10 Strength Training Tips For Runners, By A Sports Therapist

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As a sport, running is littered with injuries, and it doesn’t need to be.

Incorporating a consistent and well-planned strength training routine into your schedule is absolutely essential to longevity and performance.

A staggering 80% of running injuries may be down to overuse, and strength training can directly combat that.

Strength training improves the body’s ability to withstand the physical stress experienced by it whilst running.

Not only can strength training reduce our risk of injury, but it can also greatly improve running efficiency and performance.

So why do so few of us do it?

In this article, we will go over 10 strength training tips to ensure you are getting the most out of your workouts.

Let’s jump in!

A person doing a lunge.

10 Strength Training Tips For Runners

#1: Don’t Sacrifice Form For Weight

Your form doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is important.

Performing exercises with the correct form is important for several reasons, including reducing the risk of injury, maximizing the effectiveness of the exercise, and ensuring that the targeted muscles are being properly engaged.

It is easy to let our ego get the better of us and pick up a weight that is way beyond our capabilities. In order to lift it, we have to sacrifice our form, thus greatly increasing our risk of injury.

While it’s important to strive for proper form, we should recognize that there may be some variations in form that are acceptable based on individual anatomy, mobility, and other factors.

For example, you don’t need to get perfectly parallel before performing a squat with weight on the bar; how low down you go depends upon your mobility and comfort level.

A person doing a kettlebell squat.

#2: Understand The Progressive Overload Principle

Gradually increasing weight and intensity during strength training is a well-established principle based on the science of muscle adaptation.

It is a core principle of any strength routine.

When you lift weights, you create small micro-tears in the muscle fibers. During the recovery period after your workout, your body repairs these micro-tears, making your muscles stronger and better able to handle the load next time.

We provide a stimulus, and the body reacts and adapts.

To continue seeing progress and building strength, it’s important to progressively overload your muscles by gradually increasing the weight and intensity of your workouts over time. This gradual increase places consistent and controlled stress on your muscles, which forces them to adapt and grow stronger.

If you were to start with a heavy weight right away, your muscles would not have enough time to adapt and recover, which could lead to injury or burnout. Additionally, starting with too much weight can lead to poor form, which can also increase the risk of injury.

By gradually increasing weight and intensity, you give your muscles time to adapt and recover while also improving your form and reducing the risk of injury. This allows you to make steady progress toward your strength training goals over time.

It is a marathon, not a sprint. Trust the process, and keep turning up!

A pull-up.

#3: Utilise Compound Exercises

Compound exercises are exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Examples include squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and pull-ups.

Compound exercises are highly effective; they engage multiple muscle groups at once, improving functional fitness, muscle recruitment, hormonal response, and joint stability.

Functional fitness is key for runners, and compound exercises mimic real-life movements, making them more functional and practical than isolation exercises. They help improve coordination, balance, and overall athleticism.

Isolation exercises have an important part to play, particularly when rehabbing injuries and addressing muscle imbalances.

You are also more likely to elicit a larger hormonal response than when performing isolation exercises.

People taking a walk in nature.

#4: Don’t Skip Rest Days

We’ve all heard you shouldn’t skip leg day. But sometimes rest is more important.

Rest is crucial for allowing your muscles to recover and grow stronger. Make sure to schedule rest days and stick to them.

Our bodies don’t get stronger in the gym. They get stronger when we rest and recover. When we are fully recovered, we perform better.

Rest days give us a mental break too. If you are in the midst of a demanding training schedule, having to work out each day places a toll on the mind.

If you are training for a specific race, the gravity of running it can be quite daunting. Being able to switch off completely gives us the space to think about other things and enjoy time with family or friends.

Rest doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on the sofa watching Netflix, although it can if that’s what you want to do.

Going for a walk in nature is a great way to remain active without causing any stress on the body or mind.

Someone working with a personal trainer.

#5: Consider Working With A Personal Trainer

Whether you want to train at the gym or at home, having a professional who can guide you can be extremely beneficial.

They can take an objective look at how your body is responding to a certain weight and training volume and make necessary adjustments to increase or decrease difficulty and intensity.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is insufficiently adapting their strength routine once their body has adjusted to a certain stimulus.

Advice from a personal trainer can help you break through a plateau by incorporating changes to your workout routine, nutrition, and recovery.

#6: Set Realistic Goals

If running is your main goal, then your strength program should complement it, not hinder it.

Realistic goals shouldn’t be uninspiring. When you set goals that are achievable, you’re more likely to stay motivated and committed to achieving them.

You can gradually increase your strength while focusing on running, but if you want to double your max deadlift by the end of the year whilst training for an ultramarathon, you may find one of those goals suffers due to injury or burnout.

Setting realistic goals also allows you to better organize your time. This allows you to efficiently and effectively get results.

People high-fiving at the gym.

#7: Make It Fun

Running is undeniably fun, at least most of the time. The gym can be too!

If you are used to flowing down a mountain trail at high speeds, with the wind in your hair and adrenaline coursing through your veins, the gym can seem a bit dull.

Picking up a weight and performing an exercise for a set amount of repetitions doesn’t have to be boring!

Be sure to set goals and celebrate achievements. Get emotionally invested in your progress to keep yourself engaged.

You can also try working out with a friend with similar goals or joining an exercise class. Working out with others turns the experience into a social event, allowing us to motivate each other and try new exercises.

#8: Listen To Your Body

Pay attention to how your body feels during and after your workouts. If something doesn’t feel right or you experience pain, you may need to modify or stop the exercise and talk to a professional for guidance.

It may be a lingering injury or a sign of overtraining.

Only you know the intricacies of your own life, which is why it is so important to listen to your body. As a PT, I have coached many clients over the years, and sometimes results dip for seemingly no reason. It is only when you dig a little deeper that things become clearer.

Work stress, family stress, and bereavement, among many other factors, will take a toll both mentally and physically. Be sure to hold a compassionate space for yourself; it is okay to take some time off if you need to.

You can get back to the gym next week!

A person doing a deadlift.

#9: Lift Heavy

It is commonly thought that in order for runners to see an improvement in running performance, they should be incorporating low-weight, high-repetition exercises at the gym.

This is a myth! Low-repetition, heavy exercises have been shown to provide the most benefits.

Heavy is a relative term, so you need to work out what weights are right for you. Try performing 3 sets of six repetitions; by the sixth rep, you should be grateful there’s not a seventh!

Both forms of training have their benefits and should be included in our training. Just be sure to include heavy sessions too!

A person sleeping.

#10: Sleep At Least 7-9 Hours A Night

The science is very clear on this one. Unless you are getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night, you are doing your body a disservice, and it will be affecting your running performance.

By prioritizing good sleep habits, runners can improve their performance, reduce the risk of injury, and optimize their overall health and well-being.

Sleep is essential for recovery; during sleep, your body produces growth hormone, which is crucial for repairing and rebuilding tissues that have been damaged during exercise.

Studies have shown that lack of sleep can impair athletic performance, leading to decreased reaction time, reduced accuracy, and slower recovery times. Even small reductions in sleep can have a significant impact on athletic performance.

Consistency is key when it comes to maximizing the benefits that you get from sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day can help regulate your body’s internal clock, leading to a more restful and better quality of sleep.

Keep these strength training tips in mind for your next strength training session to get the very best out of your workout.

If you are looking for where to start, check out our guide to the Ultimate Strength Training Plan For Runners.

Two people doing dumbbell lunges.
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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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