5 Reasons Why Our Runners Strength Train
(And Why You Should, Too!)
What do nearly 100% of runners like to do?
Running is a fantastic way to move the body and release endorphins.
With the popularity of races, running has also become more of a social experience over the past decade, with race participation growing by over 50 percent in the last decade (1).
There is a heavy emphasis placed on mileage in preparation for any upcoming race.
But any runner will tell you that if you run for long enough, injuries will start creeping in.
I’m here to tell you that doesn’t have to be the case.
In our years as Physical Therapists at Chain Effect working with runners, we continue to see the same trend with patients walking in the doors: Heavy mileage and lack of strength training.
Our running patients know that they need to do strength training but work, kids, and life tend to get in the way.
Strength training gets put on the back burner and they continue to rack up mileage.
However, if you substitute just one day a week of running for a proper strength training program, not only can you decrease your risk of injury, but you can also feel better and run faster.
In other words, you can do the thing you love doing more.
Let’s dive into 5 reasons why our runners strength train as a regular part of their programming.
Reduce risk of injury:
By identifying any weak areas in your body and addressing it, you can reduce the risk of injury even before it begins.
The stronger your body is, the less likely compensation will develop, especially in longer runs.
The compensation we refer to can lead to problems that most people call “overuse injury.”
Overuse injuries are prevalent. Yalemedicine.org states “at least 50 percent of regular runners get hurt each year—some estimates put the percentage even higher—sometimes from trauma, such as a fall, but more often from overuse” (2) .
Again, that label of “overuse” may be directly related to suboptimal running mechanics due to weakness.
(Which can be fixed by runners strength training – and with heavy loads, too.)
Talking injury prevention isn’t always the most exciting to people who like the thrill of endurance sports, but injury prevention also means that the likelihood to actually compete increases.
What’s more, if an injury does occur, every runner knows that the time taken away from running because of an injury can impede training, and can be even more damaging to morale.
For this reason runners will often go past their limits out of fear that rehabilitation will take away from their progress.
This can lead to long-lasting damage in the body.
If you’re in pain from an overuse injury, please see a physical therapist right away.
If you’re not in pain, fantastic!
Keep yourself healthy by continuing to research.
Then hit the gym!
Strengthen muscles, bones, and joints:
Running puts a tremendous amount of force through your body.
A single training run can be over 10,000 steps.
What many people don’t take time to think about is that running is actually a single-legged exercise.
In terms of physics, the ground reaction force of each explosive step is 2.5 times the weight of your body. What’s more, your calf muscles take up to 8 times your body weight during your standard run (3).
In order to properly dissipate forces during running, you need to have adequate strength and bone density.
This is one of the top reasons that runners strength train: Training with a qualified professional allows your body to grow more resilient to the forces you’re subjecting upon it in a safe, controlled environment.
Simply put, the more strength that you have, the longer you can run.
With a proper training program you can develop the strength and endurance in key running muscles to sustain long distance training.
Gain more speed:
Not all runners care about their speed, but many of our runners strength train because they are motivated by their race pace.
Speed itself is determined by stride length and cadence.
A strength program can improve your stride length due to increased power while running.
By focusing on proper single-leg strength and muscle activation, you can drastically improve overall power leading to faster runs.
Two of our favorite single-leg movements to incorporate into any training program are single-leg deadlifts and retro-lunges with gliders.
Improve running form and efficiency:
Long training runs, marathons and 5ks require muscle strength to perform.
You may feel like you have a hard time maintaining running form or have increased back or leg pain. This could be a sign you need to increase your strength in very specific places.
When runners strength train with individualized attention, they are able target their own muscular weakness which will lead to improved running form and efficiency.
Whenever starting a new training block it is best to develop a specialized program for you and your goals.
Hiring a physical therapist that has a performance focus allows you to assess full body strength, mobility, stability and running form and will put you a step ahead.
(Give us a call or schedule online today with our performance therapists to take the first step in pain-free, fast, and enjoyable running.)
But why train with a professional?
Don’t get us wrong, we’d much more enthusiastically encourage strength training on your own as opposed to no strength training at all.
When you’re engaging in more advanced athletics, though, such as distance running, learning from a professional is an investment that will reap rewards for years to come.
A few years ago, this study ripped through the running world with claims that strength training does not decrease overuse injury (4).
While the study did conclude that the control group saw no fewer injuries than the study group, when you look more closely, the participants were given a self-directed strength program to complete before their first marathon.
They were not given one-on-one direction, corrections, and attention to what their body needed, or what their symptoms expressed.
More studies on runners strength training under a professional are needed, but if we step away from runners, this meta-analysis of 25 randomized control trials concludes that “strength training reduced sports injuries to less than 1/3 and overuse injuries [were] almost halved. (5)”
Our physical therapists at Chain Effect can use empirically-supported methods combined with strength tests to determine underlying areas of weakness for all athletes, including runners.
Then we make a method of attack.
Knowing that you’re doing each movement precisely, you’ll eventually be able to incorporate your newfound knowledge to train in the gym and, eventually, on your own.
Can you give me a real life example of a runner who came to you, what their issue is, and how you created a plan for that?
Hi, Dr. Jason McLaughlin here.
I can remember a runner in particular in which strength training turned his training around.
I had a long time runner come to me with complaints of chronic hip pain.
He had run several marathons in his life but now was having trouble running just 3 miles.
He had constant front hip pain that would not get better no matter how much rest or stretching he performed.
I remember him telling me that he would perform strength workouts once in a while but for the most part he ran 4-6 days a week.
He had gotten to a point in which his body just wouldn’t let him run anymore.
He was ready to stop doing what he loved and take on another hobby.
I got him involved in a twice a week strength training program with emphasis on single-leg stability and posterior chain strength.
Posterior chain strength puts a heavy emphasis on hamstring, glutes, lats and core muscles.
Within 6-8 weeks he was back to running 10+ miles and on his way to running his 6th marathon.
From that point forward he always made a conscious effort to incorporate running into his program.
He had found the joy of running again.
A 2022 Runner’s Testimonial:
The training sessions with Jason were very helpful to prepare for my Fall half marathon. Each week I could feel myself getting stronger and there was a noticeable change in how I was running. He also differentiated the workouts for me because I was pregnant. I also felt comfortable asking questions about exercising and strength training regarding my pregnancy with him. The day of my race was unseasonably warm, but I firmly believe that the strength training sessions prepared me and helped me get to the finish line.
Here you have the top 5 reasons why our runners strength train.
If you’re a runner and not engaging in weight lifting or training, we encourage you to think about your body as a car.
One essential part of our business’s offerings is nutrition counseling, because just like a car needs fuel to drive, your body needs optimal nutrition.
Equally as important is the oil in the tank, the brake pads, and all the parts that protect your car’s lifespan.
That’s where physical therapists come in.
We make sure your mechanics are solid so that you can handle any turn that comes your way.
For bespoke strength programming as an athlete, contact us.