Does Strength Training Actually Reduce Running Injury Risk?

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Who doesn’t love the freedom and joy that running brings to their life?

For many of us, running acts as a lifeline for physical and emotional well-being. Running has a profound ability to clear one’s mind, boost their mood, and bring a sense of accomplishment with every stride.

Many runners experience injuries, such as stress fractures, tendonitis, and muscle strains, which can hinder their training progress and overall well-being. In total, around 50% of runners succumb to an injury each year.

We’ve all heard the benefits of getting to the gym, but so few of us engage in strength training. Can strength training be your secret weapon to overcome those nagging injuries?

This article aims to explore the up-to-date scientific evidence surrounding the effectiveness of strength training in reducing running injury risk.

We will explore various studies and methodologies that have investigated the relationship between strength training and injury prevention in runners.

We will cover:

  • A Review Of The Science
  • The Effect Strength Training Has On Our Bodies
  • Strength Training And Overuse Injuries
  • 5 Tips To To Get You Started
  • Final Thoughts

Let’s dive into the research to gain a comprehensive understanding of this topic!

A person picking up a dumbbell from a rack.

A Review Of The Science

There is a deep wealth of knowledge stemming from numerous scientific studies investigating the effects of strength training on running injury risk.

Some studies have focused on specific strength training programs, while others have examined the relationship between strength training and injury rates in various populations of runners.

A meta-analysis published in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine in 2014 looked at 25 trials, including 26,610 participants with 3,464 injuries concluded that:

In general, engaging in strength training has been found to effectively reduce sports injuries. Multiple exposure programs (a combination), proprioception training, and strength training all demonstrated promising results in reducing injuries.

Stretching, however, did not show any significant benefit.

Strength training, in particular, stood out as a highly effective measure, reducing sports injuries to less than one-third. It also showed the potential to significantly reduce overuse injuries by almost half.

Further research, especially into strength training, is crucial for enhancing injury prevention strategies. Although this analysis didn’t focus exclusively on runners, the results still hold significance due to their significant findings on overuse injuries.

Overall, most injury prevention measures, except for stretching, consistently yielded favorable results in reducing both acute and overuse injuries.

Strength training has also been shown to provide a significant increase in running efficiency.

People pushing a weight sled in a gym.

The Effect Strength Training Has on our bodies

Some humans can run 200 km without getting injured; others can’t run 5 km without a nagging pain grinding them to a halt.

What accounts for this dramatic difference?

Our bodies have an astounding ability to adapt to stimuli. When we provide a stimulus, we are sending the body a message. If we have never run before, the foundational strength and capability to perform are likely to be low. The stimulus comes, and the body adapts.

I like to think of the gym as a secure environment where we can nurture the necessary level of stimulus in a scientific manner. We get to choose what exercise we do, how many repetitions we perform, and at what weight we perform it.

How do we know what the right amount of stimulus is? If you’ve overdone it, you’ll probably struggle to walk the next day; we’ve all heard of that dreaded “leg day.”

Reduce the weight slightly, head back to the gym again, and see how you feel. It doesn’t have to be perfect every time; you have to continually listen to the messages the body is sending you.

A person on a squat machine in a gym.

Over time, your general capacity to handle load will increase, and as such, your susceptibility to running injury should decrease. We’ll discuss this later in greater detail.

When we strength train, our muscles go through a series of biological responses leading to adaptations that make them stronger and more resilient.

Following the microtears, an inflammatory response is triggered. This inflammation signals the body to repair and rebuild the damaged muscle fibers.

Our body will then start to synthesize protein in order to repair the damaged muscle fibers. New proteins are produced and incorporated into the muscle cells, helping them to recover and grow stronger.

This process, known as hypertrophy, will repeat over weeks and months, resulting in your muscle fibers gradually increasing in size and strength.

Two people doing lunges.

Strength Training and Overuse Injuries

When we get that running bug, it’s hard to stop. But real progress takes time; let’s talk about a crucial principle that will help keep those pesky injuries at bay – progressive overload.

You see, just like building a strong foundation for a house, building strength in your muscles requires a thoughtful and patient approach. Brick by brick, you gradually increase the weight and intensity of your workouts over time.

But why not just go all out from the beginning?

Well, picture this: if you were to start with heavy weights right away, it would be like trying to run a marathon without training. Your muscles wouldn’t have enough time to adapt and recover, and that could lead to avoidable injuries.

The good news is by gradually increasing weight and intensity, you give your muscles the time they need to adapt, recover, and grow stronger.

This approach not only reduces the risk of injury but also improves your form and technique. So, my advice to you is to be patient and embrace gradual progression in your strength training journey.

Two people doing planks.

When we use resistance training to increase the strength and endurance of key running muscles, like the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, it allows them to better absorb impact forces and reduce strain on joints.

Additionally, strength training corrects muscle imbalances that running may cause, promoting overall muscle balance and stability.

Moreover, it stimulates the adaptation and strengthening of tendons and ligaments, safeguarding against overuse injuries like tendonitis.

Weight-bearing strength exercises enhance bone density, reducing the risk of stress fractures. Strengthening the muscles around the joints, such as the hips and knees, enhances joint stability and control during running, preventing abnormal joint movements.

When we have increased the strength of our muscles, the relative strain endured by them while running is less. Thus, the risk of overuse injuries decreases.

With this mindful approach, you’ll make consistent progress toward your strength training goals without compromising your body’s health and well-being. Remember, it’s not a race but a journey of growth and strength.

5 Tips To get you started

So you want to begin strength training but don’t know where to start?

Here are five tips to get you going!

A person strength training with a wall ball.

#1: Train 2-3x Per Week

Try to engage in 2-3 strength sessions per week. This frequency offers great results for the time invested.

Even if you can only make it to the gym once per week, don’t worry; you’ll still benefit from lifting. While you may not gain as much strength as with more sessions, you’ll still see meaningful improvements.

#2: How Long Should I Leave Between Sessions?

The amount of time you should leave between strength training and running sessions depends on various factors, including your fitness level, the intensity of your workouts, and your body’s ability to recover.

If you have just completed an intense leg workout, your muscles might feel fatigued, potentially affecting your running performance for a few hours.

To optimize your training, consider leaving at least 24 hours between a strength-training session and a run.

On the other hand, if you plan to run and then lift weights, allowing a 3-hour recovery window should generally suffice.

That said, listening to your body is key. If you feel like you need longer than 24 hours, take your time. If you fancy running back from the gym, go ahead!

A front squat.

#3: Don’t Go Too Heavy, Don’t Go Too Light

A training session doesn’t have to go on forever. However, an effective program should include a minimum of 4 exercises at 50–70% of your 1RM (one rep-max).

A helpful guideline is to choose a weight that allows you to perform 8-12 reps with proper form. Once you can complete 15 reps with ease, it indicates that you’re ready to increase the weight for a more challenging workout.

If you cannot get to 8 repetitions with good form, lower the weight.

#4: Work With A Personal Trainer

Having a professional guide during gym or home training is highly advantageous. They offer an objective assessment of your body’s response to weight and volume, making necessary adjustments to increase or decrease difficulty and intensity.

Insufficiently adapting the strength routine is a common mistake when the body adjusts to the same stimulus. A personal trainer’s advice can help you break through plateaus by introducing changes to your workout routine, nutrition, and recovery.

A plank on a stability ball.

#5: Keep It Interesting

Running is undoubtedly enjoyable, and the gym can be too! If you’re used to the exhilaration of mountain trails and high-speed runs, the gym might seem dull in comparison. However, picking up weights and doing exercises need not be boring.

Get emotionally invested in your progress to stay engaged and motivated. Additionally, consider working out with a friend who shares similar goals or joining an exercise class.

Final Thoughts

Running and strength training complement each other for optimal performance and injury prevention. Scientific evidence supports the effectiveness of strength training in reducing running injury risk.

Engaging in strength training 2-3 times per week is recommended, but even one session can yield benefits.

People celebrating in the gym.

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Ben is a qualified Personal Trainer and Sports Massage Therapist with a particular interest in running performance and injury. He has spent the last 9 years working with runners at his clinic in Brighton. Ben is a keen runner and avid cyclist. Evenly splitting his time between trail running, road biking, and MTB.

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