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Why Does Strength Training Keep Runners Injury Free?

I don't know why this made such a huge impression on me when I first read it, but it did.
"Running is a high impact sport."

My initial response, even as a physical therapist (*gasp!*) was"Are you sure about that?"

Because my mind went straight to literal impact sports.





You get it.

So I stewed on it.

And then, the lightbulb.

Oh my goodness, it IS a high impact sport.

What threw me was that running doesn't fit the traditional definition of high impact where we traditionally think of "contact sports". And in the context of a "contact sport" we think of tackling or other physical contact between players.

Where I went wrong was misunderstanding "high impact" for "contact".

And all along I knew that strength training was a must for runners!

But WHY?

Just be to stronger?

Because when you're stronger, you can generate more power, and then more speed, and every runner wants to run faster!

But going deeper than that sheds light on the REAL reason strength training is so important for staying injury free as a runner.

Because running is a high impact sport.

And you need the strength, the capacity to handle the load of your body, over and over and over again with every stride as gravity slams you back down to earth.

For 26.2 miles.

In that context…holy cow. That's a lot of impact.

Then X2 because you have 2 legs!

Holy moley.

But the next question becomes..

How do you know whether you're strength training correctly?

How do you know if it's affective?

How do you know if you're actually targeting the strength imbalances you have?

I'm so glad you asked.

Remember that overhead lunge we did last week for mobility reasons? We can use that same lunge for strength training. By the end of this blog, I want you leave with an understanding of how this lunge can be a test to assess where you might have strength imbalances and then how to turn this position into a foundation for strength exercises.

Let's dive in!

So let's start with reviewing the lunge.

While doing this lunge as a TEST:

  • You need to be mindful of performing it on both sides AND switching which arm is in top. Think of it this way: the knee that’s in front, the opposite side hand is behind your head. That's it!

  • Once you've chosen a leg to start with, place the opposite hand on the back of your neck. The other hand can rest at the small of your back.

  • For correct spacing, when the back knee is down, it should be nearly touching your front heel. Yep, it's some tight spacing.

What you're looking for while performing this as a TEST:

  • Compare side to side: does it feel the same? Is one side easier?

  • Do you feel stronger on one leg vs. the other?

  • Do you feel more stable on one side? Is it shaky, awkward, or difficult?

  • Is your torso or chest pitching forward or are you leaning to one side when you descend into the lunge?

These are all indicators of possible imbalances, either mobility or strength/core activation imbalances. There's not nearly enough space in just 1 blog post to talk about ALL the different things this ONE movement tells us. (But if you'd like me to talk about it more, leave me a comment telling me so! Your wish is my command. And if you want to get your hands on what I'm reading, check out Gray Cook's book Movement. Your brain might explode, too.)

But let's stick to our mission today. By doing that test above and taking note of the questions, you've just assessed yourself for imbalances, how the right side might be different from the left.

Now, let's figure out how to train strength in this position.

One of the biggest takeaways from screening for imbalances with this movement, is that a big culprit is correct core activation. And I'm not solely talking about your 6 pack. I want to re-define your core as your shoulders to your hips. You can even feel this with this lunge, right?! Especially if you found yourself tipping.

So to train your new understanding of core in this position, let's start at the bottom of the lunge which is called 1/2 kneeling.

Let's start statically, meaning your lower body isn't moving.

Circuit 1: 3 rounds for 8-12 reps each side

Add these as a min circuit to your next strength workout. Yes, the reps are lower because you need to do them on EACH side! Yes, I do realize the chop and lift videos are essentially the same, but sometimes different cues and explanations helps- so I included both.

And to progress these exercises, you can then performing each of these in a true lunge position instead of with 1 knee on the ground.

Circuit 2: 3 rounds for 8-12 reps each side

Lunge halo (are you ready for a deep dive explaination here? Buckle up!)

Lift from lunge

Add these as a min circuit to your next strength workout: 3 rounds for 8-12 reps each side. (and again, if you're already chopping, you're probably lifting too.)

Then! To challenge your core and add a dynamic factor, adding movement to these exercises, tackle these:

Circuit 3: 3 rounds for 8-12 reps each side

Split squat (good description; my personal preference is to have my feet closer together-it feels a very mini lunge rather than a wide lunge)

Add these in too.

After exploring this lunge movement , can you start to see and feel how working here strengthens and activates your runner's core? This lunge position, or movement pattern, places you in a "close-to" single leg position with extreme end ranges of mobility in both your upper and lower body. The purpose of this is to assess whether you can access that mobility and then create the core activation or stability to move within that range.

The point is:

If you can access this range, control it, move through it successfully, then you are actively demonstrating you can handle the extremes of running! And by training your body within this range, in this movement, you are training core activation and strength in a unique way specific to running.

You are strength training to become injury proof.

So, are you gonna take my challenge and actually put these into your strength training over the next 2 weeks? Drop me a comment down below! I'll check in a keep you accountable, I promise. ;)

Until then, run strong,

Dr. Marie Whitt //

P.S. What if we took this lunge position a step further and trained speed here in way that kept you injury free? Curious? Then stick around for Part 3 of the Secret to Reducing Running Injuries: Why does training speed keep you injury free?

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