Chiswick-Physio BLOG

 

Strength Training For Runners
Exercise, Running
Plantar Fasciitis Stretch

Intro

At Chiswick Physio, we believe that running involves more than just putting one foot in front of the other. It’s about building a foundation that enhances performance and minimises the risk of injury. That’s why we’re excited to discuss the critical role of strength training for runners, a vital component often overlooked by many. Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a weekend jogger, incorporating strength training into your routine is essential for achieving your best performance and staying injury-free.

What is the definition of strength training?

Strength training involves exercises that aim to build muscle endurance and strength. These workouts challenge your muscles using resistance, such as weights, body weight, or resistance bands. This training is crucial for runners as it enhances muscle mass and strengthens the muscles needed for more efficient and safer running.

The importance of strength training for runners

For runners, strength training is not just a supplement to their running regimen; it is a critical component that dictates their running careers’ efficiency, power, and longevity. While many runners focus solely on cardiovascular fitness, neglecting strength training can lead to a performance plateau and an increased risk of injury. Here’s why strength training deserves a central role in every runner’s training plan:

Enhancing Running Economy

Running economy is how efficiently a runner uses oxygen at a given pace. Strength training improves this by enhancing neuromuscular coordination and increasing the force-producing capabilities of muscles. This allows runners to use less energy for the same pace, making long runs less taxing and faster paces more manageable.

Increasing Muscle Power

Power is the ability to exert maximum force in minimal time. For runners, increased muscle power means more forceful strides and faster acceleration. Strength training, particularly plyometric exercises, develops fast-twitch muscle fibres, crucial for quick, explosive movements. This is especially beneficial for sprinters and runners looking to improve their kicks during the final stages of a race.

Reducing Injury Risk

One of the most significant benefits of strength training is its role in injury prevention. Running is a high-impact activity that places considerable stress on the body, particularly the joints and muscles involved in the repetitive running motion. By strengthening the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around critical joints like the knees and hips, runners can better withstand the impact and repetitive nature of the sport, thus reducing the risk of common injuries such as runner’s knee, PTPS, shin splints, and IT band syndrome.

Correcting Imbalances and Enhancing Stability

Strength training helps address muscular imbalances common in runners, especially those who predominantly run on certain surfaces or in one direction (like around a track). Imbalances can lead to inefficient running form and increased injury risk. Targeted exercises can strengthen underused muscles and ensure that both sides of the body are equally strong, leading to better alignment and symmetry in your running form.

Improving Fatigue Resistance

Muscle fatigue can greatly affect a runner’s form during long runs or races, often causing inefficiency and injury. Strength training improves muscle stamina, enabling them to perform at their best for longer periods. This endurance of the muscular system is vital during the latter stages of long races when the risk of form deterioration is highest.

Supporting Faster Recovery

“Muscles that are stronger recover more quickly. Regular strength training leads to adaptations that increase blood flow to the muscles. This helps in faster recovery after intense runs by removing waste products and increasing the delivery of nutrients to damaged tissues.

By integrating strength training into their routine, runners can continue to improve their performance and enjoy more sustainable running by avoiding injuries and setbacks.

How often should runners strength train?

The frequency of strength training for runners can vary significantly based on the time of year, the phase of their training cycle, and individual goals. Here’s a detailed look at how runners should approach strength training throughout different periods of the year to optimise performance, prevent injuries, and improve overall strength.

Off-Season (Base Building Phase)

In the off-season, which usually occurs after the end of the racing season and before the start of specific training for the next season, runners have a great opportunity to concentrate on building strength. This time is less about maintaining race fitness and more about preparing the body for the demands of the upcoming training cycles. Runners should aim for 3-4 weekly strength training sessions during this phase. The focus should be building muscle mass and foundational strength to support more intense training later.

Pre-Season (Build-Up Phase)

As runners transition to the pre-season or build-up phase, the focus shifts towards more specific training, including higher mileage and intensity. Strength training should also adjust, aiming to maintain the gains from the off-season while starting to incorporate more dynamic and plyometric exercises that mimic running movements. Reducing strength training sessions to 2-3 times per week during this phase can help balance the increased running workload while promoting strength gains.

In-Season (Competition Phase)

During the in-season or competition phase, the main focus is on running performance, and strength training plays a supporting role. It is recommended that you do 1-2 strength training sessions per week during this phase. The aim is to maintain strength and power without causing fatigue that could affect important workouts or races. The exercises should be explosive and high-intensity but low in volume, designed to stimulate muscle function without causing significant muscle soreness or fatigue.

Post-Season (Recovery Phase)

After the main competition period, the post-season or recovery phase allows the body to rest and recover. During this time, strength training frequency can be reduced or even paused for a short period to allow full recovery. Once light training resumes, the focus should be on gentle, rehabilitative exercises that address any lingering issues from the season and prepare the body to ramp up again for the next off-season phase.

Year-Round Considerations

Regardless of the season, the key to effective strength training is aligning the workouts with running schedules and goals. It’s crucial to adapt the type and intensity of exercises to the runner’s current phase of training:

  • Off-season workouts can be more generalised and aimed at overall strength and muscle gain.
  • Pre-season and in-season workouts should be more specific to running, focusing on exercises that enhance running economy and explosive power.
  • Post-season recovery should focus on restorative practices to heal and prepare the body for the next cycle.

At Chiswick-Physio, we tailor strength training programs to fit the individual needs of our runners throughout the year. This personalised approach ensures that each runner can perform optimally, avoid overtraining, and achieve peak conditions for key races, supported by a foundation of strong, resilient muscle built in the gym.

Benefits of strength training for runners

Performance, Power, and Speed

Strength training increases muscle strength and power, enabling runners to improve their speed and overall performance through more powerful and efficient strides.

Endurance

Building muscular strength enhances endurance, allowing runners to maintain form and speed during longer events without fatiguing early.

Improved Running Form

Stronger core and stabilising muscles lead to better posture and alignment during running, which enhances overall technique and efficiency.

Increased Bone Density

Regular strength training increases bone density and strength, reducing the risk of fractures—a significant benefit for long-distance runners.

Boosted Metabolic Rate

Strength training elevates the metabolic rate by increasing muscle mass, helping runners manage their weight more effectively even when resting.

Injury prevention

Strength training fortifies muscles and joints, reducing the chances of injuries commonly seen in runners, such as:

  • Supporting Joints: Strengthened muscles take some burden off the joints.
  • Preventing Overuse Injuries: Strength training helps avoid overuse of specific muscle groups by diversifying the types of stress the body undergoes.
  • Correcting Muscle Imbalances: Targeted exercises can correct imbalances that may lead to injury.

Strength training exercises

Strength training for runners should include a variety of exercises that target the key muscle groups involved in running, promote overall stability, and enhance power and endurance. Here’s a breakdown of essential types of strength training exercises for runners:

Compound Exercises

These exercises work for multiple muscle groups simultaneously, offering efficient training sessions that improve muscular coordination and strength. Key examples include:

  • Squats: These exercises enhance the strength of the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, which are crucial for powerful running strides.
  • Lunges: These target the same muscle groups as squats but also include a balance component, which is important for unilateral (one-sided) strength. They mimic the act of running.
  • Deadlifts: Focus on the posterior chain (back, glutes, and hamstrings), which is essential for good running posture and power.

Plyometric Exercises

Plyometrics are designed to increase speed and power through explosive movements, improving the nervous system’s ability to contract muscles quickly:

  • Box Jumps: Develop leg power and agility by requiring muscles to exert maximal force in short intervals.
  • Jump Squats: Increase lower body power and the ability to generate force rapidly, translating to faster and more dynamic running.

Core Stability Exercises

A strong core is vital for stabilising the whole body during the impact phase of running, preventing injuries and maintaining efficient form:

  • Planks: Strengthen the core, including the abdominals, back, and shoulders, enhancing stability and alignment.
  • Mountain Climbers: Combine core stabilisation and a cardiovascular challenge, targeting agility and coordination.

Runners should also consider incorporating flexibility and mobility workouts into their routine to ensure a full range of motion and prevent tightness, which can lead to imbalances and injuries. Regular sessions focused on hip, ankle, and thoracic spine mobility can greatly enhance running mechanics and efficiency.

Weekly training schedule example, Monday – Sunday

Establishing a well-designed weekly training plan that includes strength training is crucial for individuals preparing for a marathon. Below are two sample weekly schedules for runners aiming to complete the marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes. One schedule is for the in-season training period, while the other is for the off-season, both designed to aid in achieving this goal.

In-Season Training Schedule

In-season balances high mileage and key workouts with strength training to maintain muscle condition and peak performance.

Monday:

  • Easy Run: 6 miles at a relaxed pace
  • Core Work: 20 minutes (planks, side planks, bicycle crunches)

Tuesday:

  • Interval Training: 5 x 1 mile at target marathon pace with 800 meters recovery jog
  • Light stretching and foam rolling

Wednesday:

  • Strength Training: 30 minutes focusing on lower body and core stability exercises (squats, lunges, deadlifts)

Thursday:

  • Tempo Run: 10 miles, including 7 miles at a slightly faster-than-marathon pace
  • Cool down with dynamic stretching

Friday:

  • Rest Day: Active recovery, including yoga or a light walk to promote circulation and recovery

Saturday:

  • Long Run: Build up to 20 miles as the peak long run, decreasing mileage as race day approaches
  • Post-run stretching focused on flexibility

Sunday:

  • Strength Training: 30 minutes focusing on plyometric exercises (box jumps, jump squats) to enhance power
  • Optional: Short recovery run (3-4 miles) or complete rest

Off-Season Training Schedule

The off-season is about building strength, correcting imbalances, and improving overall muscular endurance without the pressure of upcoming races.

Monday:

  • Moderate Run: 5 miles at a comfortable pace
  • Strength Training: 45 minutes focusing on compound exercises and building overall strength

Tuesday:

  • Speed Work: Short intervals on the track or hill repeats, a total 5 miles, including warm-up and cool-down
  • Core Stability Work: 20 minutes

Wednesday:

  • Cross-Training: Cycling or swimming for 45-60 minutes to maintain cardiovascular fitness without the impact

Thursday:

  • Strength Training: 45 minutes with an emphasis on core and plyometric exercises to improve explosive power

Friday:

  • Long Run: 10-15 miles at a relaxed pace, focusing on building endurance
  • Gentle stretching and mobility work

Saturday:

  • Active Recovery: Light activity such as walking, easy cycling, or a leisure swim

Sunday:

  • Strength Training: 45 minutes focusing on overall body strength, particularly targeting underused muscle groups
  • Rest or a very easy run (3 miles easy)

These schedules are designed to progress gradually, increasing intensity and volume as the runner adapts while incorporating enough rest and recovery to prevent overtraining. The off-season schedule includes more comprehensive strength training to build a solid base for the in-season performance.

Balancing strength training with running

To effectively balance strength training and running, strategically plan your workouts. Combine high-intensity running days with strength training, allowing you to focus on recovery on your easier days. This approach helps maintain a high quality for both workouts without causing excessive fatigue. Ensure that strength training complements your running routine by targeting muscle groups that enhance running efficiency and prevent injuries. Include sufficient rest and recovery days in your weekly schedule to allow your body to adapt and grow stronger. By smartly scheduling your sessions and listening to your body’s responses, you can maximise running and strength training benefits without compromising your overall performance.

Top tips for effective strength training for runners

Following some key strategies is essential for runners aiming to integrate strength training effectively into their routines. Here’s how runners can maximise their strength training efforts to improve performance, prevent injuries, and enhance overall running efficiency:

1. Focus on Form and Technique

Prioritise correct form over lifting heavier weights or performing more repetitions. Proper technique ensures that the targeted muscles are engaged effectively and reduces the risk of injuries. Working with a trained professional, especially in the early stages, is advisable to ensure exercises are performed correctly.

2. Incorporate Functional Movements

Choose exercises that mimic running movements or strengthen running-related muscle groups. Functional movements such as lunges, single-leg squats, and step-ups closely replicate the actual running mechanics and can enhance the transfer of gains to running performance.

3. Progress Gradually

Increase the intensity and volume of workouts gradually to avoid overtraining and injury. Start with lighter weights and higher repetitions to build muscular endurance, then gradually incorporate heavier weights to increase strength without adding unnecessary bulk.

4. Balance Compound and Isolated Exercises

While compound exercises like squats and deadlifts are efficient and work for multiple muscle groups, isolated exercises can help address specific weaknesses or imbalances. For instance, hamstring curls or calf raises target areas that are often neglected but critical for runners.

5. Include Plyometrics

Plyometric training involves explosive movements that boost muscle power, which is crucial for improving running speed and efficiency. Exercises such as box jumps and bounding are excellent for developing this type of power.

6. Ensure Adequate Recovery

Strength training, particularly when intense, requires sufficient recovery to allow muscles to repair and grow. To ensure recovery, include easy or complete rest days in your training schedule. Pay attention to sleep and nutrition, as they are critical to the recovery process.

7. Align Strength Training with Running Workloads

If possible, plan strength workouts on the same day as hard running workouts, followed by a rest or easy day. This approach helps manage fatigue better, allowing hard days to remain hard and easy days to be easy.

8. Use Periodisation

Periodise your strength training to match different phases of your running training. During the off-season, focus on building strength and muscle. As the race season approaches, shift towards maintaining strength and improving muscle power.

9. Seek Professional Guidance

For runners at Chiswick-Physio, leveraging our expertise, particularly in services like 3D running gait analysis, can further personalise and optimise the strength training regime. Professional guidance helps tailor exercises to individual needs, enhancing effectiveness and reducing injury risks.

Listening to your body

When balancing strength training and running, it is essential to prioritise your body’s signals. Flexibility with your training schedule and listening to your body’s immediate feedback is crucial for maintaining your health and making long-term progress. If you experience signs of fatigue, soreness, or discomfort, it is important to take an unscheduled day off. Ignoring these signals and pushing through pain can lead to injuries or illnesses that may sideline you for weeks.

Adapting your plan based on your body’s feedback is not only about preventing setbacks; it’s also about ensuring sustainable training and continuous improvement in your performance. Taking a proactive approach by incorporating extra rest days when needed is more beneficial than risking a prolonged recovery due to injury or illness. This strategy allows you to stay on track towards your goals while protecting your health, demonstrating that sometimes, taking a step back is the best way to move forward.

FAQs (PAAs)

Is it better to strength train before or after running?

Running before strength training is generally recommended to prioritise running form and prevent fatigue when both are scheduled on the same day.

Can I run and lift weights on the same day?

Yes, experienced runners often successfully combine running and weightlifting on the same day. To optimise performance and recovery, consider running earlier in the day and lifting weights later, or vice versa, depending on your schedule and energy levels. This allows sufficient recovery between sessions. Beginners should start with lighter sessions and monitor their body’s response to prevent overtraining.

Can runners do too much strength training?

Excessive strength training can lead to overtraining and fatigue, which hampers running performance.

Are high reps or high weights better for runners?

Depending on the season and goals, both high reps and high weights benefit runners. High reps are great for building endurance and muscular stamina, particularly beneficial during the off-season. High weights can enhance strength and power, ideal for pre-season preparation.

How many days a week should a runner strength train?

Runners should aim to include strength training 2-3 times per week, adjusting based on their training phase. During the off-season, focus on building strength with 3-4 sessions weekly, while in the season, maintain with 1-2 sessions to prevent fatigue. Balance these workouts with running commitments to ensure optimal performance and recovery.

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