Strength training for runners

Runners like to run and the lure of a run often wins over other things, like strength training. The data on strength training is enticing, showing huge benefits of reducing overuse injuries by about half. Less injuries means more time running. Let’s take a look.

A regular strength routine helps build more robust movement systems. It creates changes throughout your body, including: improved nervous system functioning and muscle/tendon biology. This means that you can adapt better to variations in load, which might be more hill running, increasing kilometers or adding speed work. This all helps to improve your running efficiency and performance.

What exercises and muscles should you focus on? The muscles that give the most energy for running are the calf, quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals. Exact muscle usage depends on the running terrain and your running dynamics. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges and calf raises get all of these muscles working. Simple movements performed well can give you massive returns.

How heavy and how many times you perform an exercise depends on your strength and running goals, but the weights need to be heavy enough to make your muscles fatigue. Finding the best training load needs some smarts and testing. Your ‘sweet spot’ is where you get maximum benefit for minimum time input. Generally if you can lift the weight more than 8-12 times it is too light for strength training. Going as low as 3-5 reps can yield incredible results.

The heavier you lift, the less repetitions you can do before absolute fatigue. If this means managing 4 repetitions for 3 sets, then you are probably tiring too quickly. Similarly, if you can do 25 repetitions for 5 sets your work rate is not hard enough to reap the rewards of strength training.

What is best? Runners looking to get stronger should use challenging weights that are about 70-90% of their one repetition maximum (the heaviest weight you can lift once for an exercise). If you are starting out then one option might begin with 12 reps for 4 sets and work towards 5-6 reps for 5 sets as you get stronger and grow in confidence. But with guidance, it is reasonable to shoot for 5 reps for 5 sets from the outset.

The clincher is to train your body to be capable of doing more work than it will commonly encounter. This will minimise your chance of injury and stoke your performance. On that note, these are general strength guidelines. If you have any niggles or ongoing problems then it is clever to seek advice on how to begin and progress. If you would like help with your strength program then please get in contact with us at Form Physiotherapy.


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RunningDave Moen