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How Running Overuse Injuries Happen and Why Strength Matters

How much faster could you achieve your goals if your body could tolerate the advances in training and you didn’t have to deal with regular running injuries and setbacks?

Last week we talked about the value of lifting heavy weights when it comes to developing our speed and how that ultimately impacts our endurance. This week we are going to talk about how lifting helps reduce injury risk.

When we lift weights, that stimulus signals our bodies to adapt by strengthening not just our muscles, but also our tendons, our ligaments, and even our bone tissue. This ultimately results in increased structural durability and resilience.

Here’s how it works:

Each structure in our bodies (bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, etc.) all have their own load capacity, meaning the amount of stress they are able to tolerate. A load or a stress is applied to your body with each and every stride in the form of ground reaction forces.

The duration of any given run, the intensity of your run(s), your overall mileage, and the frequency and duration of any rest days contribute to the overall cumulative loads your body experiences. The more you run, the more those loads or stresses accumulate. The fresher you are, the more load capacity or tolerance you will have. As you fatigue, whether that’s in a single run or over the course of a training week or cycle, your load capacity gradually decreases.

At a certain point, the cumulative stresses of training surpass your load capacity, putting you at a much higher risk of injury. Of course, the structure of your running training program itself plays a huge role in your risk of injury - for example, if you aren’t adequately rested or are running more mileage or intensity than your current load capacity would indicate is feasible, then you will reach the point of increased injury risk much sooner.

However, if you start with stronger physical structures or actively work on strengthening them with a well-designed, comprehensive, progressive strength training program, then your load capacity will be higher. (For example, strength training is one of the best ways to increase bone density.) A higher load capacity means your body will be able to withstand more mileage, longer durations, increased running frequency, and higher intensity (aka faster paces) with significantly less risk of breakdown.

Another way that strength training can reduce your injury risk is by increasing your stability. Stability is about improving the quality of your movement by increasing your muscular control. The more control you have over your movement, the more control you have over the way loads and stresses of running get distributed across your muscles and joints.

If you are unstable, that excessive movement not only reduces your efficiency (aka running economy), but it also creates room for suboptimal loading patterns in your muscles and joints. Suboptimal loading means uneven distribution of loads, creating the potential for the development of “hot spots” in areas that are relatively overloaded, which could potentially turn into full-blown injuries.

While stability can be significantly improved with bodyweight exercises, resistance bands and lighter weights, improving your durability requires a more robust stimulus to encourage the kind of physical adaptations that result in increased structural strength.

A well-designed strength training program for runners should address both stability and strength and can significantly reduce your risk of injury while allowing your body to tolerate higher mileage, intensity, frequency and duration within your running training itself. Just last week, a client messaged me to say that his body is feeling better while running after just two weeks of the Run Empowered program.

So let’s go, back to the original question posed at the beginning of this post:

How much sooner could you reach your running goals if you:

  1. Didn’t have to worry so much about training interruptions due to injuries and

  2. Knew that your body was strong enough to handle the level of running training required to get you there?

Imagine how much farther a stronger body could take you.


If you're interested in comprehensive strength training for runners that eliminates the programming guesswork and will help you run faster, run farther and finish stronger, check out Run Empowered! Get access to a plan and a coach to help you crush your goals!

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