For quite some time, the conventional wisdom for improving at running was to simply run more. This isn’t wrong, but we now know that there is more to it. Strength training has a number of benefits for everyone, regardless of individual fitness goals. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid serious injury throughout my running career, and I credit that to smart programming and consistent resistance training. In this blog, we’ll discuss the benefits of strength training for runners and provide a simple four-week progression that anyone can follow and scale up or down for an individualized experience.
First, let’s review generalized and specialized strength training. General strength training is what most runners who begin a strength program will do; it improves the overall strength of the body and improves running through an improvement in general fitness. For those looking to take their training to the next level, there is specialized training, performing exercises that mimic the movements you do while running. Exercises to help strengthen the hip flexor muscles serve as one example. These in turn improve the neuromuscular pathways used in your running stride.
Now, why is strength training so important?
- Injury Prevention: The premise to this is simple: stronger tissues and muscle sustain damage less often. Having increased muscle strength and stability help absorb the impact that running puts on your body step after step. It improves structural weaknesses in the muscles, joints, and connective tissues, preventing many of the standard running injuries. Specifically, this is the case with core and lower body exercises. A strong core and legs enable you to maintain a proper running stride for a longer duration, therefore reducing the risk of injury from “lazy” running.
- Improved Running Economy: Multiple studies have shown that resistance training has a positive effect on running economy, the energy demand for a given velocity of submaximal running. (1) It increases leg strength and power as well as encourages coordination and stride efficiency. As mentioned above, strength training supports better running form, which translates to more efficient running through better use of energy.
- Improved Muscle Activation: By improving neuromuscular coordination and power, you’re able to run faster. Building general strength and then progressing to multi-joint and running-specific strength can help retrain your muscle recruitment patterns and contribute to stronger running.
One of our favorite exercises to improve performance for runners, but particularly for sprinters, is the trap bar deadlift. Ryan Flaherty, a well-renowned speed coach, has said he can predict an athlete's 40-yard dash and vertical jump height with 99% accuracy based solely on their force number. This is calculated by dividing their trap bar deadlift one rep max by an athlete's body weight.
Have I convinced you to spend time in the gym yet? Give this four-week program a try. It contains just two days per week in the gym, taking up less than an hour for each session. This program is great because you can repeat it after the first four weeks for another four-week cycle with increased weights, reps, sets, or time under tension. To learn more about why periodization is important, check out this quick video and blog post.
Before getting started, here’s a quick overview of a couple of key concepts:
- Head here for a detailed explanation on tempos (the four numbers you see in blue in the program). The tempos are important, so be sure you understand how to execute them.
- When you see A1/A2 etc., throughout the program, this is a superset - so alternate these movements and complete all the sets given before moving on to the next letter section (B or B1/B2, etc.). For example, complete the first set of A1, then rest for the given period. Complete the first set of A2; rest for the given period. Then proceed to the second set of A1; rest, second set of A2, etc.
- Follow rest times as precisely as you can. Resistance training will work best when you are detailed about your tempos, rest times, and execution.
Download the full strength training program here.
If you’re ready to upgrade your training and become the best runner you can be, schedule a free strategy session with one of our professional coaches below. They’ll develop a holistic plan that includes running, resistance training, nutrition, AND lifestyle behaviors that help you reach and exceed your goals.