Running “Wear and Tear”
We treat a large population of endurance athletes at our clinic. We typically hear the same sentiment amongst those runners that are often injured. Many distance runners believe that running is sufficient exercise to strengthen their legs, however this is not the case. As a result, it is critical for runners to also focus on strength training.
Running is like driving a car with the tires undergoing repetitive forces. The tires of a car are similar to your legs. Driving more does not strengthen your tires, rather it results in more “wear and tear” as you continue to put miles on them. They will require maintenance to be able to continue to get you from point A to point B, otherwise the result will be a flat tire or blowout on the road. At Symmetry, we can perform a running analysis in clinic or virtually to help you improve your performance.
Just like the tires on your car, your legs will develop “wear and tear” as the miles on the odometer increase. This will eventually cause the tissue to fail over time due to the repetitive stresses once the load exceeds it’s capacity. Strength training can be like maintenance for your car to keep everything running smoothly.
Stress vs. Strain Curve
Every tissue in the body has a certain “point of no return”. We will reach a point when your tissue has undergone so much strain, that it cannot tolerate the stress anymore causing deformation of the structure. It’s at this point in the stress vs. strain curve where an injury occurs. This is known as the maximal load capacity of a tissue. We can gradually expose our body’s tissues to greater strains as we train to increase the load tolerance threshold. Whether your training is specific or non-specific to your sport, our goal is to gradually expose you to greater loads to continue to improve your tissue capacity to manage high-stress moments or activities without injury.
- Load > Tissue Capacity = Injury
After an injury occurs, your body’s ability to manage loads will certainly be decreased. You’ll have to make some adjustments to your training regimen to recovery from the injury, causing you to decrease your intensity, frequency, or volume of exercise to meet your current tissue capacity. This will allow for proper healing to occur without exacerbation and you can gradually increase your running back to your regular routine as time goes on. But, you may be leaving the door open for re-injury to occur. There is another way to improve your tissue capacity for loads that allows for improved healing rates and decreased risk of re-injury.
Endurance & Strength for Athletes
Strength training will allow you to improve your tissues’ load capacity, improve your running economy, and decrease risk of injury. Improved load capacity basically means you increased your strength, power, and muscle size to a point that you will be able to handle the stress of running with decreased strain on your tissues.
Running can be viewed as a series of cyclical single leg jumps and is much more than just an aerobic exercise. There is a strong correlation to power output and long distance running performance. Exposure to plyometric and jump training will result in improved tendon health, power output, and rate of force production, which are all important during distance running performance as well as to decrease risk of injury.
I love the term “running economy”. Running economy basically refers to how much energy is used to run at a given speed. Improving your strength and tendon capacity to loads will allow for improved energy usage at a given speed. Referring back to the car analogy from the introduction, running economy is similar to miles per gallon. You can improve your running economy using less fuel to run at a given speed with strength training. This will eventually allow you to become a “hybrid” if you continue to train both strength and endurance.
There is an abundance of evidence to support strength training as a great form of injury prevention. Laurensen et al performed a systematic review of exercise interventions and their role in injury prevention in 2014. They concluded that “strength training reduced sports injuries to less than ⅓ and overuse injuries could be almost halved”. They published another systematic review of strength training and injury prevention in 2018 recommending that “strength training programmes reduced sports injuries by an average of 66% and were, with 95% certainty, able to more than halve the risk of sports injury”.
A quick review of the literature suggests that strength training is highly effective to reduce injuries. Evidence supports the use of strength training as a safe and effective way to prevent injuries in adolescents and adults. More research is required for running specific injury prevention, however the same concept can be applied for overuse injuries during running.
How To Implement Strength Training into my Running Regimen
For the best results, it is important to consult with a professional such as a strength and conditioning coach, physical therapist, running coach, or athletic trainer. We typically need to look at your training on the macrocycle of a training year. We use a periodized approach to allow for peak performance at a specific race or season. Your volume of strength training might be high during the off-season and gradually decrease as your running mileage increases in-season.
Training can operate on a spectrum from non-specific (1RM squats or deadlift) to highly specific (running a race). You may be saying to yourself “why do I need to deadlift to be able to run? It isn’t functional to my sport!” Well, because increasing your strength is the best form of injury prevention.
We can best accomplish an increase in absolute strength through a stimulus of high-load exercises. Deadlifts and squats may not be specific but they are the best way to add a high-load stimulus to increase absolute strength. Improving your strength is not only the best form of injury prevention, but it also is the hallmark of all other athletic qualities. We need a great strength base to be fast, powerful, agile, quick, and shifty. Strength is the foundation that allows athletes to be able to throw 95+ mph for 9 innings, have the endurance to run a marathon in 2 hours, or run 100m in <9 seconds.
Off Season Training
Early in the off-season, you may be increasing your load of generalized absolute strength training into your routine. This will allow your body to recover from the demands of the running season, as well as provide a mental break from the monotony of the sport. Also, we are looking to improve your overall strength and athleticism during this time, so loaded exercises like squats, deadlifts, step-ups, and lunges are great during this time.
As the off-season progresses, you can gradually start to move away from the generalized absolute strength training phase and into exercises that are more specific to your sport. We still like to work with moderate loads, but the speed of the exercises increases to improve rate of force production and power. You will start to implement low-intensity running and tempo runs during this phase to compliment your strength training routine.
As the year progresses, we continue to increase your running intensity, frequency, and volume to ramp up for the season or race as strength training volume and intensity decreases. During the season the goal of strength training is to maintain your gains that you made throughout the offseason. For more information about periodization and its applications, check out our blog here.
Strength Training Exercises for Runners
Strength training can help to boost your performance and reduce injury. This will help you to get an advantage amongst the competition to make yourself into a better athlete overall. Expert running physical therapist Tom Goom stated his thoughts on running and I couldn’t agree more. Tom wrote in his blog, “the exact details of what to strengthen and how to do it are likely to be highly individual depending on your goals, strengths and weaknesses.
Common muscle groups to target include quads, hamstrings, calf muscles and glutes. Strengthening these muscles may prove effective but I suspect building a programme based on the assessment of a physiotherapist or health professional will achieve better results.” Below are some of my favorite strength training exercises for runners, but again I want to stress that for optimal results you should work with a professional to develop a program specific to your needs.
If you have questions about strength training leave a comment or contact us at the clinic. We would love to work with you to create an individualized strength training program to maximize your performance before your next race! Give us a call at 305-331-2277 or book a session here.
RFESS (Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats)
- Lunges: Reverse → Lateral → Curtsy → Forward → Walking → Complexes
- Step Downs: Reverse → Lateral → Curtsy → Forward
- Single Leg Bridge → Shoulders (or feet) Elevated Single Leg Bridge
- Super Side Plank
- Deadlift → Single Leg Deadlift
- Goblet Squat → Skater Squat
- SL Heel Raises
- DL → SL Hops and Power Skips
- Lateral Bounding
- Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trialsBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2014;48:871-877
- Lauersen JB, Andersen TE, Andersen LB. Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysisBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:1557-1563
- Goom T. Balancing training load and tissue capacity. British Journal of Sports Medicine Blog https://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2016/04/11/balancing-training-load-and-tissue-capacity/ 11 April 2016; 19 May 2020
- Goom T. Strength training for runners- recent research findings. Running Physio Blog https://www.running-physio.com/strength-review/ 13 Oct 2013; 19 May 2020
- Goom T. Resistance training and runningRunning Physio Blog https://www.running-physio.com/resistance-training-and-running/ 15 July 2012; 19 May 2020