Why only running will not make you a better runner. The Benefits of Strength Training for Runners.
Strength training plays a vital role in helping runners achieve peak performance and prevent injury, which is prevalent in the running world. The bad news is 65% of runners are injured in an average year, one running injury occurs for about every 100 hours of running, and runners miss about 5%-10% of their workouts due to injury (1). The pounding from running puts an immense strain on the body. If the muscles are not prepared to handle the load, stress negatively impacts the bones and connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, cartilage) causing them to break down. Over time, overuse injuries including shin splints, stress fractures, strains/sprains, tendinitis, and "runner's knee," to name a few, can force even the most dedicated of runners to miss their target marathon.
The good news; you can take action to prevent an injury from happening to you! Recent studies show that implementing a strength training program can cut injuries by around 25%; and that’s a conservative estimate (2). A properly designed strength training program will prepare the muscles to tolerate the various loads needed during running and minimize the stress placed on the joints making the whole system more durable. For example, recent studies have shown that as few as six weeks of proper weight training can significantly reduce or completely relieve kneecap pain or “runner’s knee” and mitigate Iliotibial Band Syndrome.
Another key component of injury prevention is to identify and correct muscular imbalances. If the strong muscles continue to get stronger, and the weak muscles continue to get weaker, it will lead to improper wear and tear on the joints and injury. A tool, such as Muscle Activation Technique™, can identify these weak muscles and correct the imbalance thereby decreasing the likelihood of an injury. Without Muscle Activation Technique™ to correct these muscular imbalances prior to starting a strength training program, it is likely that the cycle of strong muscles getting stronger, and weak muscles getting weaker will only be perpetuated and further re-enforced during the strength training routine making the muscle imbalance worse. This is why at AIM Human Performance we utilize this tool with all of our runners.
The benefits of strength training for runners extend beyond injury prevention. It will make you stronger, faster, and a more efficient runner. A study in the 1999 Journal of Applied Physiology found that improved leg strength and power led to a “significant” improvement in running time and efficiency. Other studies show that with as little as 10 weeks of weight training, 10K times decreased an average of a little over one minute. In other words, stronger muscles allow workloads of greater intensity to be managed more easily.
The research has also shown that running economy defined as the steady-state oxygen consumption for a given running speed (milliliters per kilogram body weight per minute), improves due to weight training. By improving running economy, a runner should be able to run faster over the same distance due to a decrease in oxygen consumption. Improved running economy would also increase a runner's time to exhaustion, meaning there’s a greater chance of finishing a race.
The lower body is not the only area that benefits from strength training. Strengthening the upper body and core also improve running efficiency. A strong core and upper body helps to mitigate the stresses placed on the spine from the pounding on the pavement, improves posture and respiration, and allows your lower and upper body to work together to propel you forward. This doesn’t mean performing 100 crunches a day or holding a 10 minute plank though! Improperly performed or progressed core exercises may cause more damage to the spine in the long run than a few correctly performed core exercises specifically targeted to your structure and tolerance level. The trainers at AIM Human Performance have the tools and training to help you strengthen your core without compromising your spinal health.
The best time to reap the greatest benefits of strength training for runners is during the pre-season. This is the time to maximize your strength and address muscle imbalances before an upcoming race or higher-mileage season. Muscular strength is built by progressively placing a greater than normal demand on the existing musculature. This, however, requires quite a balancing act for runners if it is to be successful. An experienced and knowledgeable trainer will be able to help you navigate between strength training days, running days, and adequate time for recovery and physiological adaptation to occur. If these training elements are not in balance, the results may not lead to a strength increase and may in fact cause overtraining and injury. The trainers at AIM Human Performance are ready to help guide you through our 8 week strength training program and balance this with your running days and rest days to provide you with the maximum benefit so you are ready for your best fall running season yet! Interested in learning more; check out our Facebook and Instagram accounts. Ready to go; contact us today to sign up and get started.
1. ‘Incidence and Severity of Injury Following Aerobic Training Programs Emphasizing Running, Racewalking, or Step Aerobics,’ Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, vol. 25(5), p. S81, 1993.
2. Sport for All: Sport Injuries and Their Prevention, Council of Europe, Netherlands Institute of Sports Health Care, Oosterbeek, 1989.