Strength Training & Running

How strength training could be the answer to preventing runners’ knee pain!

Strength training and running sit at opposing ends of the training spectrum. Typically, we either practice one or the other, perplexed by those that do both. You may even have heard the old adage, ‘I lift weights and running will only take away from my strength gains’ or ‘I don’t want to get too big by doing weights – it will affect my running’. However, it’s important to understand that whilst different, combining both practices offer direct benefits.

It’s well known amongst athletes that strength training is the gift that keeps on giving; improved muscular development, efficiency and power to be most pertinent. But were you aware that runners incorporating a basic strength program into their routine also benefit from:

  • A reduced risk of injury
  • Improved performance

Injuries are very common amongst both recreational and competitive runners, most often being in the knee and as a result of either, inflammation or acute trauma. Inflammation occurs primarily in response to exercise, typically reducing within 24 hours and acute trauma being a more serious issue requiring longer-term treatment. Although both issues are distinctly different, inflammation can lead to acute trauma and vice versa, but fortunately, with a little foresight, both are preventable. So, here’s another old adage for you, at least this one is explicitly correct, ‘prevention is better than the cure’. So why not hit the ground running and prevent these injuries from occurring? The solution is in our muscles.

Reducing the risk of injury
The key function of muscles is to produce force, which when applied to the tendons and ligaments creates limb movement. Each muscle needs to be strong enough to accept and transfer a person’s body weight (plus gravitational forces) and do so reliably at pace. Muscles unable produce enough force for the required movement can place increased stress on the tendons and ligaments, as the latter tissues are less pliable this can lead to injury. Fortunately, strength training not only improves the muscle’s ability to accept and produce force, but also stimulates the tendons to be more pliable. This allows the tendons to accept a greater degree of movement reducing the risk of injury to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints.

Improved Performance
In addition to reducing the risk of injury, strength training allows muscles to develop, increasing the amount of force it’s able to create. At its most basic level the more force a muscle is able to produce, the stronger it is and the faster it can move the limb. The ability of the muscle to accept (eccentric), transfer (Isometric/concentric) and produce (concentric) force will determine the speed of the movement. Applying more force in the correct direction will allow the person to run faster.

Improving coordination between muscles
Movement is initialised in the brain first and transferred to the limbs, repeating these motor patterns regularly leads to improved coordination between the central nervous system and the muscles. As improved coordination helps smooth these motor pathways, the muscles are able to fire at an elevated rate thus producing quicker movements. 

Biomechanics
Replicating running and movement patterns in the gym can also have a positive cross over, helping to improve technique. Through smart and specific programming, an athlete can work on areas that either need development or improve strength. Adding resistance or complexity to these exercises can improve the athlete’s ability to counter the imperfect movement patterns they may face during running.

The moral of the story is if you want to keep running long term you should incorporate strength training into your weekly programme. If you want to improve your running ability you should incorporate strength training into your weekly programme!

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