Strength Training 101
What is strength training and why is it important?
Strength training is a form of exercise completed against resistance. Depending on your goals and fitness, the resistance you use might be your body weight, resistance bands, or weights. Strength training is key to maintaining muscle mass, which can improve your metabolic rate, functional capacity, fitness and athletic performance.
Strength training for runners is often neglected in favour of getting miles under the belt. Strength training has the potential to reduce your injury risk by correcting muscle imbalances and improving muscle activation, as well as increasing the efficiency of your running biomechanics which results in improved running performance.
So how many strength sessions should a runner do? The distance of your runs will be the best way to determine this. Middle and shorter distance runners should aim for 2-3 times per week on low volume training days or rest days. Longer distance runner (eg. ultra-marathon) should do strength blocks, building a solid strength base initially and then decreasing strength training volume as your running volume ramps up.
The benefits of strength training for runners
Decrease your risk of injury
As you run, the force of about 3 times your body weight is placed through each leg. Having the muscular strength and stability to absorb that force each step will minimize the load through your joints and reduce your risk of pain or injury. Check out our post on How to Treat and Prevent Runners Knee if you experience knee pain from running.
Improve muscle activation
Unfortunately, just because you have the muscles doesn’t mean you’re always using them – sometimes muscles get lazy! Strength training is a great way to improve muscle activation and recruitment. Strengthening muscles in isolation, progressing to multi-joint and running-specific exercise can retrain muscle recruitment patterns and make sure all the right muscles are contributing to your run.
Improve biomechanics and running economy
Biomechanics is a fancy term for how you produce movement. Strengthening the muscles that support your body in ideal alignment while running can improve your biomechanics and result in more efficient use of energy. In other words, improving your movement patterns means less wasted energy and faster running! Even trained distance runners have shown improvements of up to 8% in running economy following a period of resistance training.
Strength training for older runners
Ever been overtaken by a runner old enough to be your grandparent? There’s no doubt that older adult runners are extremely active and fit, however they are still susceptible to Sarcopenia (age related decline in muscle mass). Older adult runners who have reduced muscle mass are potentially more at risk of joint and soft tissue injuries. Strength training is extremely beneficial for older adults to maintain muscle mass and the ability to recruit muscles while running as well as for general functional capacity.
The Do’s & Don’ts of strength training for runners
- Use a strength program in combination with your running program to prevent injury and improve performance
- Follow a running-specific strength training program for the most effective results
- Focus on form and muscle activation – if you’re unsure then seek professional guidance
- Progressively overload – build into a program the same way you increase your running distance or speed
- Use strength training to minimise the loss of fitness if an injury prevents you from running or following your running program at full capacity
- Don’t complete a non-specific strength program and expect to improve your running
- Don’t make the assumption that strength training will increase your body weight and as a result slow your running down
- Don’t go too hard too soon – remember the importance of progressive overload
- Avoid strength sessions on the same days as your longer duration runs
What strength exercises should runners do?
Now that you’re on board for strength training, let’s talk about what exercises will be beneficial!
Focus on exercises that activate and strengthen your glut meds are a great place to start as this is the muscle that helps to stabilise the hips. Including squats, dead lift variations, lunges and calf exercises will increase leg strength and benefit your running. Don’t forget your core either – core strength and endurance training will help you maintain an efficient running posture.
If you’re new to strength training, it’s a good idea to start with body weight exercises and focus on maintaining good form. Introduce more resistance with resistance bands before picking up weights.
Other progressions include working muscles in isolation before building into multi-joint and plyometric exercises or starting with low-weight high-reps before gradually increasing the weight as you decrease your reps.
An individualised program that specifically targets your body and your running style will always get better results. An Exercise Physiologist will prescribe a personalised program, educate, assist with exercise adherence and safely manage the progression of exercises, strength and loading so that you are training in the most effective way possible.