Strength Training for Runners: A Practical Guide

The benefits and importance of regular strength training for runners is widely reported in academic literature. No doubt you will have seen social media posts encouraging runners to get strong. However, how a runner should introduce strength work into their training program is not always clear.

In this article we look at some practical ways a runner can begin strength training , as well as tips to get the best out of your sessions.

What is strength training?

Strength training is a form of resistance exercise which, as the name suggests, aims to increase muscular strength. Other forms of resistance exercise are power, plyometrics and stability. All these may be of benefit to runners, but today we are just going to focus on strength training.

How does strength training help?

There are many benefits of strength training for runners. These include:

  • Improved running economy – essentially running at a given pace gets easier.
  • Improved running speed at VO2max.
  • Improved maximal strength.
  • A potentially reduced risk of injury.

The evidence suggests these benefits can be achieved without weight gain, or an adverse effect on VO2max.

What is involved in a strength training session?

Strength training sessions should primarily focus on your ‘running muscles’ (quads, calves, glutes and hamstrings), whilst also working on trunk (core) strength and some upper body work. There are  lots of different ways to design a strength session, and this is something our Exercise Physiologists at Physiotas can help you with.

A typical session can involve a series of warm up exercises, including some rehab or prehab work on areas you are known to have issues with. These warm up exercises can be completed as a stand-alone workout, or potentially as a warm-up for some runs.

Following the warm up, you would move into the main working block of the session. This would typically involve 4-6 key exercises that focus specifically on improving strength. These exercises should involve 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions, at a high percentage of your one rep max (the most you can lift once for a specific exercise). A typical session may finish with some core strength work. Common strength exercises for runners may include squats, deadlifts, heel raises and lunges.  Specific exercises completed will need to be relevant to the runner, and tailored to suit their training history, age and goals.

How often?

Research suggests two sessions should provide adequate stimulus to improve running performance, while not affecting endurance specific factors.

When?

This is where things can get a little bit tricky. It’s important to remember that an individual strength training session is likely to have a negative impact on subsequent runs in the next 24 hours or so, potentially affecting some of the endurance specific training benefits. To try and reduce this, aim to schedule strength training sessions after harder runs or before easy runs so the potential impacts are not as significant. Completing strength training sessions under fatigue from a previous hard run is likely to have an impact of the strength training session, but this is likely to be the better of the two timing options. Allowing eight hours between a run and a strength session should provide enough recovery time.

Final notes

When starting a strength program for the first time, it is important to ensure the intensity and selection of exercises is appropriate for you. This is to help keep you safe and prevent injuries, but also to ensure you get the most out of your sessions. This is where our Exercise Physiologists can assist with developing a program for you. To make an appointment with one of our Exercise Physiologists, at any of our clinics, please call 6424 7511. We look forward to helping you out soon with your strength training program.

About the Author:

Ben Brockman is an Exercise Physiologist at our Best Street Clinic.

Ben studied a Bachelor of Exercise Science at the University of Tasmania and joined the team at Physiotas as an Exercise Physiologist in 2011. Ben is an advocate for exercise and the important role it can play in improving the health of our communities. His clinical interests include the exercise based management of chronic health conditions, particularly Diabetes and Osteoporosis.

Ben also has a strong interest in running biomechanics and how gait retraining can be used to aid recovery from injury and enhance performance. Ben is also a Level 2 Recreational Running Coach. He is a committee member for the Tasmanian branch of Exercise and Sport Science Tasmania.

Ben is the Event Director of the Devonport Parkrun and enjoys competing in distance running events.