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Strength Training Can Improve Running Performance


Racing in Best Athletics
Best Athletics Coach Natalie

When a runner tells me they want to start including strength work into their running program I always ask why and more often than not they explain its because they are coming back from injury and they don't want to go through it all again. It's very rare that a runner will say to me they want to start strength training to improve their performance BUT it really can. You don't have to be overworking the miles and causing stress upon stress on the body, don't wait until the body tells you it's had enough and can't keep up with the demands you want to put on it.

Think of it like this your cardiovascular system, is your engine and when you run you are working to improve this. The muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones are the car parts, they need to keep up with the CV system, you wouldn't could expect a car to perform if the accelerator didn't work! Only muscles etc take longer to adapt to training than your CV system does so it needs strengthening to cope with the increase in demand.

Start thinking of strength work as aiding your performance not just an injury prevention.


Strength is the maximum amount of force that a muscle group can produce under specific conditions. We want to the body to be able to produce more force when running so we strength train to enable this to happen. Running will build muscular endurance and so we use use resistance/weights to build strength. The strength training incorporated into your program isn’t focused on building endurance as the running will take care of this. You do not need to be doing 100 plus squats to replicate running - result! As runners we are not aiming to increase the size of your muscles we want to increase the strength of your muscles. Put it this way, I strength train twice a week and I think I'm good evidence to suggest that you won't get big and bulky!!

Adaptations to Resistance Training Example

Motor Unit Recruitment

Maximise physiological potential. Longer stride, therefore better economy and fractional utilisation. Improves sprint finish

Co ordination and control

Controlled and smooth technique reduces oxygen cost. Stability around important stabilising and postural muscles reduces injury risk

Anaerobic energy production

Quicker removal of fatigue inducing waste products when running at high intensities

Bone Mineral Densities

Reduced injury risk to bones. Improved capacity to load bones repetitively.


We want to strength train without impacting your running as thats your primary goal. When strength training we are aiming at a warm up set and around 2 x hard working sets. Performing more than 3 sets shows a small benefit to hypertrophy but more muscle damage (C. Beardsley, 2022) thus the negative outweighs the benefits. This isn’t what we want as runners, as mentioned above we want to get the most out of strength training without impacting running and causing fatigue. To try and decrease fatigue in the muscle, basic strength training for running uses a load of around 70-85% of 1RM which is a load that is suitable for the specific adaptations we are looking for.



To produce a high level of force, the nervous system will need to be able recruit motor units. The more muscle groups we can utilise to do this through similar movement patterns to running, the more our neuromuscular

system will be overloaded and transfer to muscular performance. This is where bilateral moves come in.

  • Bilateral movement involves a triple extension - extended ankles, kneed and hips - similar to running. Examples:

  • Back Squats

  • Deadlifts

  • Hip Thrusters


When we work unilaterally the force produced is less than bilateral as we are trying to produce force from one leg/arm however unilateral can correct muscular imbalances. This is because more muscles fibres are engaged on the ‘weaker’ leg than would be if bilateral.

  • Unilateral moves can replicate a running stride and improve balance and control. Examples:

  • Split Squats

  • Step Ups

  • Reverse Lunges


As the lower body gets stronger and is able to produce more force the upper body has to be able to deal with this. Especially the torso and shoulders used in running to prevent over rotation. Strengthening the upper body will also help with posture when feeling fatigued during a training run/race.

  • Posture also helps reduce injury risk - holding yourself upright will reduce stress on hips and subsequently further down the chain. Examples:

  • Bench Press

  • Overhead Press

  • Pull Ups

  • Inverted Rows

  • Push moves require stabilisation from the anterior lower (quads, abs etc) and pull moves are engaging the posterior (glutes, hamstrings) so although your upper is working the lower is still playing its part from a stabilisation perspective.

When I train a runner to lift as well as run we try and much as we can to keep the hard days hard and the easy days easy to optimise on recovery so a strength session will usually crop up on a run session day. I set the moves I want them to perform with a suggested weight so we can monitor progress and see you get stronger just as we do with your running plan with suggested paces and progression. I will ask for videos now and again as form has to be key, if you're going to put the effort it you may as well be doing it right and getting the most of it! The runners I coach that really get stuck into their strength training see less injuries throughout their training block to. Lifting is for everyone, its just takes a little confidence and a willingness to give it a go!

derby 10 mile winner Natalie Bunce
1st Female at Derby 10 Mile

If you have any questions or want start incorporating strength into your running then just give me a shout and together you will be running stronger!


Let's Go!

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