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Strength training for runners

A Message to the Runners

Dear Runners (long and short distance),

I am writing this message to discuss a very important topic that is close to my heart as a physiotherapist and runner. This topic has a rich body of evidence supporting its utility for improving running performance and reducing the risk of running related injuries… yet it is commonly overlooked and often dismissed.

What is the topic?

Strength training for runners.

I know what many of you are thinking:

- Strength training makes me bulky and I’ll put on weight

- Strength training makes me sore and ruins my runs

- Strength training involves going to a gym (I hate going to the gym)

- Strength training leads to injury

- I don’t have time for strength training

Before I address this barrier, let's discuss the current literature on this topic.

Show me the evidence (performance):

Numerous studies have looked at the correlation of a well-structured strength program and running performance. In one study, where patients performed 4 sets of squats 3x per week for 8 weeks, they found considerable improvements in muscular power, running economy and time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speeds (1).

Another study incorporating an 8 week strengthening program found significant improvements in high intensity running neuromuscular control (2).

In a 2017 systematic review (3) it was found that strength training led to improvements in:

- running economy

- time trial speed

- maximal sprint speed

- VO2 max

So what should I strengthen?

Dorn et al in 2014 (4) examined the muscle forces when running compared to body weight. As you can see the Soleus muscle (a big muscle underneath the gastrocs in the calf) are responsible for taking 6.5-8x body weight every stride. So we cannot neglect this muscle group. Whilst the hip muscles (gluteal) absorb BW force they are also critical for stability and knee alignment.

In a future post I will share my favourite exercises and how to perform them.

Show me the evidence (injury risk reduction):

Another systematic review that looked at the effectiveness of strength programs found that sporting injuries could be reduced by over 30% and overuse injuries almost halved (5).

With so many running injuries being related to overuse (i.e. ITBS, patellofemoral pain, Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome) it is critical to at least trial a strength program.

Common thoughts:

- Strength training makes me bulky and I’ll put on weight

This is not true. Eating more calories than you burn will lead to weight gain (calorie surplus) and hence ‘bulking up’ but strength training itself will not. Strength training can improve body composition, reduce fat and improve lean muscle mass.

- Strength training makes me sore and ruins my runs

This may be true with poor programming and incorrect technique but this should not be a barrier. It is often recommended to perform strengthening exercises 24 hours before a light run (and to minimise strength training on the same day as a hard run). Speak to one of our physiotherapists about how to incorporate a strength program.

- Strength training involves going to a gym (I hate going to the gym)

The gym is great for exercise options and loading up with weights and machines. It is not always necessary though. A good program can be completed from home… you may just need to be creative with how to add weight.

- Strength training leads to injury

Despite many thoughts that injuries occur from strength training this is simply not true either. If exercises are performed appropriately they are rarely the cause of injury – if anything they are protective (as discussed above).

- I don’t have time for strength training

OK I understand, time is money. It’s a finite resource that we all wish we could have more of. But including 2-3 sessions of 30 minutes training can have significant benefits on performance and reducing injury. That’s only 60-90 minutes per week. I know how I would prioritise my time.

Still don’t believe in strength training? I’d love to hear from you.

Kind Regards,


Marna Physio

The team at Marna physio are equipped with the skills and resources to form and develop a personalised strengthening program that meets your needs. Book in today for a consultation!


1. Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. & Hayes, P.R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med.

2. Mikkola, J., Vesterinen, V., Taipale, R., Capostagno, B., Häkkinen, K., & Nummela, A. (2011). Effect of resistance training regimens on treadmill running and neuromuscular performance in recreational endurance runners. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(13), 1359-1371.

3. Beattie, K, Carson, BP, Lyons, M, Rossiter, A, and Kenny, IC (2017). The effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. J Strength Cond Res 31(1): 9–23.

4. Schache, A. G., Dorn, T. W., Williams, G. P., Brown, N. A., & Pandy, M. G. (2014). Lower-limb muscular strategies for increasing running speed. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 44(10), 813-824.

5. Lauersen, Andersen & Andersen, Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis 2018

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