The importance of single leg strength for runners:
It doesn’t matter if you are a runner competing over short distances around the track or a marathon out on the road – it is super important that you add in some form of strength training to help you stay injury free but also improve your running performance.
Historically runners have been hesitant to do strength training because of the perceived negative effects of it and the chance of increased hypertrophy, muscle bulk (Yamamoto et al, 2008). It has now been shown on many occasions to actually aid running performance from increased force production and power development, improved motor unit recruitment and enhanced stretch shortening cycle (Balsalobre-Ferna Ndez et al, 2015).
We are going to be exploring the role that strength training can play for runners, in particular single leg strength.
As you know, when we run every time we take a stride there is only one foot in contact with the ground at any time. This requires great strength from the foot all the way up the chain to your torso. When the body isn’t strong in this position, that is when injuries can occur and performance goes down as energy is ‘leaking’ from the body.
- Weakness through hips – every time your foot strikes the ground your pelvis should remain relatively stable. But, when the hip complex isn’t strong enough that is when you will have a ‘hip drop’ and when not addressed can verge into a Trendelenburg gait.
- Weakness through the knee – Once again on foot strike your knee should stay tracking in line with your toes and not collapse inwards. This lateral collapse of the knee ‘valgus’ can lead to knee pain as it is placing extra load on the joint and once again can also mean slower pace.
- Weakness through the ankle and foot – Upon foot strike the foot complex should be strong and springy, absorbing the contact, transferring the force and then propelling you forwards. When it is weak there can be a collapse through the ankle and mid foot, placing extra load on the tibialis posterior and plantar fascia.
So, what can you do about reducing the risk of these injuries occurring?
Here are our top 5 strength exercises for runners that you can be completing at home to build up that single leg strength:
Single leg squat – 3 x 10 each leg – Aim to keep your knee tracking in line with your toes, slowly lower down move hips back first, just touch the box then return to the top.
Single leg glute bridge – 3 x 10 each leg – Start with feet shoulder width apart finger tips touching heels, one leg lifts up and floats in the sky, then press your heel into the floor and lift tummy to the sky, squeeze bum at the top, focus on keeping hips level at the top.
Single leg RDL – 3 x 6 each leg – Slight bend in the stance leg, aim to stay straight from head to heel with the other leg, bending at the hips, aim to get out as long as possible.
Side lay leg lift – 3 x 8 each leg – Starting in side plank position from the knees, keep straight line from head to heel with bottom leg, lift top leg up to the sky, should feel this exercise in the side of your bum.
Single leg calf raise – 3 x 15 each leg – Press through big toe, get nice and tall, keep the movement slow and controlled.
We recommend completing these exercises 1-2 times per week, ideally in conjunction with some core strengthening work as well. If you do have any injuries at the moment it would be best to get advice from an Allied Health Professional before giving these a go.
It is important to remember that strength training is there to assist your running – running is the main aim and the strength exercises are a tool to help keep you out on the track.
If you have got any questions in regards to this post or just general strength and conditioning please comment below or send us an email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
BALSALOBRE-FERNA ́ NDEZ, C., & SANTOS-CONCEJERO, J. (2015). EFFECTS OF STRENGTH TRAINING ON RUNNING ECONOMY IN HIGHLY TRAINED RUNNERS: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW WITH META-ANALYSIS OF CONTROLLED TRIALS. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2361–2368.
Hoff, J, Gran, A, and Helgerud, J. Maximal strength training improves aerobic endurance performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports12: 288–295, 2002.
Jones, P and Bampouras, T. Resistance training for distance running: a brief update. Strength Cond J 29(1): 28–35, 2007
YAMAMOTO, L. M., LOPEZ, R. M., KLAU, J. F., & CASA, D. J. (2008). THE EFFECTS OF RESISTANCE TRAINING ON ENDURANCE DISTANCE RUNNING PERFORMANCE AMONG HIGHLY TRAINED RUNNERS: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2036–2044.