Importance of Strength Training for High Mileage Runners

As your race approaches you ask yourself one question, “how do I get in all my miles and still have time to strength train?” When mileage gets high, most runners will drop strength training to make sure that they are getting in enough miles. This is when you start to feel a little stiff, a twinge or something starts to hurt, and the body breaks down. There are two types of runners—those who just run and the well-balanced athletes who cross-train/strength train. Those who strength train are usually stronger, suffer fewer injuries and reach new levels of performance over those who just run.

The stronger you are, the more your body can handle the demands of running. When your body is strong, it decreases the chance of injury and minimizes preexisting issues. A proper strength training program will improve structural weakness in muscle tissue and bone, and help to improve joint movement, which will decrease many common running injuries.

Of all the factors that can influence your running, strength training is the biggest. Strength training can impact your health, fitness level, and overall performance. But in some running circles, strength training is a dirty word. Runners have been taught that they just need to run or that strength training will “bulk” them up and slow them down. This is false.

A runner-specific strength training program is one of the best ways to use valuable training time while preparing for your race. Remember, you don’t have to spend countless hours training every muscle group individually, or lift so heavy that you can’t run for days.

How do I strength train during high mileage?

Strength training while in a high mileage phase doesn’t take much. You can participate in a park, parking lot or at home. Find a great place that will allow you to focus. Strength training can be added after a run, depending on the distance, effort, goal or training day. Here are five of my favorite movements that every runner should perform in their strength training program: squats, lunges, eccentric step dips, pushups, and planks. Please note that all exercises are best implemented into a strength program by an experienced strength coach.

  1. Squatting increases overall lower body strength while targeting the glutes. Body weight squats are a great way for runners to maintain their strength training during a high mileage phase. Squats can be performed in many different styles including body weight squats, back squats, front squats, goblet squats, overhead squats and split squat.
  2. Lunges improve unilateral strength if there are deficits as well as improve balance as we load one side at a time. They are also very good for change-of-direction activities. Runners typically stay and live in one plane of movement. Lunges force them out of that repetitive motion by performing lateral, rotational and reverse movements. This movement can be performed with multiple systems to get in more work in less time.
  3. Eccentric step dips are a great loading exercise that has a tremendous impact with little movement. Eccentric movement is the motion of an active muscle while under tension and is also referred to as brake contractions, negative work, or negatives. Step dips are performed by lowering the body from a single leg stance, against gravity. Your goal is to maintain a pelvic neutral position as well as maintain control as you lower your body from a park bench, curb or step. This can be performed in many different planes of movement.
  4. Pushups are one of the best exercises that can be done. Most are under the belief that the pushup is directly related to the upper body, chest and arms. That is correct, but keep in mind that if your core is not firing properly, neutral spine achieved, then this exercise is pointless. There are many types of pushups including neutral, incline, decline, plyometric and single arms types.
  5. Planks are a harder core activity than most people give them credit for. They are also one of the most improperly performed activities in gyms and homes across the country. The position that is optimal requires a neutral spine and pelvis, glutes to fire and the head neutral. After achieving this position for a duration of 90 seconds, think about adding movement and changing position. Here are some examples of the many types of planks that can be completed: prone planks, plank reaches with arms, plank leg drivers, side planks and roman twists (prone position to side plank).

In summary, a well-designed strength training program will take an oft injured, slower athlete and make them a faster, healthier athlete. Focus on the hips and glutes, but don’t neglect the other systems as they too have importance with the sport of running. When mileage gets high, stay true to your strength program as it will keep you from falling victim to over-use injuries and help you ultimately race FASTer.

If you are a runner searching for the right strength training program to fit your needs, please contact your local Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training facilty for more information.

Kyle Decker

ATC, CSCS | Kyle enjoys helping athletes of all competition levels reach their goals. He has worked with the Phoenix Suns, Major League Baseball teams, and high school athletes and spent two years in Minor League Baseball. Glendale location

Foothills Acceleration and Sports Training (FAST) is empowered by Foothills Therapy Partners (FTP).