Strength training for runners to help longevity and performance
Injuries and running usually go hand in hand with the everyday athlete. It wasn’t long ago that running a marathon was considered extreme and with the increase in popularity for distances above 42.2km it’s no wonder that fifty percent of recreational runners will experience an injury at some point.
Strength training for runners is often an overlooked or poorly executed element of a runners training regime and the statistics show that three out of four injuries occur to the lower limb. The problem is compounded with the perception that the more time runners spend in the gym they usually equate this to slower race times and a risk of not achieving that elusive PB.
Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Firstly, let’s look two of the common causes of injury for the recreational runner:
This type of injury is usually compounded by deadlines of looming races or events where we try to cram too much into the timeframe we have available. We may be a new or seasoned runner but the addition of a deadline or goal PB usually pushes us to overcompensate and exceed the body’s ability to recover from the imposed demand.
If you’re someone who consistently gets injured just weeks out from a race, this maybe you.
There is a popular 10% rule when it comes to increasing volume in a running program. The problem with this rule is that progress is not linear and if we are failing to meet the 10% week on week increase we often compensate by adding more training to our schedule. This leads to overuse injuries. Instead, aim for month on month improvement where you can factor elements such as deload/easy weeks and focus on overtraining markers such as energy/stress and baseline performance levels to guide your progress.
Simply going too far too soon. If we are new to running or coming back from an injury we are at the risk of our body not being ready for the amount of kilometres or miles we want to put into it. This is usually identified in people that have the same recurring injuries and fail to ever see a running program through to completion.
Unlike overuse injuries, under-preparedness can be avoided by building a solid base of mobility, stability and strength before beginning or returning to running. This can be done in a concurrent fashion to our running program and shouldn’t impede steady progress.
Before we begin: The Standards
Standards should guide our program construction and approach. By knowing where our weaknesses, strengths, asymmetries and injury risk factors lie we have a baseline roadmap to success. When programming strength training for runners, the program needs to factor:
- Lifestyle – Weight, habits and routine/schedule
- Mobility – Particularly lower limb function
- Stability – Trunk stability and lower limb
- Strength – Specifically in single leg and split stance positions
As a baseline standard, passing something like the 10 Step Self Screen would be a good place to start. It deals with lifestyle, mobility and potential injury risk factors. Understanding elements such as ankle mobility will go along way to building a program that can support your running goals.
Stability and strength can be assessed quickly by the three following general standards:
- Farmers Carry – 2 x 24kg carry for 90 seconds (no drops)
- Bulgarian Split Squat – ½ BW for 15 reps each side (half each hand)
- Deadlift – Bodyweight for 10-15 reps (1.5 x bodyweight is optimal)
- Farmers Carry – 2 x 16kg carry for 90 seconds (no drops)
- Bulgarian Split Squat – ½ BW for 10-15 reps each side (half each hand)
- Deadlift – Bodyweight for 5 reps
If you can complete these standards, strength is most likely not your problem. Some people also find a happy middle ground when they get close to these standards and that’s ok too. The simple intent of getting strong enough for running is the aim.
Another important element of strength training is injury prevention and isolation of areas. Compound lifts are amazing for function but adding exercises that narrow down on specific problem areas can help you avoid injury all together. If you also failed to achieve the strength standards you should start here to eliminate any potential weaknesses.
Calf & Tib Raise
It’s great to see exercises like this come back into popularity. Isolation exercises absolutely have a place in strength training for runners as it allows them to dial in and focus on problem areas. The calves and anterior tibialis are no different to biceps or triceps, taking them through range and progressively overloading them will improve strength and reduce injury risk.
Isolating your hamstrings through exercises such as the nordic hamstring are a perfect addition when programming strength training for runners along side deadlifts and kettlebell swings. We are someone who suffers from chronically tight hamstrings or hamstring injuries taking the time to isolate and strengthen the hamstrings is a no brainer when it comes to running performance. The best part is that you don’t need a lot of reps or sets to see the benefits.
VMO/Knee Focused Exercises
Theres been a lot of positive press about knee/vmo based strength exercises lately. Namely their ability to help reduce injury risk and help people to return to activity. Knee pain is an all too common issue that runners face and by using exercising that mobilise, stabilise and strengthen the area around the knee goes a long way to helping build a body that’s ready to run.
A simple method to improving VMO/knee strength is a loaded carry walking backwards up a hill. Start with bodyweight if you need to.
Finally we have trunk stability. Outside of the generic planks and sit ups there is a whole plethora of exercises that will help you maintain trunk stability in a split and single leg stance. Correct exercise selection is critical as the movement must cross over the better posture and trunk stability when running. Using the floor to standing approach as we do in Unlock Your Movement, we can increase the difficulty of our “core” training as required.
Most of the exercises featured require to equipment to get started, this will allow you to progress rapidly and as with every program, reps and exercise selection is critical and should be personalised. By focusing on standards or goals to aim for this will allow you to stay injury free and build a base that will take you to your chosen distance.
Want to learn this and build a body that’s ready to run? Sign up for 66 and enrol into our 66 day running program where we cover off on everything you need to know to run injury free. Take a look here.