If you are an endurance athlete—specifically a runner—there’s a good chance you’re rehabilitating a recent injury. Research shows that up to 56 percent of runners suffer an injury in any given year, one that keeps them out of training for a period of time. Of these injuries, up to 75 percent are due to overuse—in other words, no contact. This is an alarming number, because non-traumatic injuries are almost entirely preventable.
This is where strength training for runners comes into play. A key to preventing overuse injuries is to implement a well-balanced, well-thought-out training regimen that includes strength, endurance and mobility/stability training.
Of the three, strength training tends most often to be left on the back burner. Many endurance athletes devote five to seven days a week to training for their event, which leaves them little time for strength training. Others fear strength training will leave them heavy, tight and slow. Combine this with a daily school schedule or a 9-to-5 desk job and you have a recipe for ITB strains, plantar fasciitis and many other common overuse injuries.
Endurance athletes who follow a strength and conditioning program that addresses these qualities can expect to see a reduced chance of injury as well as an increase in their performance.
Lifting heavy is relative to the athlete’s training age, but experienced athletes should aim to keep their core lifts (Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, etc.) under 5 reps and their accessory exercises (Lunges, Step-Up, Incline Press, etc.) under 10 reps. These rep ranges are ideal for increasing recruitment and firing rate of the muscles’ motor units. Lifting with too light a load will not stress the body enough to elicit these adaptations.
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The average ground contact time for the typical runner is between 0.16 and 0.3 seconds. In this time, the athlete must decelerate his or her body from the force of the previous stride, bring it to an instantaneous stop, and generate an explosive muscle contraction to propel the body forward into the next stride.
The dynamic nature of these movements requires that their training mimics their explosiveness. Adding a plyometric program is a great way for runners to learn to absorb, store and produce larger amounts of force.
When doing these exercises, it’s important to keep sets short and take ample recovery time to keep the quality of movement high. Generally, sets should last less than 10 seconds with 2 to 5 minutes of rest between.
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Endurance athletes should strength train a minimum of twice a week. The sessions should be short and sweet, lasting only 30-45 minutes. Their focus should be multi-joint exercises (Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, etc.) with minimal time spent on isolated movements (Tricep Extension, Bicep Curl, Hamstring Curl, etc.).
During the off-season, athletes can and should increase their strength training to three or four times per week. During this time, they can also increase their workout duration to 45-60 minutes to allow for extra sets to improve their strength and to rehab any chronic injuries.
- Van Mechelen W., “Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature.” Sports Med. 14(5) (1992). 320-35. Pub. Med. 30 July 2014.
- Garmin. “Ground Contact.” Garmin, 2014. 3 August 2014.