How to Bulletproof Your Running for Strength and Resilience

Running is a fantastic way to stay active, boost your cardiovascular health, and clear your mind. Whether you’re a casual jogger or a dedicated marathon runner, you’ve probably heard that running can be tough on your body. Contrary to what some may think, running alone doesn’t significantly increase bone density, muscular strength, or tendon resiliency. So, how can you keep your body strong and resilient as a runner? Let’s dive into it.

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Understanding Your Unique Needs for Running Strength and Resilience

The best exercise for you as a runner depends on your individual circumstances. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation. To create a plan that works for you, it’s crucial to assess where you might be falling short and what you need to optimize. Are you looking to improve bone mineral density, tendon resiliency, or joint resiliency? Identifying your specific goals will help tailor your fitness routine effectively.

The Capacity-Demand Equation for Running Strength

One of the fundamental concepts every runner should grasp is the capacity-demand equation. You don’t get injured simply because you’re running incorrectly; you get hurt when the demands of your activity exceed the capacity of your body. Here’s a breakdown of the key areas where your body’s capacity and the ability to perform work comes into play:

  1. Scapular Muscles: These contribute to postural integrity, ensuring that you maintain proper form throughout your run.
  2. Core Muscles: They provide rotational stability to your trunk, which is vital for maintaining balance and propulsion.
  3. Hips: Your hip muscles drive propulsion, help you steer, and control your posture while running.
  4. Knees: These joints play a crucial role in dampening braking forces and handling vertical loads.
  5. Ankles: Acting as primary propulsion through elasticity, your ankles are pivotal for a smooth and efficient stride.
  6. Feet: Your feet serve as adaptive levers to transfer forces from the ground efficiently.
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Creating a Plan That Sticks for Running Strength

To develop a training plan that sticks and enhances your running performance, consider these key elements:

  1. Strength Training for Running: Understand that with every step, you’re effectively squatting 2.5 times your body weight on a single leg. Light resistance bands won’t cut it. Lift heavy weights to build muscle and improve joint and tendon resilience.
  2. Plyometrics for Running: Incorporate plyometric exercises to practice short contact times, such as jumping rope. These exercises also contribute to bone mineral density development. Prioritize plyometrics at the beginning of your workout to maximize their benefits.
  3. Weight Lifting Progression: Gradually increase the weight you lift, aiming for about 2 reps-in-reserve over 3 sets (when you are pretty tired but not exhausted at the end of the set). This progressive overload is essential for strength gains and injury prevention.
  4. Speed and Control: Pay attention to your lifting speed. Slow and controlled movements emphasize muscle loading, while faster movements stress tendons. Incorporate both for a balanced approach.
  5. Specificity for Running: Train both single and double legs, focusing on triple extension for optimal running form and efficiency. This means hip extension (glutes and hamstrings), knee extension (quads), and ankle plantarflexion (gastrocnemius and soleus).
  6. Rest Between Sets: Adequate rest is crucial for muscle recovery and growth. If you don’t feel the need for a 1-minute rest between sets, you may not be lifting heavy enough.

Run on!

As a recreational runner, it’s vital to recognize that running alone won’t make your body bulletproof. Instead, it’s a combination of targeted strength training, plyometrics, and focused effort that will help you optimize your bone density, tendon resilience, and joint stability. Work closely with a physical therapist or coach to identify your weaknesses and develop a personalized plan that will keep you running strong and injury-free for years to come. 

Remember, running is not just about the miles you log; it’s about the strength and resilience you build (and the fun you have!) along the way. Happy running! 

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Written By:
Zuzana Rogers, PT, ScD, SCS, COMT

Board Certified Sports Physical Therapist, Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist, Team USA Physical Therapist, CEO of Runners' Edge Alaska
Zuzana Rogers

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