Strength Training for Runners

girl runningIn an effort to improve fitness, many people decide to try running. Its easy, right? Just lace up a pair of shoes and head out the door. However, every sport comes with the potential for injury no matter how “easy” it may appear. And, running is no exception. This is especially true for the runner who ignores strength training for injury prevention.

Forces of Running

Running requires a substantial amount of stability and strength to withstand the enormous amounts of impact. In fact, the body can experience impacts equal to three times the body weight during running. Imagine the extreme pressure this puts on muscles and joints! With each landing step, the pressure moves from feet, to knees and hips, and up through the trunk. Within the hips and core are some of the biggest muscles in the body, and they do most of the work during running. For this reason, strength training for injury prevention should focus on the hips and core.

pistol squatTo put it another way, imagine doing a single leg squat with one leg off the ground. If a person is not strong enough to perform this move, then they will likely experience aches and pains from running. In essence, the motion of running is equal to performing a single leg squat repeatedly, with the addition of heavy impact. The risk for injury seems obvious.

Effects of Sitting

Many of us spend a large part of our day sitting. Sitting at work, sitting in the car, and sitting at home in front of the TV. All of this sitting makes the muscles on the backside of our body weak from lack of use. In addition, the sitting posture contracts the muscles on the front of our body. Together, the weak back and contracted front muscles create an imbalance. During running, this imbalance can lead to poor bio mechanics and, over time, injury. While that 30-minute morning run may be good for the heart, without a stable core and strong hips, it might be doing more harm than good.

Strength Training for Injury Prevention

Most research on strength training for injury prevention in runners focuses on hips. Strengthening the hip muscles (hip abductors and external rotators) does help keep the knee in line with hip. This is good advice to prevent mild knee pain from patellar tendonitis and shin splints. At the same time, if a runner only works on hip strength, ignoring core stability they haven’t gained the full benefit.

Think of the body like a tree in a hurricane. The roots are the legs and the branches are the arms. The only thing connecting root and branches is the trunk, or core. The roots can be super strong, but if the core is weak, shearing and compressive forces will still destroy the tree. The best injury prevention comes from having both strong hips and a stable core.

Written by: Shauna Ericksen MS, ATC athletic trainer for The Center Foundation and Summit High School in Bend, OR. Learn more about Shauna HERE.

The Center Foundation places dedicated athletic trainers in local high schools to provide sports medicine services to young athletes at no charge to the students or their families. Learn more about our work HERE.



Willy, R. W., & Davis, I. S. (2011). The Effect of a Hip-Strengthening Program on Mechanics During Running and During a Single-Leg Squat. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, 41(9), 625-632. Retrieved December 3, 2018, from