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Strength Training: The Secret to Running Injury Free

Gnarly Clinics

Strength Training: The Secret to Running Injury Free


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Preston Johnson

Preston will focus on common misconceptions runners have with strength training, why strength training is essential for runners, how common running injuries can be prevented through strength training, and how to fit strength training into your training plan.

In This Clinic


  • 17 well-trained runners (8 male, 9 females) were randomly assigned to two different groups
  • Both groups continued endurance training for 8 weeks, and the intervention group also had prescribed strength training

  • Study conducted by ACSM

Control Group

Intervention Group

  • No added strength training exercises
  • Half squats were prescribed 3 times a week
  • 4 sets of 4 rep max


  • 1RM increased by 33.2%

  • Running Economy increased by 5.0%

  • Time to exhaustion at max aerobic speed increased by 21.3%

  • No significant weight gain!

Common Misconceptions Runners Have About Strength Training

  • Bulking up
  • Not enough time
  • Light weight and high reps for endurance athletes

Will Endurance Athletes Bulk Up From Lifting?


Since runners expend so many calories and so much energy with the amount of time they spend running, there is little risk of bulking up. Runners would have to increase their calorie consumption almost drastically to gain weight and bulk.

How Much Time Do You Need for Strength Training?

  • Not much time. It is better to start lower and build up.
  • A goal would be:
    • 30 minutes 2-3 times a week
    • 5-6 exercises
    • 2-3 sets

Light Weight/High Reps or High Weights/Low Reps?

  • 2 main energy systems


    • Anaerobic system (without oxygen)


      • ATP PC, lasts 8-10 seconds


      • Lactic system, lasts 30-120 seconds


    • Aerobic system (with oxygen)


  • As runners, what systems are we primarily using?


    • Marathon - 99% aerobic


    • 10k - 94% aerobic


    • 5k - 80% aerobic


    • Mile - 50% aerobic

Raising Your Ceiling

So since runners use their aerobic system primarily during running workouts, it’s important to train the anaerobic system during strength training.


Increasing the weight you can push will help you raise the ceiling of your aerobic capacity, though that increase does bottom out the closer you get to the ceiling.

Why Strength Training is Important for Runners

Injury Prevention

Improved Performance

  • Why do runners get injured?
    • When we run and lift, we are breaking our muscles, and we need that recovery in order to recover them.
  • Neural Adaptations
    • Our nervous system
  • Muscle Hypertrophy
    • Increase in muscle size
  • Improved Running Economy

Improved Performance

Neural Adaptations
Muscle Hypertrophy
Running Economy
  • Immediate training benefits
  • Synchronized motor unit firing
  • Ability to recruit motor units
  • Muscle balance
  • Eliminating the weak link
  • Lower aerobic cost at faster pace

How to Incorporate Strength Training into Your Running Plan

  • Easy and Hard Days
    • “Keep your easy days easy and your hard days hard”

Prioritizing Elements of Your Training

  • We strength train to become better athletes
  • We become better runners by running.
  • Make sure the balance is there:
    • Increasing mileage or increase/introduce strength training

How Strength Training Can Prevent Common Running Injuries

Shin splints and lower leg stress fractures

  • Any pain surrounding shin bone/tibia.
  • Common causes:
    • When it’s not properly strengthened and is overloaded during running and can’t absorb the shock
  • Strength training exercises:
    • Front pain:
      • Farmer’s carry on heels
    • Middle/back pain:
      • Calf raises
      • Bent knee calf raises

Achilles Tendinitis

  • Common causes:
    • Similar to shin splints - it is not properly strengthened or recovered
  • Strength training exercises:
    • Calf raises
    • Bent knee calf raises

Patellar Tendinitis

  • Common causes:
    • Imbalanced quad strength or lack of strength in one of the four quad muscles
  • Strength training exercises:
    • Squats
    • Lunges
    • Knee extension exercises

Running Gait Instability

  • Common causes:
    • Over-pronation - rolling inwards of your foot
    • Supination - rolling outwards of your foot
  • Strength training exercises:
    • Have a resistance band tethered to a table and to your foot and do eversion and inversion movements of the foot and ankle

IT Band Syndrome

  • Common causes:
    • The IT band is a small muscle, can be easily fatigued
  • Strength training exercises:
    • Strengthen your glute muscles
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