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Strategic Strength Training for Runners

Strategic Strength Training For Runners Dr Lauren LaPierre Run Tri Bike

Strength training for runners is integral but it should be strategic and not just haphazard. The laundry list of benefits include but are not limited to an increase in speed, power, reaction time, muscular endurance, improved form & running efficiency. All while reducing the risk of injuries!

The Importance of Strategic Strength Training For Runners

In last month’s article we went over:

  • How & When to Strength Train? 
  • How to Schedule in Strength Training? 
  • Should I Run or Strength Training First ?
  • How Often & How Long Do Strength Training Sessions Need to Be?
  • And Won’t Strength Training make me Big, Bulky & Slow? 

Defensive Strength Training: Preparing for Race Day

But how does strength training and exercise selection differ when training for a specific race versus when in a maintenance or base building phase of training? 

When a runner has a specific goal race on the calendar, regardless of if the goal is simply to complete the race or complete it within a certain time, exercise selection for strength training needs to shift. 

The goal of strength training here is to maintain strength and protect your body leading up to race day. Runners essentially need to go on the defensive with their strength training choices, to ensure they stay strong and healthy without delaying recovery or impacting workouts. 

Runners can continue to lift heavy, but they are potentially not lifting as heavy as they were during the base building phase to prevent excessive fatigue and soreness as this can delay recovery time and impact energy available for key workouts. 

Choosing the Right Exercises: A Defensive Approach

Exercise selection also changes to prioritize musculotendinous and joint health. Utilizing isometric and eccentric focused exercises improves musculotendinous resiliency, increases muscle recruitment and aids in offloading joint impact forces with activities like running!  For runners that don’t know what these type of exercises are, isometric exercises are where you create and generate muscle tension without any length change in the muscle i.e. Isometric Wall Sit. An eccentric exercise is where the muscle lengthens and loads under tension and resistance i.e. Single Leg Step Downs. 

My recommendation to runners during this time is to stick with what you know & fall back on the basics. This is not the time to try a new program or routine. This is the time to do basic movements that you are familiar and comfortable with, that you can utilize to support your training to keep you healthy through race day.  Being more selective with your exercise selection during this phase of training will help to eliminate risk as volume and intensity builds. 

The race distance and length of your training cycle influences when a runner has to switch to a defensive strength training mindset. The shorter the race and training cycle, the less time you must spend in defensive strength training. The longer the race and training cycle, the more time will be spent in defensive strength training. And just like with running, strength training also has a taper phase leading up to race day to maximize energy available for recovery and race day performance. Specifics on these factors again depend upon race distance, length of training cycle as well as athletic experience. 


Transitioning to Offensive Strength Training

Now what if you just completed your A race for the year and have no other races on the horizon? Or you are shifting your focus to slowly building a greater aerobic base over the next 3-6 months. 

Welcome to the off season or offensive strength training. During this phase of training, strength training can be a bit more flexible and experimental because you have no races or big goals immediately coming up. So fatigue and soreness post strength training is okay as well as longer recovery times post workout. Runners are also encouraged to try new types of strength training styles  i.e. CrossFit, Olympic lifts, or Powerlifting, and different types of exercises i.e. plyometrics, speed, agility drills, and power training. This is also the perfect time of the year for runners to cross train via team sports like soccer, softball, ultimate frisbee etc. 

Embracing Experimentation in the Off-Season

I encourage experimentation during this phase of training as it builds athleticism and decreases risk of burnout in our sport by diversifying our interests, hobbies and building a bigger community of support. Taking time to experiment & have fun with strength training decreases the pressure we put on ourselves from a performance standpoint and improves consistency over time. Which ironically has been shown to improve performance and longevity for runners.

This is also the time during which runners can prioritize lifting heavy without fear of it impacting their performance. Any speed workouts being performed during this phase of training are for building fitness and fun, not for the specific intent of hitting objective paces for a specific time outcome. And again during this period of time, it is okay to experience an increase in muscle soreness lasting 24-48 hours after strength training. Scheduling a run or even speed workout after a strength training session, whether on the same day or following day, will further build aerobic and muscular endurance, which is typically the only goal from a base building phase of training. 

The Benefits of Building Muscle in Off-Season Training

But the main goal of this phase of strength training is to put on some additional muscle mass to help support you once in a training cycle or racing season because, despite popular belief, there are endurance benefits to building bigger muscles! An increase in muscle mass increases glycogen storage availability, which is the main fuel source for long hard endurance efforts. So having bigger muscles will allow for more fuel availability come race day and will ultimately help runners run longer and faster when in the race season. 

Building a Stronger, Faster, and Healthier You

So try something new, mix it up, have fun with your training and get out of your comfort zone! Don’t let fear of injury prevent you from challenging yourself & enjoying movement during this phase of training! And don’t worry if anything gets achy or uncomfortable because there’s time to adjust and build back stronger before heading into a training cycle! 

Looking for more guidance on runner specific strength training? Check out my program PR STRONG! Different levels available for all experience levels and for different phases of training! Email to learn more! Next round launches June 2024!

Dr Lauren LaPierre The Personalized Running Doc

Dr. Lauren LaPierre is a doctor of physical therapy by trade, runner rehab specialist and running coach!

Dr. Lauren personally has over a decade of competitive running experience, competing throughout high school and later for the University of Rhode Island as a Division I athlete. Her personal journey with running is the reason she went to PT school and later started her business, The Personalized Running Doc.

Her mission is to help other runner’s overcome training related injuries when all else has failed, empowering them to continue running for themselves and crushing their goals as they do. Since 2020, her comprehensive personalized approach and hybrid training model has helped runners all over the world return to running pain free and reach their maximum running potential!