Running is a sport that gives back exactly what you put into it, and that’s what makes it so fair. The more you run, the better you become, it’s that equitable. Every step that you take is a step toward building you into a stronger and more resilient runner, but progress doesn’t stop there. . A lot of your running strength can also be developed in the gym or by engaging in various forms of strength training designed to improve your running mechanics and the muscles and joints that support you.
You may think that strength or resistance training is just for certain types of runners, such as elite runners, sprinters or trail runners, but this simply isn’t true. Studies have shown that anyone can benefit from running-specific strength training and some of the many benefits include:
Better power & explosiveness - this isn’t just for sprinters, it benefits all runners and it can have a direct impact on your speed
Better balance - achieved by strengthening those intrinsic muscles in the lower legs used for stability & distributing weight evenly
Better coordination - achieved by improving muscle recruitment and proprioceptors
Better running economy - improved running posture and muscle endurance
Injury prevention - achieved by reinforcing muscles around the joints and improving shock absorption (after all, running is a contact sport!)
So what kinds of strength training should you do? That’s a great question! There are all kinds of exercise options (and fads) out there, and sifting through them to develop a meaningful training program can be daunting. The best solution is to work with a running coach or professional who believes in the benefits of strength training. We are not all created equal, and as runners we have individual imbalances and areas of weakness. The key to progress is creating a strength training program that addresses these individual needs and is tailored to you!
However, generally speaking, there are proven “tools of the trade” you can use to build your running-specific strength:
These are the best at isolating muscle groups so that each group works independently of others and therefore realizes the MAXIMUM benefit of that exercise. Free weights can also be a great way to add resistance to running-specific movements such as squats & lunges.
Examples: dumbbells, kettlebells (in photo below) & medicine balls
These may not be as isolating, but they can assist you through an exercise movement, which can be very helpful especially for those new to strength training (ie. safer to use). Some of the more modern weight machines do actually have independently-moving parts and can closely mimic the effect of free weight training.
This is achieved by incorporating other sports which benefit a runner’s strength, speed, fitness, flexibility and coordination. Here are some examples of cross-training alternatives and their associated benefits:
No matter which exercise alternatives you choose to improve your running strength, there are some fundamental running-specific muscles that you should target:
Upper back (trapezius)
Hamstrings (upper & lower)
Calf muscles (soleus & gastrocnemius)
- Core (both rectus & transversus abdominis)
As you can see, running is a total body exercise, and while you don’t need to sculpt every single muscle fiber in your body, there are quite a few very important muscles involved, and focusing on these will turn you into a better and healthier runner.
Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.