The Importance of Strength Training for Runners

Written by; Zach Perversi (Accredited Exercise Physiologist)

A common belief held by runners is that the only way to improve running performance is to spend countless grueling hours running around a track or circuit, or to perform endless hill sprints.

While time spent running is an important component, there are other modes of exercise that may be incorporated in order to maximize your running and sprinting ability. Whether you are an established runner, a weekend warrior or a newbie, the evidence is overwhelmingly positive on the role of a structured strength training program for improved running performance.

Strength training exposes the body to a stimulus that increases running power, running economy and injury resilience.  While strength training alone will not transform you into an elite runner, it will certainly complement your running performance as part of a well-rounded training plan. 

There are several ways which strength training will enhance your running performance.

  1. Strength Training Increases Running Economy

Running economy refers to the amount of energy that is required to run at a given speed. With an improved running economy, athletes will be able to sustain higher intensities of running for a longer period.

The current literature shows a large beneficial effect of strength training on running performance, with strength training programs of 8-12 weeks in duration enough of a stimulus to produce significant effects on running economy – Athletes were able to maintain the same running pace while utilising 3 to 4 percent less oxygen. (1)

2. Strength Training Improves Running Power

Sprinting and high-speed running relies heavily on your body’s ability to produce power. Power refers to your body exerting a maximal force in a short period of a time. In other words, power is the product of force and velocity.

Strength training, particularly of the lower limbs, increases your ability to produce and exert force into the ground in order to propel the body forward. Strength training programs as short as 6 weeks have been shown to elicit significant improvements in sprinting performance. (2)

running injuries

3. Strength Training Prevents Injuries

Due to the demands of sprinting and endurance running and the stress that is placed on your muscles and joints, overloaded tissues and structures frequently result in injury. Strength training exposes the structures of the body to stresses that mimic and exceed the demands of running.

 Strength training therefore allows your body to adapt and super compensate to tolerate these stresses more effectively. It is well documented that an effective strength training program will increase your injury resilience and significantly reduces your chance of common running injuries (3)

The research strongly supports the benefits of strength training for running performance.  However it is important to note these benefits are only unlocked with a tailored and structured strength training program.  Each athlete and novice runner have individual biomechanical and postural differences. 

A tailored strength training program will ensure you unlock these performance benefits for your running.

  1. Balsalobre-Fernández C, Santos-Concejero J, Grivas GV. Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Aug;30(8):2361-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001316. Review.
  2.  Styles, William J.; Matthews, Martyn J.; Comfort, Paul. Effects of Strength Training on Squat and Sprint Performance in Soccer Players Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: June 2016 – Volume 30 – Issue 6 – p 1534–15393
  3. Lauersen JB, Andersen TE, Andersen LB Strength training as superior, dose-dependent and safe prevention of acute and overuse sports injuries: a systematic review, qualitative analysis and meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2018;52:1557-1563.