Why Runners Need Strength Training More Than Mobility.

As endurance athletes, we love the high we get from being able to train hard and finish strong during races. When pain or stiffness keeps us from that, it can really make a difference in our mood and motivation. Trust me, as a triathlete, I experience the same ups and downs as everyone else. Most of the time when we look for a solution, we seek out mobility and stretching first.

Why is that?

Well I believe there are 2 major reasons why:

  1. It’s easy
  2. It feels good immediately

Don’t get me wrong, it SHOULD be in everyone’s training program. But it serves as only a temporary fix to a bigger problem many runners will go through. What is that problem?

Positional strength deficits

Positional strength can be defined as the ability to use the right muscles at the right range of motion to support the desired position without harm to the joints and tissue. The problem with runners, in particular, is the common muscular imbalances created from running. These muscle imbalances create deficits in positional strength, particularly to the low back and legs that create an array of different pain and stiffness symptoms.

The one area of training that can show long term success with correcting these deficits or injuries is strength training, not mobility, for runners. The great news is that for many runners, ANY type of strength training will help. But for those who want to know what will get them the most effect with the least amount of time, the key is to work on the backside, or posterior chain.

The posterior chain consists of your glutes, hamstrings and calves. This group of muscles, while used during running, often do not get enough accessory work during a training week to keep up with the infamous hip flexors and quads. This is where muscle imbalances occur and bring about many different symptoms of pain and stiffness. By adding in just 1-2 days a week of posterior chain training, you will not only see an improvement in your symptoms including mobility, but also performance. So, here’s the top 3 drills we use with our endurance clients who are seeing us for rehab AND also for our new endurance performance programs.

Check these out:

Posterior chain lift:  A great drill to activate the posterior chain while not loading your low back, shoot for 30 good reps while keeping your lower abs engaged and your pelvis in good position!

Banded kneel to lunge: The majority of runners don’t know how to get to true hip extension, this drill will help you find it, feel it AND strengthen it! 30 good reps per side. 

Kneeling KB press outs: Improving the endurance capacity of spine/pelvis position will shave minutes off of your runs while keeping you injury free. Try for 3-4 sets of 25 slow press outs and embrace the burn of your hamstrings, glutes and abs with correct form!

How to Incorporate?

So, the next thing to tackle is HOW do I use these exercises as part of my training?

Well there’s 2 different types of strength training you want to address:

Quick twitch strength

The common misconception is that quick twitch or type 2 muscle fiber is not good for endurance athletes. It is the development of your sprint muscles and quick movements. The reality is that every runner NEEDS these types of muscles trained!

Ever run up a hill and feel more gassed than you should? It’s because you were relying too heavily on your slow twitch muscles, resulting in increased heart rate and loss of cadence. Developing these muscles will give you the “kick” up the hill or at the end of race you need. See the chart below for recommended dosage.

Functional position strength

On the flip side of fast, we want to work your other two fiber types of 1 and 2x. I don’t like calling them slow, but rather smooth twitch. Why smooth? Because when trained properly they can keep you operating at maximal efficiency and have you breaking PRs left and right.

This type of strength training comes from creating the correct position in your body, and then maintaining it for the rep or time count. The better you maintain the position, the more efficient a runner you become. This helps train your volume AND cadence goals while significantly reducing injury risk. See the chart below for recommended dosage.

Quick Twitch Strength

Functional Position Strength

How many days per week



Rep Count

3-5 reps per set

Think fast but controlled

10-30 reps or 60-120 secs 

Think smooth and controlled




Resistance percentages (based on max or perceived max effort)


BW or 25-50%

Try these 3 drills on your next non-run day (which you SHOULD have) and let us know how it goes!

Need more guidance?

If you’re looking for more guidance on your specific problem, whether an injury or looking for a boost in performance, we’re here to help. As Raleigh’s endurance specialists, we have several different services to meet your needs. Click below to fill out a simple survey and one of our endurance specialists will give you a call to help you learn what specific solutions we can provide for you!

Click Here to talk with one of our endurance specialists

To your health,

Dr. Brian

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