Runners Should Consider Strength Training to Boost Performance

Whether you’re a weekend runner, a daily miler, or a marathoner, you might want to consider adding something to your exercise routine other than just running. To improve performance and results, runners should be lifting weights.

Resistance training programs for runners are designed to increase strength, boost power and develop the neuromuscular system. Tom Myers, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer at New York Health & Racquet Club & Running Coach said, “Body position, foot strike and stride length are critical to running. How hard you’re hitting the ground and keep your step up, matters and affects speed as well as how you finish a race.” He shares some benefits and exercises to improve running performance and avoid injury.

Strengthen Core Muscles

“If you’ve ever watched a marathon, you’ll notice that many runners (who are not elite runners) are hunched over for the last six miles because their core has failed,” said Myers. Without a strong core, a runner’s balance and posture can become compromised and slow them down, especially at the end of a race. That means core conditioning is critical. A strong core also makes a runner more energy efficient because they are keeping the torso steady with each step.

Here are some effective core strengthening exercises for runners:

  • Plank: A standard plank requires a person to rest on their forearms with shoulders aligned directly over the elbows and legs extended behind them, about shoulder width apart. Hold the body in a neutral position without allowing the hips or glutes to rise. Try to hold for at least 30 seconds and keep adding time as you get stronger. Variations include a side plank or banana plank (which targets the abdominals and the lower back muscles).
  • Superman (Back Extension) Exercise: This works all the core muscle groups. Start with lying face down on a mat, extend your arms forward with palms down and legs extended behind you. Neck is in neutral position. At once, raise arms, head, chest and legs off the floor and hold for three to five seconds. Repeat the cycle for one to two minutes.  
  • Russian Twist: The Russian twist targets oblique muscles and can be done with a medicine ball or weights. Lean back to a 45-degree angle with a straight back and then raise your feet off the floor. Pick up the weight and twist from side-to-side as far as you can go.
  • Flutter Kicks: To target proper trunk placement while running, lay on your back facing the ceiling, assume the banana plank position peeling your shoulder blades off the floor and extending your arms out straight, lift your legs while pressing your low back into the floor. Begin kicking with straight legs without letting your legs touch the floor. Start with 10 on each leg.

Increase Strike Rate and Stride Rate

Strike rate and stride rate are two critical factors to running faster and efficiently.

Foot strike refers to the way a runner’s foot is hitting the ground when they run. According to Myers, “Foot strike is what makes each step generate more distance, increasing your speed. If a runner’s foot strike is harder than the other competitors, he or she can propel themselves forward faster because they are hitting the ground harder.” Once a runner is moving their legs as fast as they can, it’s about having the strength and endurance to go for a long time.

Stride length is defined as the “distance between successive ground contacts of the same foot,” per the Human Movement Research Group. To increase stride rate, runners need more power and the only way to do that is to increase muscular strength.

Myers said strength is essential to optimizing foot strike and power, which helps with improving stride rate. Some recommended exercises to get stronger include:

  • Glute Bridges: Not only does this effectively tone your glutes and hamstrings, it also conditions your core. Depending on fitness level, the level of difficulty and intensity can be increased by adding weights or working one leg at a time.
  • Bench Step-ups: This exercise works the entire lower body and can be made more difficult by adding dumbbells. Place one foot on the bench and press through that heel to lift the other foot so that you are standing on the bench, return to the start position and alternate feet. For an additional challenge raise the knee of the back leg up to your hip without placing it on the box, return it to its starting position on the floor.
  • Plyometrics: To increase power and develop the neuromuscular system, exercises like power skips, leg bounding or jump squats.
  • Reverse Lunge: These lunges target a runner’s quadriceps. Step backwards with one leg, bringing both knees to 90-degree angles. Push off your forward leg to bring yourself to standing. Alternate sides. This can be made harder with weights or adding a jump when you switch legs.

Bottom Line

Runners who strength train could improve their running performance and help prevent injury. Novice and expert runners alike can benefit from developing comprehensive training programs with the help of a running coach to ensure strength training is incorporated effectively to maximize results leading up to a race.

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