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Why You're NOT Seeing Running Improvements from Strength Training

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Ok Runner, it's time for some uncomfortable truth.

If you've been running AND strength training TOGETHER for at least 2 years: YOU NEED TO UP YOUR STRENGTH GAME.

In all honesty, the 2 year mark can be slightly arbitrary.

But it's based on both personal and professional experience.

The first year I did ANY kind of heavy lifting was in high school; I loved it, but felt all the awkward feelings and thought all the doubting thoughts.


Am I doing this right?

What AM I doing?

Is this weight right?

Do I look weird?

But fast forward into PT school where I got deliberate and dedicated in the gym again, it all came back.

And each year, I got more comfortable and confident.


This squat form feels good.

Ope, that deadlift rep turned into a squat. Better reset.

I wonder if the lat pull down machine is open?

So how do YOU know if you're ready to UP your lifting game even though you're "just a runner?"

Do you want to run further?

Faster?

Maybe looking for a PR?

You've been piecing together strength exercises for the past 1-1.5 years and you know what a squat, deadlift, chest press or push up are?

Then runner…you're more than ready!

Let's dive in to what you should REALLY be doing!


BASICS ARE GOOD BUT…

Here me out.

You can't go wrong with:

  • Squat

  • Hinge

  • Push

  • Pull.

  • (exercise examples in order: double leg squat, double or single leg deadlift, push ups, back fly)

In fact, these 4 categories are the building blocks for basically EVERY EXERICSE I CREATE.

There's a BIG BUT.

I might be calling you out.

A lot of runners stick with ONLY doing double leg exercises.

I'm SO GUILTY.

I did this for YEARS and I wondered why my running felt static, almost plateud.

It was because my own strength training wasn't running specific enough.

Running is a precise, demanding master because it's a HIGH IMPACT ACTIVITY.

Running requires:

  • single leg balance and strength

  • rotational core control

  • and foot strength.

While a dumbbell goblet squat is good….it does NOT translate.

Does a double leg squat look like running?

Not really.

Does a split squat or a bulgarian split squat look like running?

Yes, now we're talking!

Does a double leg deadlift look like running?

Not unless you can run without bending your knees.

Does an RDL or a single leg deadlift look like running?

Heck yea! Especially if you place the weight in the hand opposite the stance leg!

Why does this matter so much?

How does this make these exercises "better" than basics?

Because SPECIFICITY MATTERS.

Running is a single leg activity requiring balance, rotational core control and foot strength.

By definition then, you NEED strength exercises that by nature prepare you for THIS ACTIVITY.

This right here *might* be why you're not seeing or feeling running improvements despite all of your strength training.


To get running specific with your strength work...this is the hard part you probably already figured out...

This means these exercises are by nature going to be more difficult, progressed, and challenging.

So are basics bad?

Absolutely NOT!

That's where I started; where every one starts!

But after you have (literal) hundreds of reps under your belt…it's time you Dare to Train Differently and strength train like a runner.

It becomes time for your strength training to become running performance!

What Should my Exercises Look Like and Feel Like?

Broken record, but it needs to be repeated.

"Training variables that have the greatest impact on running economy include the prescription of

  • Multi joint free weight exercises as compared to machine and single-joint exercises

  • Exercises with progressive and sufficient overload,

  • Exercises specific to the task of running,

  • And increased frequency of resistance training sessions."

At any experience level, your running-specific strength exercises should include:

  • Single leg strength and balance

  • Upper body involvement

  • Overhead strength and stability that involves your core and arms

  • Rotational core strength

  • Plyometrics as appropriate based on level-explosive and reactive strength development

Breaking this down:

  • Use free weights

  • Do exercises that include single leg, occasional glute focused, core activating,

  • Exercises should look like running in various positions (meaning standing, kneeling, in a plank position, even on your back that include your WHOLE BODY meaning arms and shoulders too!)

And…They should feel challenging and hard, but not impossible.

STORY TIME: I ACTUALLY did this

So what happened when I started to do this?

My previous back squat (think double leg squat with a barbell) PR was *probably* around 375lbs

(I lost access to the app I tracked everything in, forgive me).

But I still struggled with runner's knee when I ran!

A couple years later ...I got humble.

I stopped moping and got serious and did the dang work.

I did the bulgarin split squats in a new workout plan I bought.

And they sucked.

I'm not lying.

They're still terrible haha.

But they're the secret to keeping my right runner's knee at bay.

Specificity matters.

Intensity (how hard and heavy you lift) matters.

And basics are a foundation.

And it's time to build on top of that foundation.

It took me a while to get here.

I obviously didn't get here day 1. and neither do you.

But maybe it's time to take a walk on the wild side and Dare to Train Differently.

Until next time running fit fam,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit

P.S. Get your own strength journey started by grabbing my FREE Strength Guide and Routine for Runners HERE!


 

REFERENCES:

Barrie, B. (2020). Concurrent resistance training enhances performance in competitive distance runners: A review and programming implementation. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 42(1), 97-106.

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Love this format for your content!

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Marie Whitt
Marie Whitt
13 jul. 2023
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Yes I'm SO glad! Quick and easy blog reads is where it's at!

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