially in dorsiflexion that can be as a result of calf tightness.

Solution: Working on conditioning the foot and ankle complex through improved mobility and building strength would help to prevent plantar fasciitis. Like with many injuries the best cure is allowing the inflammation to settle through adequate rest and integrating mobility and strength work into your training programme.


Runners Knee

Patellofemoral pain syndrome, often referred to as Runners Knee, is characterized by a dull pain that is “behind” or “around” the top of the kneecap when running, squatting, walking downstairs or sitting for long periods of time. The cause of the pain is the kneecap, the patella, rubbing against the groove in the femur, where it slides back and forth when you flex and extend the knee.

Solution: Ways to prevent this or to help improve is often focused on developing general quadricep strength (rather than just VMO) as well as improving musculature of the hips, glutes, hip flexors, adductors and abductors.


Shin Splints

Most of the time, shin splints affect new runners or those who don’t run consistently. If you’re new to running or inconsistent with your training you’re at an increased risk for this annoying injury. Shin splints are usually the result of upping your mileage too quickly, so be sure to stick to the rule of increasing distance by no more than 10 percent each week. Shin splints are essentially an irritable soreness caused by too much stress to the shin muscles again resulting in inflammation. Runners can experience pain on both the anterior and interior of the tibia – basically, both sides of the shin bone.

Solution: A similar approach to plantar fasciitis with regards shin splints prevention would be improving ankle mobility and strengthening the musculature of the lower limbs.

Respecting the importance of Progressive Overload is key in runners, whether new to the sport or not. Any big spike in training load/volume whether within the gym or on the roads put you at a greater risk of injury as your body has not had adequate time to adapt to the increased stress placed on it and as a result will breakdown in one form or another. When it comes to running stick to the rule of increasing distance by no more than 10 percent each week will lessen the chances of injuries occurring.

Putting It All Together…

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Rather than working on a typical 7-day cycle, try changing to an 8-day cycle and work on a 2 Days On, 1 Day Off training format. This will optimize your training and also allow for adequate rest and recovery that will then drive adaptation as a runner maximizing your potential.

Where possible, avoid endurance and strength training in the same session as this will likely cause an ‘inference effect’ slowing down the benefits of your training. It is all about training smarter not harder. Below is an idea how to structure a typical training week.

Monday (General Strength Training + Core)

Tuesday (Run)

Wednesday (Rest Day)

Thursday (General Strength Training + Core)

Friday (Run)

Saturday (Rest Day)

Sunday (Run)

Monday (Rest)

Are you prepping for a race and want to learn more on how to optimise your training and nutrition for the best results? Then get in touch with our coaches for a quick chat! Whether you need help with nutrition plan or a training programme for a race, we’ve got you covered!

What races are at the top of your bucket list? Tweet us @IonCardiff!


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