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The Importance of Off-Season Strength Training for Runners

Bruce Stewart | January 04, 19

You hear as a runner, that we need to start adding some strength training. Maybe because it will make you a faster runner, maybe it will make you less injury prone. But, if this is all true, the big questions are what exercises should I add to my training week, and why? Also, when adding exercises, when in the week should I add perform these Exercises.

As a Physiotherapist, avid runner and running coach myself I have faced this dilemma and looked into these questions. My aim is to answer these questions with what I have found.

1.) Why is strength training important for runners?

2.) Are there specific exercises I should add to my training?

3.) How do I incorporate strength training into my training week?


Research is finding many benefits by incorporating strength training for runners. Some of these

benefits include:

  • Faster running performance
  • Improved running economy
  • Decreased risk of injury
  • Improved time to exhaustion
  • Reduction in age related atrophy of key running musculature

Injuries and plateaus are 2 things that can plague a runner. By simply adding in strengthening, you can prevent injuries (and the sometimes extensive rehab that follows) AND finally punch through that plateau to set a new Personal Best. Research has found that you can drop your 5K run time by up to 4% - so if you normally run a 5K in 20 minutes, you could drop your time by 48 seconds.


    Runners need to realize there are many factors that come into play when considering which exercises you should include – your individual needs, injury history, goals, abilities, experience and access to exercise equipment.

    Keep in mind as you look through these recommended exercises - your safety is first priority! If you are unsure if you can safely perform these exercises, feel free to contact us, or your local healthcare provider.


      Research suggests the following when it comes to adding strengthening into your training routine:

      1. Frequency: 1-2x/week focusing on the hip, thigh, and calf muscles.
      2. Dosage: 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions, ensuring sufficient resistance so that your muscles are fatigues by the end of each set.
      3. Recovery Time: 2-3 minutes between exercise sets.
      4. When Combining with Running: Include on easy day runs or on non running days in your training schedule.

      Or before on hard run days - with the following day being very light (gentle run, cross training, or rest day) in order to help maximize the gains of the previous day’s session.

      Exercise Demonstrations:

      The Deadlift

      Video Demonstration:


      Key Points:

      - Keep a slight knee bend in the standing leg, and elongate your spine from crown to heel.

      - Make sure to keep the glute activated on the stance leg.

      - Hinge at the hip without rounding in the low back. In other words, focus less on reaching to the ground. Instead, try hinging at the hip with a stick or broom on your back and aim to maintain contact with the back of your head, your mid back, and your tail throughout the entire movement.

      The Squat

      Video Demonstration:


      Key Points:

      - Depending on your femur length compared to your torso length, you may have to be in a more/less upright position to keep your weight centred. It is ok to hold your arms out in front of you if you prefer to be more upright. This will also keep your knees from going far past your toes.

      - With your feet hip width apart, your knees, hips and shoulders will bend down together at the same speed.

      - Once in the bottom of your squat, make sure to keep your toes engaged with the ground to initiate pushing up. If you feel like your toes are lifting away from the ground, check and see if you need to centre yourself forward more - either reach forward with the arms or torso.

      - Your overall form should remain the same from top to bottom of the squat. Think about floating straight downwards.


      Video Demonstration:


      Key Points:

      - Stand in front of a step with your left leg resting on top.

        - Engage your glute and push your big toe into the ground, as you push your weight up into a standing position.

        - Depending on your step height you may need to lean your torso further forward when you initiate the step up. This will load up the leg muscles more, and take the strain off your kneecap if you tend you push your knee past your toes.

        Maintain even hip levels by putting your hands at the waist. Check in on your knee alignment at the bottom and top of your step up. See if you can keep it travelling downwards in a straight line.

        Calf Raises

        Video Demonstration:




        Key Points:

        -Calf raises can be done with a straight or bent knee, to target different muscles.

        -Keep your big toe and the ball of your foot anchored to the floor during this movement, even at the very top.

        -Push your heels up as high as possible, without letting your ankle roll in or out (Think about keeping the laces on the front of your foot facing straight ahead, instead of angling out to the side).

        Our aim is for you to be able to safely add these exercises into your weekly training plan. Again, if you have any questions or concerns, feel free to make an appointment with us to ensure you are performing these correctly. Good luck with your running endeavours!