The Best Weight Training Exercises To Reduce Injury Risk in Runners

Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise due to its’ accessibility, low equipment cost, and health benefits.  As running popularity continues to grow, unfortunately so do the number of runners who miss a training session or competition due to injury.  These runners are not alone; as research has reported up to 90% of runners have experienced an injury over their running career.  To the surprise of some, shoe wear, stretching, and terrain (gravel or dirt) changes have not been shown to significantly reduce injury risk.  Conversely, incorporating a strength-training program has been shown to reduce injury risk by 1/3 to 1/2. 

Many runners are hesitant to incorporate strength-training exercises into their endurance programs.  These athletes often cite time constraints, lack of knowledge, and risk of injury among their concerns or barriers to exercise.  In addition to lowering an athlete’s risk of future injury, strength training has also been shown to improve a runner’s economy.  Runner’s who incorporate strength training are able to sustain a given pace at a lower percentage of their VO2 max (maximum oxygen utilization rate) than their untrained peers.   Improved running economy leaves more room in the tank for a sustained, near max effort or a final kick in an upcoming race. 

The following exercises are commonly utilized in our clinic to strengthen both the range of motion and muscles required in running.  Runners should focus on strengthening in weight bearing positions as tolerated and emphasize movement quality over weight or repetitions.  Each set of the individual exercises should bring on muscular fatigue at the end of the repetitions.  These exercises can be performed 2 to 3 days a week with at least a day in between for recovery. 

Sidelying Hip Abduction

Lay on your side with your shoulder, hips, and legs against a wall.  With your core gently engaged reach your top leg long and raise your top leg.  Keep your heel against the wall to avoid substitution in the front of the hip.  You should feel a nice contraction in the gluts under the back pocket of your shorts.  Imagine a small thumb tack under your bottom side to avoid using your spine to help with the movement.

Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions

running-strengthening-hip abduction
Running-strength training-hip abduction

Side Plank

Lay on your side, propped up by your forearm and knees.  Gently engage your core as you drive your bottom knee into the floor lifting your pelvis in line with your shoulders and knees.  At the top position, extend your top knee.  Hold this position for 5 seconds and slowly lower your self down towards the mat before returning for a 5 second hold.  Keep your spine perpendicular to the floor and do not rotate forward or back.  Repeat 5-6 reps and switch sides.    This exercise can also be performed as a sustained hold.

Perform 5-6 repetitions x 2-3 sets or 30 second holds x 3 repetitions per side

running-strength training-side plank

Single Leg Deadlift

Stand on one foot with a dumbbell in your opposite hand.  Hinge at your hips as you lower your upper body toward the floor with the weight hanging straight down.  You should have a small bend in your knee but little to no movement in your spine.  Drive your heel into the floor and squeeze your gluts as you bring yourself back to standing.  Prevent your spine from flexing on the way down by hinging at the hips and sticking your sit bones backward during the movement.

Perform 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions

running-strength training-single leg deadlift
single leg deadlift-running-strengthening

Step Up with Weight

Use a barbell across your shoulders or a dumbbell in each hand.  Slowly step onto a 8-10 inch step.  To step up, drive through your heel as you utilize your gluts and quads extend your hip and knee.  Be cautious of your knee position and do not allow your knee to move inward over the foot.  Instead, keep your knee aligned over your 2nd and 3rd toes. 

Perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions 

runners-strengthening-front step up
front step up-runners-strength training