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How Strength Training Can Help Your Running

If you are a runner or an endurance athlete I am sure that you have heard that incorporating some strength training on off days can go a long way in not only preventing injury, but also increasing strength and making you faster. Making a long story short, this is true! However, most runners still struggle to make time for strength training.

I get it, if you are a runner you enjoy running. Also, it is hard to wrap your head around that taking some time to do something other than running may actually help your running performance. There is not only plenty of anecdotal evidence pointing to runners benefiting from strength training but also an abundance of proven scientific evidence.

Many studies show the anaerobic training (strength training) can improve low-intensity exercise endurance (i.e., running for a long time). One study in particular 1 demonstrated that there were improvements in performance of highly trained runners as a result of concurrent endurance, resistance, and plyometric training. The study found that after 12 weeks of the combination training there was NO reduction in VO2 max (no one’s cardiovascular performance suffered). The best part of the study was that the athletes that trained running, resistance exercise, and plyometrics had improved strength, peak running velocity, AND they had a better 3 km time trial than endurance training alone. That’s right, the runners that dialed back their running and added some strength training actually became faster and stronger than the athletes that only practiced running. That’s pretty sweet, and it is just one of many studies that show similar results.

I always recommend runners and endurance athletes take some time to get stronger. It is much easier to convince them once they realize their endurance performance is actually improving!

Now if you’re a runner or an endurance athlete and thinking at this point that you want to start strength training you might still struggle with knowing what to start with. Let’s break down some of my go to exercises for runners. This isn’t a comprehensive list and it also does not address specific injuries or patterns that differs between athletes. However, runners are strikingly similar in a lot of ways, meaning they are deficient in similar areas. By targeting these big bang for your buck exercises on your off days you will get some serious benefit. Benefits range from injury reduction, increased strength, and increased speed. Here are my top 3 areas and exercises to target for runners that will help running performance.

1. Work the back side with a glute bridge or kettlebell swings: I’m not going to dive into a boring anatomy lesson. But to keep it brief; the gluteal muscles (i.e., your back side) are truly the engine that propels you forward. Hip extension performed by these muscles is vital to performance. The problem is most of the time we sit on our glutes a lot more than we use them as engines. If you can engage or glutes properly and use them properly than you won’t be a runner leaving power on the table.

2. Work the posture muscles to create efficiency: Okay so we addressed the engine. Now let’s think about fuel economy. When we have a poor posture, not only is it harder to engage or power generators (glutes) but for lack of a better term there is going to be energy leaks. If you watch elite marathoners they make it look easy. Even in the last few kilometers of a race their stride looks as if it is effortlessly generating power. But you just have to at the look of agony on their face to realize that this is definitely NOT effortless….BUT their last few kilometers were faster than their first. How did they do that? They were economical in their strides in the fact that no wasted energy was leaked through bad posture. Stay tuned for my next article for my favourite postural exercises for running performance….(and performance in everyday life, because let’s face it, we all have been told to straighten up before)

3. Add some agility work to become a more resilient athlete: Running is a pure sagittal plane sport (meaning you are always running straight for the finish line). Additionally, the tempo and cadence (speed and step rate) rarely change for long distances. So as a runner your body adapts and for the most part gets very strong to this predictable pattern. Unfortunately, once a runner has to run up a hill, down a hill, is forced change directions, or even speeds up for the finish line injuries tend to ensue. Oftentimes, runners that only run one direction around a track or the a sidewalk will sustain injuries on one side of the body.

Adding some agility and plyometric work will break up this monotonous pattern and it can be done as a warm up before runs or on separate days. Plyometrics creates more athleticism to handle those extra climbs or sprints to the finish.

Add these three techniques to your warm up or off day to become a better runner. Stay tuned for my next few posts where I will be posting videos of all my favourite exercises for runners.

Sedano, S, Marin, PJ, Cuadrado, G, and Redondo, JC. Concurrent training in elite male runners: The influence of strength versus muscular endurance training on performance outcomes. J Strength Cond Res 27:2433-2443, 2013

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