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Why runners need to build strength and increase flexibility

Why runners need to build strength and increase flexibility

Why runners need to build strength and increase flexibility


Whether you’re a high-endurance marathon runner, a 100-meter sprinter, or a 5K jogger, you need a balanced exercise routine to achieve your optimal performance.  Strength building and flexibility training in addition to your cardio workouts will keep your joints and muscles it top shape.  Let’s take a look at the benefits of strength building and flexibility specific to runners, and talk about why they are important for your running career.

Running is all about cardio, right?

While running itself is very much a cardio activity, your body needs to be in proper overall shape to run to the best of your ability.  The primary focus of your training, naturally, will be on your running program, but you need to make sure that you don’t neglect other important areas of exercise.

What happens if you DON’T work on your strength and flexibility?

When a runner focuses solely on their running program at the expense of other types of exercise, that is where they can run into problems.  Injuries are common among runners, including:

  • Strained or pulled muscles
  • Torn ligaments
  • Plantar fasciitis (runner’s foot)
  • Shin splints
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee)
  • Tendonitis

Injuries like these and others are most commonly due to overworked muscles.  This happens when certain muscles are weak and underperforming, so the surrounding muscles have to work even harder to make up for it.  Similarly, an imbalance in muscle use can lead to further problems stemming from a misaligned gait.

Muscle tightness and stiffness can cause pain to both muscles and joints and can reduce speed and endurance when running.  Likewise, tight muscles can put extra strain on joints, causing pain and increasing the likelihood of a sprain or twist.  Stiff joints are more liable to tear or get wrenched if pressure is put on them to move past their capabilities.

Benefits of strength training

As discussed above, a major objective of strength training is to improve the durability of your muscles and ligaments to prevent injury while you run.  On top of that, however, strong muscles and joints actually help you to run even better.  There are a couple ways this works:

  1. Increasing speed: by strengthening your muscles and connective tissues, you actually improve your neuromuscular coordination and power.  That is to say, your brain and nerves are able to communicate with your muscle fibers better, allowing them to work faster.

  2. Enhancing efficiency: through the same strategy of greater neuromuscular coordination, your brain learns to optimize the muscle fibers used during aerobic exercise for peak energy efficiency.  By working together in a streamlined manner, muscles can achieve greater motion while using less energy.  Thus, your body doesn’t have to burn as much fuel to run at a higher pace.  Studies have found that including weights in your exercise can also expand your VO2 max, the maximum amount of oxygen that you can utilize during intense aerobic exercise.  Endurance runners, take note.

Benefits of flexibility

We’ve already talked about how making sure your joints can move freely is essential to preventing injuries.  Like strength, flexibility can also improve your running performance.  Flexibility allows for a greater range of motion, enabling your body to move in the most efficient manner.  Improved mobility in the hips is especially useful in this regard.


Strength-building exercises for runners

When so much of your time is dedicated to your running program, squeezing extra workouts into your schedule can be a challenge.  By choosing exercises that work the greatest amount of muscle at once, or that are more effective at strengthening and toning quickly, you can get the most out of your in-between workouts while minimizing the time you spend on them.

Here are some strength-building exercises that are particularly useful for runners:

  • Core-strengthening exercises

    • Performing exercises that engage the deep-core muscles are a great way to stabilize your abdomen and provide muscle support to your spine while running
  • Squats

    • These strengthen three commonly-injured muscle groups: the hamstrings, the gluts, and the quadriceps
  • Clamshell

    • This exercise works the hard-to-target gluteus medius muscle, which keeps your legs rotated properly when stepping, to avoid knee injuries
  • Bridge

    • This also works the gluts and hamstrings


Stretches for runners

For runners specifically, it is important to keep certain joints limber.  Here are a few stretches to work these target areas:

  • Calf stretch
  • Quad stretch
  • Hip flexor stretch
  • Walking lunges
  • Walking knee hugs
  • Hurdle step

Incorporating a short strength-building and flexibility routine into your training regimen, even just fifteen minutes at a time a few times per week, can result in enormous benefits for your running performance down the road.

If you would like help to make sure you are preforming the above exercises properly, please contact our team of experts at Blue Hills Sports & Spine Rehabilitation. We will help you make sure that your body is in optimal shape for peak performance.