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How strength training can make you a better runner

When we want to improve running performance, the natural assumption is to simply run more.

While increasing your distance is of course essential for building endurance and cardiovascular fitness, simply just running more could lead to problems.

People often run to get fit, but they should be getting fit to run. We need to physically prepare ourselves in order to prevent injury and improve overall running performance.

If you haven't built the right running foundation, you're going to compromise your muscles, tendons and ligaments, and probably end up injured.

Whether you’re new to running or have been pounding the pavements for years, here’s how strength training can make you a better runner.

Prevents injuries

If you’re a keen runner, you’ve probably come to accept that injuries come with the territory. This really doesn’t have to be the case.

If you’re often nursing an injury, this could be due to a weakness in your kinetic chain, hip flexors or leg muscles. It could also be that you’re simply overtraining. Incorporating regular weight sessions into your weekly routine can help combat these issues.

  • Building strong muscles in your legs allows them to absorb more of the force that occurs when you strike the ground. This results in less damage to your bones, joints and ligaments.

  • Strong muscles and connective tissues which develop as a result of strength training can help prevent injuries.

  • If you increase your strength, you’ll also improve joint stability, thus reducing your risk of repetitive stress injuries.

  • Weight training strengthens the muscles around the hips and knees – two areas that often cause problems for runners.

  • If you’re running too much, you significantly increase your risk of injury. By doing a couple strength sessions a week, you can still train while giving your body a chance to recover from running.

Why not try some of these single-leg exercises? They’re great for building strength and addressing muscle imbalances. When you're ready to progress, here are some more challenging single-leg exercises.

Strength training can make you a faster runner

Incorporating weights into your exercise routine has been proven to increase running speed and VO2 max. The reason for this is because your muscles don’t need to expend as much energy to hit a certain pace.

We use our legs to propel ourselves forward when we run, so it makes sense that the stronger they are, the easier this is going to be. Regular weight sessions also encourage coordination and stride efficiency which greatly improves running economy.

An impressive benefit of regular strength training is that it forces our brain to alter its neural recruitment pattern. This means that our bodies will use the most fatigue-resistant muscle fibres during exercise so we exert less energy overall. For a runner this can lead to longer and faster runs.

Builds a strong core

When we run, our abdominal and back muscles fire up to stabilise our spine. Strengthening your core and all the muscles that surround and support the spine, provides a solid foundation for everyday activities and can also help your legs grow stronger.

Additionally, the stronger your core, the more solid you are as you hit the ground. This reduces the need for unnecessary stabilisation and allows you to become a more economical runner.

Here are some simple core exercises which target all the different abdominal muscles. Again, once you're ready to progress, here are some more advanced core exercises.

Strengthens the hip flexors

If you want to run faster or further, you need greater strength endurance – especially in the hip flexor muscles.

Your hip flexors are what enable you to drive the thigh forward while running. Not being able to do this efficiently leads to a shorter stride length and is actually the number one reason for slowing down. By strengthening the hip flexor muscles, you will enhance your running performance greatly.

Don’t forget about your arms

It’s tempting for runners to focus solely on training their lower body but working out the arms is just as important.

Arm drive is a bigger part of running that you probably realise. The next time you head out, don’t use your arms at all for a minute or two. It will feel very strange and you’ll find it incredibly difficult to run.

As our legs start to get tired, we use our arms even more, so we need them to be nice and strong. Building a strong upper body will also help you maintain good form. A stable, upright posture can increase endurance, improve lung capacity and reduce oxygen requirement. This means that you’ll be able to run faster while using the same amount of energy.

If you’re looking for inspiration for strength training workouts, please head to my YouTube channel or Instagram page.

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