Not all runners love the idea of strength training. It might be a little confusing or daunting, it might be challenging to fit it in. Perhaps there is worry about it making you too sore for a run or you’re unsure what benefit it might add.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions we get from runners about strength training.

Should runners stretch or strengthen?

What will strength training add to my running that running doesn’t do on its own?

Strength training can have a positive effect on your tissues (muscles, ligaments, bones, joints, cartilage) and can improve their capacity to tolerate your running load.

Performing strength training can improve muscle strength, your running economy and therefore performance. It may also reduce the risk of overloading (overuse) type running injuries. However, there are some things running can’t do: Strength training doesn’t necessarily improve your running biomechanics or technique. Running is a skill, so practicing that skill means you will likely get better at it.

How often should I add in strength training for it to be of benefit?

Performing strength training 2 times a week for a minimum of 6 weeks is sufficient to show benefit. But an 8-12week program shows larger improvement. So, ideally strength training is used to improve strength when preparing for a specific training block, then maintained throughout that block, and perhaps reduced closer to competition or races.

How heavy should I lift for it to be beneficial?

Currently the evidence suggests that a combination of strength and plyometric (power) type exercises provide the most benefit to a runner. If you are experienced in strength training, you would aim to lift heavy to improve strength, at approximately 80% or more of your 1RM (3-6 sets of 3-6 reps). However, this is not where everyone would start.

What if I am new to strength training?

One simple idea is to pick a weight that is hard to lift 10 times, then repeat that for 3 sets. Over time, you can lift heavier and naturally reduce your repetitions.

However, being assessed by an experienced health professional or strength coach can be a great place to start. Having an individualised program developed for you can address any specific deficits (weaknesses) you may have on assessment, and focus on muscle groups specific to runners.

What muscle groups should I focus on as a runner?

Think of the major muscle groups that help to absorb and produce force during running. Something for your calves, quads, hamstrings, gluteals and core would be great.

“Compound” exercises involving multiple joints and muscle groups like squats, lunges and dead lifts are recommended. However, more isolated exercises like calf raises, leg extensions or leg curls can be important if you have specific deficits (weaknesses).

Will strength training make my muscles too big for running?

In short, no. Strength and hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) are dosed differently, e.g. different reps and sets with different resistance. Also, endurance running training and strength training have opposite effects at a cellular level, therefore cancelling out the hypertrophy that may normally occur. However, it has been reported that having larger proximal muscles like gluteals and hamstrings may benefit propulsion in running and improve overall running performance.

How do I ensure that I don’t get sore for my training run the next day?

Allow adequate recovery between strength sessions and running e.g. at least 6-8hrs, and up to 24hrs if running training is intensive. Lift the correct reps, sets and weight for what you are trying to achieve e.g. endurance, strength, or power. Keep an eye on your intensity: Ideally keep 1-3 repetitions in reserve and do not lift until failure. For example, if the maximum number of times you can lift a weight in a lunge is 12, you might stop at 10 reps.

Do I have to go to a gym?

A gym will allow you to lift heavier by using some of the machines and gym equipment.
However, you can absolutely perform a challenging strength program from home which doesn’t involve machines. For example, you might focus on more single leg exercises at home and use dumbbells or resistance bands to increase difficulty.

If you need help implementing a strength program alongside your running training, get in touch with our running physio team at Complete who will be more than happy to help.

  • Written by Ni’ia Jones

    Ni’ia is a physiotherapist and Pilates instructor who graduated from Otago University in New Zealand in 2007. With a wealth of experience gained from working in clinics across New Zealand, the UK, and Australia, Ni’ia specialises in treating a variety of conditions such as lower limb injuries, back pain, and pre/postnatal clients. Ni’ia strongly believes in a collaborative approach to rehabilitation, placing great value on clear education, guidance, and the power of humour to help clients perform at their best.