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by Raechel Bugner, PT, DPT, FAFS

Posted in Blog.

May 16th, 2018

Four Reasons to Add Low Intensity Strength Training to Your Running Routine

The weather is warming and, as you come out of your winter hibernation, you realize that the fall marathon you committed to months ago is now just around the corner. As you research the “best” training plan and start plotting runs (and the occasional bike ride/elliptical jaunt) on your calendar, you might want to consider pencilling in a few days a week for a different type of cross training- low intensity, functional, strength training.


This type of strength training focuses on loading the glutes, hamstrings, and core in a way that mimics how these muscles are used during life and marathon running. Think single leg balance, multi directional lunges, and dynamic planks (not leg extensions or hamstring curls on the machine in the gym- these are not training your muscles in a way that is functional to running).  

Here are a few reasons why you should add low intensity functional strength training to your fall marathon prep:

  1. Build Strong Bones: this is especially important for those runners who are prone to stress fractures….unlike swimming, biking, or a jog on the elliptical (all common, and perfectly fine forms of cross training), low intensity strength training has been shown, in a variety of scientific studies, to contribute to increases in bone mineral density (in other words this type of cross training builds strong bones!). Bone grows based on the loads placed on it- this means that in order to stimulate growth, the skeleton needs to undergo a stress higher than those strains of everyday activities. And while I mentioned that swimming, biking, and jogging on the elliptical are perfectly fine forms of cross training, the don’t provide the level of stress to the musculoskeletal system that would initiate bone growth in the way that strength training does.                                                                                                                                                                     
  2. Stave off overuse injuries: how many times have you heard someone say “stop running, it will ruin your knees!”? Well, if your training consists only of logging lots of miles on your feet, then your knees might just be in jeopardy. But adding in a few days of strength training, focusing on improving multidirectional glute, core, and single leg stability control, can help balance out the repetitive stresses that certain muscles and joints endure when all you’re doing is running. The benefit of this lower impact type of strength training (as opposed to a high impact, boot camp type of workout) is that you build strength and control with less risk of injuring yourself trying to complete a high impact exercise (like a box jump, shuttle run, or treadmill hill sprint) that your body isn’t prepared to handle.                                                                                                                       
  3. Get faster!: yes, it’s true, you can get faster by taking two days a week doing something other than running. Training your core, glutes, and hammies to stabilize and load in multiple directions has been correlated with improved running efficiency. Again- you want to think single leg balance exercises and functional lower body exercises (lunges, squats, step ups- not on a machine) performed in multiple directions. Staying off of the machines and on your feet is key since running is a sport that’s performed (surprise!) on your feet. It’s also important to keep this low intensity strength training moving in different directions (not always forward/backward); by changing up lunges, for example, to be performed laterally to the side or rotationally 145 degrees behind you, you challenge your body to load muscles that power your run speed in directions that they aren’t used to moving in (bonus! Decreasing your risk of overuse injury and improving your overall efficiency).                                                                                                                                                                       
  4. You won’t be adding extra days of serious cardio: Don’t get me wrong, strength training can definitely raise your heart rate, but by keeping things low in intensity you won’t feel like you are throwing off your training plan by adding extra days of cardio (on top of all of the running you’re already doing). As a runner myself, I am often hesitant to sign up for a boot camp class while I’m in the midst of marathon training because I worry about
  • Throwing off my training plan if I’m supposed to be resting or doing gentle cross training and
  • Injuring myself getting caught up in the hype of a high intensity class and pushing myself too hard (on the burpees, box jumps, treadmill sprints, stair climbing etc etc.).

Rest assured, your cardio will be taken care of with all of the running your doing, and the low intensity strength training will just be the icing on top of the cake.

Looking for low-impact, functional strength training classes? Check out our FORGE class taught at THE FOUNDRY powered by Finish Line PT (first class is free)!

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