Strength Training for Runners

Prevention is better than cure. We all know this, but we recreational runners don’t to always act upon it.  

So when faced with the choice of lacing up the runners and pounding the streets and trails of Perth, or staying at home for an extra 10 or 15 minutes to do some valuable injury prevention strengthening, most of us are already out the door and clocking up the kilometres before we know what’s happened.  

It’s not until injury rears its unpleasant head that we actually consider doing some strength work. And our efforts are usually diligent and well-intentioned until we are rid of injury and can forget those bothersome exercises once more.  

So, should you be incorporating some strength work into your routine? Read on and find out.   

Strength exercises: Injury prevention or performance enhancing? 

The answer is both! If you have a time or a distance goal, some careful lower body strength exercises can actually help you to achieve this in a number of ways and keep you injury-free in the process.   

  • Improve your running efficiency (or running economy): by strengthening your glutes and hamstrings, in particular, you can run with greater efficiency meaning that with the same amount of energy expended, you will run faster and/or further 
  • Improve lower limb endurance: Strength work will stimulate a whole lot of physiological responses in your muscles like increased capillary density (meaning more blood flow to the muscles), increased mitochondrial density (more energy produced within the muscles) and improved lactate threshold (you can run faster without that burning feeling in the legs)  
  • Protect your tendons from injurytendons, joining your muscles to bone, are prone to injury in runners. In fact, Achilles tendinopathy is the most common injury in recreational runners. Simple strength training can significantly reduce the likelihood of getting such injuries and missing days and weeks of running. By avoiding these injuries, you’ll miss fewer days of training, and see an improvement in performance as a result. 
  • Bone health: there is some awesome research coming out of the AIS now showing that resistance (strength) training can help to improve bone density and health which reduces the likelihood of weeks and months missed through stress fractures and other bone-related injuries like shin splints.  It also reduces the likelihood of osteoporosis later in life. 

What is the best type of strength work? 

Circuits, HIIT, heavy strength, plyometrics, Olympic lifting, cables, bodyweight… the list goes on. There are many forms of resistance training that can help recreational (and elite) runners to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.  A combination of these types of training is likely to yield great results, but most should be done with supervision if you’re not experienced with them.  

If you are not experienced in strength training, I would suggest starting with bodyweight exercises. No gym membership required, no equipment needed. You can do these exercise at home at a time that works for you.  

Proceed with caution… 

As always, a slow start is best when introducing new exercise/s to your body. Don’t be surprised if you experience some DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) 24-48 hours after doing these exercises the first couple of times. This is really normal but might have a small impact on your training for a few days.   

In part 2 of this blog, I will present the six strength exercises that all recreational runners should be doing. I’ll post these exercises after City to Surf so that there is no temptation to start any new exercises before taking on the heartbreak hill! 

Wishing the very best to everyone doing the run this weekend!