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Ask the Running Doc: Strength Training for Runners

If you are a runner and don't do any strengthening, you are missing the boat. Ask yourself, "Do I want to feel better on my runs? Do I want to run faster? Do I want to have fewer injuries?" If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then you should strongly consider adding some strength training into your weekly routine.

Current research shows that strength training improves VO2max, lactate threshold, muscle power and long distance running performance in both trained and untrained individuals. Strength training also induces positive neuromuscular changes, increases motor unit recruitment, decreases ground contact time and increases muscle stiffness [1-5]. 

For many runners, adding strength training to their typical routine can be daunting or even frustrating. However, it doesn't have to take long, and it doesn't have to be complicated. 

As I have mentioned in many previous blog posts, there are a few things you need to remember before you start:

1. Just breathe. Breathing is essential to core stabilization [6]. Holding your breath while exercising will decrease the activity of your deep core. Your deep core is responsible for keeping you strong and stable while moving. 

2. Keep your exercises running-specific. Think about posture, rib cage stacked over pelvis, doing single leg work and exercises that focus on the triple flexion and extension of running. 

3. Make it fun! If you are not having fun, you won't keep doing it. Do your strength training with a group before or after you run or on your off days. The more fun you have, the more consistent you will be. 

Below are a few of my favorite exercises for you to try!

1. Lunges with rotation

If you have not done lunges before, start with a typical lunge, but if you are confident in your lunges, add some rotation. The rotation component will improve hip and core stabilization. Focus on maintaining your knee in a forward position, and rotate through the trunk.

2. Heel raises with a ball

I like this exercise because it is great for people who overpronate, have pain in the foot or inside of the leg or suffer from posterior tibialis. In the below picture, you will notice the heel raises are done standing and leaning into the wall (like a forward lean running), forcing you to focus on your posture; there is a ball between your heels, and your toes are turning out. Remember to go slowly, even as you are lowering down. The eccentric (lowering) part of the exercise is just as or even more important than the rising up. 

3. Side plank with leg raised

I love this one because it forces you to work on your posture and core strength, it is multiplaner and you can even do some glute work at the same time. If you get into this position and it becomes easy, you can begin to raise and lower the top leg to incorporate more glute strength!

4. Hamstring curls on a ball

You will feel the burn on this one! I often have to make myself do this one because I can really feel it! This is another exercise that combines leg and core strength in one.

5. Single leg squats

Remember, we spend 80% or more time on one leg during running, so it is important to do some single leg strength if you can do it correctly. In this picture, the subject is using TRX bands to help maintain a good posture, keep her hips back and balance. At home, if you don't have TRX, you can simply hold onto a door jam or onto either side of a door knob to get the same pull.