Functional Strength Training For Runners

Strength training can be very beneficial for runners. Injury prevention, improved muscle coordination, and better running economy are just a few positives that strength training provides. However, many runners shun the idea of strength training thinking that it only involves dumbbells, bench presses, and squats. Runners may think of themselves as toned endurance athletes, not bodybuilders! As a result, I know few runners that do traditional weight lifting.

Additionally, many runners who do go to the gym allow their competitive side to get the best of them and lift more weight than they should, which can lead to injury. The good news is that there is a now much better way for runners to gain the specific kind of muscle strength that will prevent injuries and improve performance – this method is called Functional Strength Training.

What is Functional Strength Training?

Functional Strength Training is a new and innovative idea that focuses on viewing the human body’s muscles as one unit and strengthening them cohesively. This makes sense because the human body uses many different muscles together when running – quads, hamstrings, hips, etc. To better target running muscles, many of the exercises are done from a standing position and emphasize rotational and diagonal motions – opposite shoulder to opposite hip.

The goal of functional training is to develop the core and stability muscles much better than traditional “heavy lifting” techniques. Not only does it make runners stronger, but it makes them much more efficient.

How Does Functional Strength Training Differ from Other Weight Training?

The key concept of functional strength training is that muscles are best strengthened for use in the world by working them together cohesively. For example, in order to lift a leg during a run, the body relies on coordinated movements between numerous muscles, including the hips, back, quadriceps and hamstring muscles.

Conversely, many traditional weight and machine based training isolates individual muscle groups.  For example, leg extension machines do a good job of strengthening the quadriceps or hamstrings (depending on how you use the machine), but it is not going to do a lot for back or hip muscles.

It is of course important to note that tradition weight or machine training does have positives.  One of the most important benefits is the ability to isolate and strengthen a specific muscle that may have become weak and underused.  Muscle imbalances are a huge problem for many runners so isolated strength training of a specific muscle group can really cut down on the risk of injury.

Sample Functional Strength Training Exercises

Good exercises for runners can be as simple as controlled lunges and squats.  YouTube also has a lot of good sample exercises to try.  One of the best functional strength training videos that I have seen is the one below. In the video, the trainer provides an example of 10 of the best exercises for runners.

If you want to try any of these examples, please note that the trainer goes really fast and has an impressive range of movement.  Therefore, it may be smart to make these movements more slowly and only try one or two exercises to start out.  Additionally, please immediately stop any movement if you feel any pain.  The purpose of functional strength training is to cut down on injuries, not cause them or make them worse.

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