Progression is key when it comes to running and strength training. You can’t continually do the same mileage or exercises and expect better results. Most runners understand this and do a great job building mileage in preparation for their goal race. But, it becomes a little more clouded on the strength training side of things.
Since it’s easy to become comfortable or even stagnant with your strength training program, there are a few concepts I want to introduce…
Progressive overload is very similar to what you do when preparing for a 5k, half marathon or full marathon. You patiently and progressively follow a running plan for 12-18 weeks (or more) to improve the body’s tolerance to a given distance. This helps prepare you for the race so you can run it successfully without overloading the body. The same approach needs to be taken into consideration with your strength training program.
To follow this concept with your strength training, a few variables can be manipulated to see positive results. They include: increasing repetitions, increasing sets, increasing resistance, modifying the speed of movement (faster or slower), modifying the range of motion (less or more), increasing the stability component, progressing the movement, etc. All of those things can be changed in some way to increase demand on the body.
Since approximately 80% of runners get injured each and every year, there is this influx of physical therapy type exercises in the performance world. It is still good to complete corrective exercises to fine tune your weak links and resolve any imbalances. But at a certain point, performing these same exercises for months or years on end won’t provide enough of a stimulus to elicit a positive response. That’s why progressing the movement and somehow increasing the demand on the body is needed for sustainable results.
Single leg loading needs to be a priority when it comes to strength training for runners. Running requires bounding from one leg to the other. Therefore, you must be strong, stable, and resilient enough to withstand these forces for your given mileage. This is usually where I see a big disconnect in runner’s programs.
Let me ask you…
- Are ground-based strengthening exercises enough to bridge the gap to running? No.
- Will exercises on two legs translate to the single leg demand of running? No.
Obviously, there may be a few exceptions as there are with everything. But typically those will provide little carryover to running. Therefore, getting upright and into split stance or single leg stance is not only recommended but necessary to be a successful runner. This will help your body be more tolerant to the loads of running, and thus increase performance and reduce overloading the body.
Lastly, plyometrics are essential to teach the body how to efficiently create and absorb energy and promote healthy tendons. This is a path that many runners don’t venture down, either because it’s confusing or they are afraid of getting hurt.
If you reflect back on running, it requires energy storage and release when bounding from one leg to the other. This is quite demanding on the musculotendinous unit and therefore needs to be trained so people are ready to handle these forces. Incorporating various jumping, landing, and plyometric-like exercises can be very advantageous when programmed properly. And I’m not talking about some of that crazy stuff you see on instagram. It can be as simple as repetitive jumps in place, jumps with emphasis on landing, hopping, and much more.
Next, I want to elaborate by sharing an exercise that fits within each category mentioned above. Following each exercise is a suitable progression that would be very helpful in seeing better results with your strength training program. These exercises include:
- Progressive Overload: Clam Shells —> Modified Lateral Elbow Stabilization/Lateral Elbow Stabilization
- Single Leg Loading: Squats —> Split Squat ISO Hold, Split Squats
- Plyometrics: Calf Raises —> Ankle Hops
Take a second and put it all together by watching this video which discusses the 3 exercises that are no longer helping you, as well as a progression to really take your running to the next level.
If you have any questions about how to safely and effectively progress your strength training program, please click here to reach out directly.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART