Should Runners Strength Train?

What do nearly 100% of runners like to do?

Run. 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.

Running is a fantastic way to move the body and release endorphins, and it’s even become a social experience, with race participation growing by over 50 percent in the last decade. Due to the popularity of races, there’s often a heavy emphasis placed on mileage for runners who plan to compete. While racking up miles can give you a great sense of accomplishment, any seasoned runner will tell you that if you run long enough, injuries will start creeping in. However, the seeming inevitability of injuries doesn’t have to be the case.

If you want to avoid running injuries, you need to add strength training to your exercise routine, as heavy mileage without strength training significantly raises a runner’s risk of injury. While you might not feel like you have the time to strength train, substituting just one day a week of running for a proper strength training program can decrease your risk of injury and make you feel better and run faster.

Should Runners Strength Train? Should Cross Country Runners Lift Weights?

Absolutely. Any kind of runner should strength train, as it can reduce a runner’s risk of injury, increase endurance and speed, improve running form, and strengthen muscles, bones, and joints. All of these benefits make strength training necessary for runners.

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, here are five reasons why runners should strength train.

What Are the Top Five Reasons Runners Should Strength Train?

Strength training for runners offers many different benefits that can improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. As you consider making strength training a regular part of your routine, find out more about the top five reasons runners should strength train below:

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1. Strength Training Reduces the Risk of Running Injuries

Strength training reduces the chance of a running injury by preventing overcompensation that leads to overuse injuries.

Why Does Strength Training Reduce the Risk of Injuries for Runners?

Strength training allows you to identify and address weak areas in your body, reducing the chance you start overcompensating while running.

Essentially, 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.”

How Serious Are Running Overuse Injuries?

Overuse injuries are incredibly common among runners. For example, 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.”

Again, that label of “overuse” may be directly related to suboptimal running mechanics due to weakness. The risk of overuse can be reduced by runners’ strength training, as it prevents overcompensation by strengthening weaker parts of your body.

Why Is Addressing Overuse Important for Runners?

While prioritizing overuse injury prevention isn’t very exciting, it can ensure you compete in races, keep your training on track, and prevent injuries.

With strength training, you can reduce the risk of an injury preventing you from competing in a race. What’s more, if an injury does occur, every runner knows the time taken away from running due to an injury can impede training and 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. Unfortunately, this desire to push their limits often leads to overuse injuries that cause long-lasting damage to the body.

What Can Runners Do If They Have an Overuse Injury?

If you’re in pain from an overuse injury, please see a physical therapist right away. A physical therapist can help you treat the injury and develop a strength training plan to prevent it from coming back due to overcompensation.

If you’re not in pain, fantastic! Keep yourself healthy by continuing to research. Then hit the gym!

 

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2. Strength Training Strengthens a Runner’s Muscles, Bones, and Joints

Running sends a tremendous amount of force through your body, and a single training run can be over 10,000 steps. What many people don’t consider is that running is actually a single-legged exercise, with a great deal of force placed on your leg’s muscles, bones, and joints each time you take a step.

How Much Force Is Generated During a Run?

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 of force during your standard run.

How Can Strength Training Reduce the Impact of Force On a Runner’s Body?

By increasing your strength and bone density, strength training helps athletes properly dissipate force while running.

When you regularly perform lower body and core exercises, your body will grow more resilient to the forces you’re subjecting upon it. Since stronger lower body muscles act as shock absorbers while you run, you’ll significantly reduce the impact on your joints. Additionally, if you work with a physical therapist or personal trainer, you can reap more benefits by training in a safe, controlled environment.

3. Strength Training for Runners Increases Endurance

Simply put, the more strength that you have, the longer you can run.

How Does Strength Training Increase Running Endurance?

Strength training can raise a runner’s endurance by improving elasticity, developing greater power and rate of force in your muscles, and increasing force production.

Resistance exercises that target these three factors make it possible for runners to use less energy while going the same speed, resulting in greater running endurance. With a proper training program, you can develop the strength and endurance in key running muscles to sustain long-distance training.

4. Running Strength Training Can Increase Your Speed

Not all runners care about their speed, but many runners strength train because they are motivated by their race pace. While you might not think adding extra muscle will improve your speed, the right amount of strength training and muscle growth can make you a faster runner.

How Does Strength Training Increase a Runner’s Speed?

A runner’s speed is determined by their stride length and cadence. A strength training program can raise your speed, as stronger muscles produce more force, which, in turn, improves your stride length.

This greater strength and better stride length translate to faster acceleration and a higher maximum speed.

What Strength Training Exercises Can Increase a Runner’s Speed?

Exercises that focus on proper single-leg strength and muscle activation are often recommended for drastically improving overall power leading and faster runs.

Two of our favorite single-leg movements to incorporate into any training program are single-leg deadlifts and retro-lunges with gliders.

5. Strength Training Can Improve Running Form and Efficiency

Long training runs, marathons, and 5ks require muscle strength to perform. During a longer run, you may feel like you have a hard time maintaining running form or have increased back or leg pain. Difficulty maintaining proper form and back pain are often signs you need to increase your strength in very specific places.

How Does Strength Training Improve Running Form and Efficiency?

When runners strength train with individualized attention, they can target their own muscular weakness, leading to improved running form and efficiency.

Whenever starting a new training block it is best to develop a specialized program fitting your goals. Hiring a physical therapist who 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.)

How Often Should Runners Strength Train?

Typically, physical therapists and personal trainers recommend that runners strength train two or three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes. While this is a general recommendation, it’s often a good rule of thumb for most runners. If you’d like a more personalized recommendation, speak with a personal trainer or physical therapist to discuss how often you should strength train to reach your goals.

Didn’t a Study Say That Strength Training Didn’t Decrease Overuse Running Injuries?

A few years ago, a study ripped through the running world with claims that strength training does not decrease overuse injuries. While the study did conclude that the control group saw no fewer injuries than the study group, when you look more closely, you’ll see 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.”

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Can Physical Therapists Help Improve the Benefits of Strength Training for Runners?

While we almost always enthusiastically encourage strength training on your own rather than no strength training at all, the benefits of training with a physical therapist can be invaluable. When you’re engaging in more advanced athletics, such as distance running, learning from a professional is an investment that will reap rewards for years to come.

Our physical therapists at Chain Effect 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.

What’s a Real-Life Example of Chain Effect Helping a Runner Create and Stick to a Strength Training Plan?

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.

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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.

Thank you!

Cansis, Fall 2022

Improve Your Running Strength Training With Chain Effect

 

If you’re interested in receiving professional support from a physical therapist or personal trainer during strength training for your next long run, Chain Effect can help. Our team of physical therapists and personal trainers can help you make a plan with strength-training exercises geared for runners. Our team is also trained to ensure your running mechanics are solid so that you can handle any turn that comes your way. On top of our physical therapy services, we also offer nutrition counseling to ensure your body is receiving the proper nutrition while you go after your running goals.

Learn more about our physical therapy and personal training services today. If you’re interested in receiving bespoke strength programming for running, please contact us.

Author

Dr. Jason McLaughlin headshot

Written by Jason McLaughlin, DPT, CSCS.

Jason McLaughlin is an experienced physical therapist, certified Functional Dry Needling Practitioner, and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who uses dry needling and cupping to deliver a first-class experience to his active clients at Chain Effect.