Getting runners and endurance athletes to understand that they need to be doing strength training in order to run or perform their sport more efficiently and avoid injury is an ongoing personal crusade of mine. I am determined to convince the runners, triathletes and cycling fanatics of Yorkshire that strength training will not only stop them getting injured on a regular basis but also make them more energy efficient in their chosen sport and help them get faster.
When I talk about this with clients, I get the same old things popping up.
“I don’t want to get bulky as it will make me heavy and slow”
“If I spend time strength training I will have to give up a run or a cycling session which will stop me progressing”
“It’s just running, I don’t need to be strong to run”
So, I deal a lot with recreational running injuries and the simple fact of the matter is this…
“About 90% of all injuries I see are a direct result of the athlete not being strong enough to to control ground reaction forces over a significant period”.
Therefore, almost all of my running based rehab is more like low level strength conditioning, as opposed to soft tissue work and flexibility training.
Let’s Look At The Facts
1. Running is a relatively dangerous sport
50% of all recreational runners WILL pick up at least one injury on an annual basis. Meaning that if you take up running as a sport or hobby you basically have a 1 in 2 chance of getting injured at least once per year (Van Gent et al 2007).
2. What Causes of Running Injury?
The study by Van Gent above sights the main cause of running injury as overuse. Basically, running too often and covering too many miles. This is backed up by a study by Messier et al in 2008 who went on to add that accumulation of forces greater than the stress capabilities of muscle and joint structures also play a part. So basically every time your foot hits the ground, it does so with 1.5 to 3 times your body weight. Over the period of a run or race your muscles and joints are having to deal with literally tonnes of force. Other factors such as poor hip biomechanics, specifically poor hamstring flexibility and load tolerance were also found to be significant.
In a 2010 study Powers found that abnormal hip mechanics and in particular poor glute and hip abduction strength were an important indicator in knee injury among runners and as result a lot of the strengthening work done for runners should focus on improving the functional strength of the muscles in this area. (glute med and max, TFL, lateral hamstring).
3. Do training shoes make much difference?
There are some pretty impressive claims made by shoe manufacturers in relation to the performance and injury outcome you can expect by wearing their shoes. When we look at proper, peer reviewed studies (ones that have no interest in lying to you to sell trainers), we find that running shoe prescription has little or no benefit on injury risk (Knapik et al 2014, Richards, Magin and Callister, 2007). These are just 2 highlighted studies, there are hundreds more saying the exact same thing.
4. What are the benefits of strength training?
Well in short, the benefits of strength training are:
Please don’t just take my word for it however, all of the following studies have found these benefits when using a variety of strength training protocols to investigate their effects on running performance (Ronnestad and Mujika, 2013; Sato et al, 2009; Storen et al, 2008; Ronald et al, 1997; Taipale et al, 2013; Saunders et al, 2006)
5. What type of training is best?
Well the studies quoted above identified a variety of different training options. They looked at high rep and low weight, high intensity training (heavy weight and low reps) and power based training (plyometrics including hoping, and jumping etc). Believe it or not, it was the heavy stuff that came out on top, with power based training coming a close second.
So from this we can pretty much determine that to get the most benefit from any strength training protocol, we should be looking at combining high weight and low rep strength training with power based training to strengthen the hips and legs (with an emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings) and the core muscles such as the abs, obliques and lower back.
WARNING! Don’t start your strength training program by jumping straight into plyometrics. Start by adding simple strength exercises like squatting, lunging, split squats and deadlifts into your routine. Nail the technique of these with just your body weight then start to add additional weight. Only when you can exhibit confident control of these movements with some extra weight should you then progress to power and plyometric activities.
Starting a strength training program in this way will help prevent you from picking up injury performing the training that is supposed to prevent you from picking up injuries in the first place.
6. Will strength training make me bulky?
In short, NO. the type and volume of strength training, combined with your running endurance training will not make you bulky. It takes a lot of time and dedication to put on weight through muscle mass. As a runner or endurance athlete you will simply not be doing it in the volume required or consuming the volume of protein required to build muscle at a rate that will hamper your running performance.
In fact, the study by Ronald et al (1997) found that female distance runners who took part in the study were able to significantly improve their running efficiency and performance by increasing their overall body strength. During which time, there was no change to their overall body composition as a result of the resistance training.
So after reading all of this, I am now hoping that you might be convinced to start a strength training program to give you more longevity, avoid the disappointment of injury and run a bit faster and get more PB’s.
In fact, I am sure that staring a good running strength program will revolutionise the way you run and think about training. It will make you feel stronger, more toned, more athletic and more excited about what is happening with your running training because you are getting faster all of the time.
Faster Running boot camp
Darren has over 10 years experience in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, sports injury therapist and most recently as an educator to other trainers. Originally from South Wales, he went to Liverpool University to study Sports Science and liked the city so much, he decided to stay. Since finishing his degree he set up a thriving personal training and injury rehab business which continues to this day. He has recently moved over to Denby Dale in West Yorkshire and has opened Faster Fitness Solutions, a multi-purpose training and rehabilitation facility located in the heart of the village.