Do Runners Really Need to Strength Train?
Runners love to run - throw on their shoes and go. But, do they need more than that to stay healthy and support their running needs? The answer may be more complex than we originally thought.
Recent studies have shown that increasing strength may not have as much of an impact on running as we thought. (1) Runners do not use excessive amounts of strength when they run. They use repetitive amounts of sub-maximal loads. Resistance training that is focused on increasing strength alone may not have a lot of carryover for running.
There is still benefit from resistance training, it might just be time to change how we look at it. Running injuries tend to happen when our work load exceeds our capacity to tolerate work. If we increase our capacity we are less likely to get injured. Instead of strength training, runners need to look at it as capacity training. Resistance exercises can help the bones, muscles, tendons and other tissues improve their capacity for load and make them more resilient for running.
This means adding in exercises that mimic the demands of running can be beneficial. Absorbing load, pushing off, transferring energy between the parts of the kinetic chain are all demands of running. Training a one-rep max exercise is not going to help with this, but repetitive single-leg loading exercises will. Some of my favorites are split-squat and single-leg step-downs. Performing these types of exercises for longer durations such as a minute, and while keeping to the beat of a metronome, may help develop rhythm and smoothness- skills needed for running.
Resistance training can also add variability. This is important for runners. If the same exact movements are consistently repeated some structures may become overloaded. Exercises can be used to add in new movements and decrease load on these structures. For example, many runners struggle to push off from the big toe and roll to the outside of the foot. When this happens, the foot does not stay as rigid and is less able to contribute to propelling the body forward. When asking these runners to stand on one foot or squat, they often roll to the outside of the foot and back on to the heel. They are not using the big toe in these movement patterns either. If a runner is told to change their technique and focus on pushing off the big toe when running, they may do some strange things to make that happen and cause more problems. But they can be cued to use the big toe with other exercises, such a single-leg step-down. Adding this variability introduces the new movement strategy - pushing through the big toe - to the nervous system. Once the nervous system learns this movement pattern it may be able to use it during a run and, in turn, helping to manage load.
So although true strength gains may not be as beneficial for runners, there is a still a large benefit to some resistance training. Just a 3-4 exercises a couple times a week can go a long way for runners and is worth the time investment to keep them doing what they love.
This program, videos and content is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. It is for educational purposes only. If you chose to try any of the exercises presented here do so at your own risk. Please consult a physician before you start any new program.
Not every exercise is safe for everybody. Correct execution of all exercises is imperative to prevent injury. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have any questions about your exercise execution or if an exercise is right for you.
You are responsible for yourself and will not hold Kelly Kuhn or Kelly Kuhn Physical Therapy liable for any injury or illness.
Vikmoen, O., Raastad, T., Seynnes, O., Bergstrøm, K., Ellefsen, S., & Rønnestad, B. R. (n.d.). Effects of Heavy Strength Training on Running Performance and Determinants of Running Performance in Female Endurance Athletes. PLoS ONE, 11(3), e0150799. Retrieved February 3, 2020, from 10.1371/journal.pone.0150799