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Functional Strength Training for Runners

Posted by Rehab United on Aug 31, 2010 11:06:16 AM

Functional Strength Training for Runners

Jena Walther, MS, CSCS


At Rehab United Sports Performance Center, when discussing training with runners we find a similarity: they run, run, and run some more, sometimes throw in a little stretching and lift weights once in a while.  We rarely meet a runner who incorporates year-round strength training into his/her program as a performance enhancer and injury prevention tool.


Runners often fear the words “Strength Training” because they believe they will gain size or that it will take too much time away from running.  Running-specific strength training, however, improves performance and decreases the risk of injury.


Running-Specific Strength Training:

  1. Train running movement patterns.  Although it works multiple-joints, the leg press in a gym is not functional for runners . . . if it doesn’t look or feel like running, it probably won’t make you a faster runner. Example: Try step ups on a box with an exaggerated arm swing.
  2. Drive exercises in all three dimensions.  Even though it appears that we run straight forward (the Sagittal plane), to decrease muscular imbalance and overuse resistance training should be completed 3-dimensionally, which      includes the frontal (side-to-side movements) and transverse (rotational movements) planes.  Example: Add lateral and rotational lunges to your typical forward lunge.
  3. Combine strength training with mobility.  Flexibility and strength can, and must, coexist.  Example: 1) Add some resistance (dumbbells, medicine ball) to stretches you would typically do      before or after your run; 2) Perform a body-weight-only routine – include squats and lunges through a full range of motion.  Complete either of these sessions in place of a recovery run for a good dose of injury prevention.
  4. Follow a periodization program.  You can strength train year round, but give your body planned periods of rest and do not increase your mileage and strength training volume simultaneously.  Strength training two-three days per      week during lighter training phases and one-two days per week during heavy phases is essential for an injury-free and fun race day.


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