by Regina Stump, MS, CSCS
Strength Training is Necessary for Long Distance Running Goals!
Strength training. Resistance training. Weight training. What are the immediate thoughts (as a
runner) do you associate with these terms? It is a common idea that weight training is reserved
only for those who are trying to become bodybuilders, or have a specific quantifiable strength
oriented goal, a team sport athlete, those involved in physical therapy, or those attempting to
just be more fit in general. Can I let you in on a little secret…? Runners who JUST run, and fail to
prepare the strength of their bodies, are the MOST LIKELY to suffer from an overuse injury!!
So, let me help! Here are some truths about your body, your running endeavors, and how
strength training is a catalyst for success. When done in a periodized and progressive way,
strength training can serve to prevent injury, increase flexibility, improve anaerobic fitness,
improve neuromuscular control (balance/ body awareness/ joint alignment), and improve other
quality of life parameters (sleep/mood/ carrying out daily functions of life).
Here are some injuries that systematic strength training can prevent:
- Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome: oh, the front of my knee hurts
- IT Band Syndrome: my outer hip/outer knee hurts; snapping or popping over the greater trochanter
- Achilles Tendonitis: my heel feels like a painful and crunchy rubber band
- Plantar Fasciitis: where my arch meets my heel feels like a nail being driven into my foot
- Shin splints: shooting/throbbing pain up the shin with every step
- Stress fractures: just ouch
- Chronic Muscle Strain: my _____ muscle is always sore, I just adjust running intensity based on the pain on any given day
Although we cannot change some things that predispose us to injury (age, sex, bone density,
previous injury, running experience, and foot type), we have power to change the mileage and
the intensity that we put into training, and the gear that we utilize to aid the training (shoes,
braces, bands, etc).
For the vast number of injuries that runners may experience, it’s important to focus on the
UNDERLYING cause rather than the symptoms. So, what that means is, PREPARE. And when
something does flare up, trust me, it will, DO NOT KEEP PUSHING ON. It is better to take a “step
back”, to take a day or two off, to decrease mileage temporarily, than to surge forward and
ignore the signals that your body is trying to tell you. With time, those signals will intensify, and
the body will make you stop. And now, your goals are farther from reach than if you would
have taken care of the underlying issue as soon as it occurred.
Let’s step into the gym, and work on the purpose and type of muscular training, for the goals
- injury prevention
- increased muscle endurance
- increased strength and power output with each foot-strike
With these goals on the forefront for runners, we can progress with HOW strength training will
increase the likelihood of these goals.
- Endurance: the ability for a muscle to contract repeatedly and resist fatigue
- Hypertrophy: increasing the SIZE (not number) of muscle fibers
- Strength: the ability of a muscle to produce maximal force
- Power: maximal muscular contraction at high velocities (F=MA)
- Each element builds on each other
- Periodization to systematically improve the parameter, with emphasis being on the ones called upon for the sport specific goal
For runners embarking on a long distance event, training begins months in advance. Miles are
typically increased from week to week, and the same muscles called upon to run 15 miles in
week one are required to 30 miles just a few short weeks later, and more later on. The lower
leg muscles that control and move out ankles, knees, and hips, NEED to endure the hours of
stress that place on them as our demands continually increase. The ability of the muscles to
endure is a specific kind of strength training. With a base of endurance, a runner can improve
strength so lower limb joints and bones have enough tissue around them to support the long
hours of foot-strike after foot-strike.
Every time that your foot hits the ground, it exerts just a moment of force. By increasing the
amount of force you exert per foot-strike, you are more efficient! With each step taking you
farther, you can go farther with increased energy efficiency! Whatever strength capabilities
that you possess are directly translated into the power of each foot-strike.
Through progressive and systematic training, the body can adapt to the resistance and excess
weight that is placed upon it. As it adapts, it makes what used to be a “stress” into something
that is no longer “stressful”; and thus, we can increase a variable of training to improve an
aspect of endurance, strength, or power. The key here is how, and in what way, the loads are
applied to cause the performance increases! The body adapts to the loads and stresses that we
place it under, which can be good or bad!
I am almost done with my spiel, but even if you skimmed the earlier parts, do not miss these
- Muscles, bones, ligaments adapt to the varied stress we place them under
- How we strengthen our hips is highly indicative of the health of our knees and our ankles!
- Stressing a tissue or structure beyond it’s capabilities can result in injury/failure/overcompensation of another structure
- Balancing strength imbalances implies (1) muscular strength (2) efficient muscular activation patterns…aka TECHNIQUE (3) neural connection (4) ligamentous elasticity, [absorption – attenuation - of forces]
- More force being generated per muscle contraction
- Less force shear stress through bone
- Whole body awareness = strength and coordination; posture; daily life implications; resiliency!
- Strengthening the muscles requires a breakdown, but then a building back up!
- Strengthening muscles causes a stress – pulling vs pounding – on ligaments, tendons, and bones! This increases:
– Bone density
– Ligament elasticity
– Stretch shortening cycle
– Foot strike power and endurance
– Whole body strength and muscle coordination based upon neural connections
I desire all of those preparing for this amazing journey of preparing for the marathon and half
marathon to be as ready for race day as possible! Strength training is crucial to this preparation.
HOW the strength training is implemented is the a vital element. Allow me to help you on your
personal endeavor of the competition ahead of you!