Sports Injury Physio Club is an online injury prevention club for runners.

Subscribe to my mailing list!

For weekly sports injury advice

I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post - learn more.

Strength training programme for busy runners

Most runners that I speak to know that they should be doing strength training to help prevent injuries, but very few of them actually follow a regular strength training programme. Reasons for avoiding it include not having time, not knowing what to do or my own personal one: “I just find it boring!” The problem is that as a physio who regularly treats running injuries I know that having a good base strength is essential for me to reduce my chances of injury. That’s why I’ve decided to create a strength training programme that can be done in 30 minutes and provide me with the basic strength I need to keep running strong.

Please note: These exercises and recommendations may not be right for you. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any of these exercises. Remember, you can also consult me via Skype for a bespoke training programme or diagnoses of any injuries.

In this article:

  • The criteria I used when I compiled this strength programme

  • How to work out how many repetitions to start with

  • How often should you strength train?

  • How to progress the exercises safely

  • My Strength Programme For Busy Runners

  • Single Leg Sit-Stand-Sit

  • Toe Taps

  • Single Leg Chair Bridge

  • Single Leg Heel Raise


The criteria I used when I compiled this strength programme

  1. It must strengthen all the major muscle groups in the lower body including the Glute Max, Glute Med, Hamstrings, Quadriceps and Calves.

  2. It must include exercises for Core Strength.

  3. It should develop my Position Sense.

  4. I want to be able to do the exercises anywhere.

  5. I don’t want to use any fancy equipment.

  6. A person who is new to strength training should be able to perform the exercises safely.

  7. It should take 30min or less to complete.

  8. It should be easy to progress the exercises as I grow stronger.


How to work out how many repetitions to start with


Step 1: Test your endurance for each exercise: How many repetitions can you do before you get tired and have to stop or you lose good form. It does not count if you are able to continue, but you have to cheat by using momentum to get you up there or your leg does not move in a straight line etc.


For example: When testing my endurance with the Single Heel Raise, I find that I can do 12 reps before my calf shakes and I have to stop. My endurance for this exercise is 12.


Step 2: Work out the number of reps that you’ll start with. Subtract 4 from your endurance score. The answer is the number of repetitions that you'll start with.


For example: My endurance score for the Single Heel Raise was 12. So my starting number of repetitions will be 8.


How often should you strength train?


The answer to this question is slightly different depending on what your running habits are.

I’m not training for any races


Frequency: Aim to strength train twice a week with at least 48 hours between sessions. Be careful to allow enough recovery time between strength training and hard running sessions.

Repetitions per exercise: Work out your starting repetitions with the method above.

Rest between exercises: Rest for at least 1 to 2 minutes between sets. You can save time by allowing one muscle group to rest while training another. For example, you can go straight from doing the Single Leg Sit-Stand-Sit to doing the Toe Taps, because they don’t work the same muscles.

Sets: Do 3 sets of each exercise.

Aim: I’ve listed below what you should aim to achieve with each exercise before you can progress.

I’m training for a race

Frequency: Aim to strength train once a week only. Make sure that you allow enough recovery time between strength training and hard running sessions, otherwise you can cause yourself injuries due to over-training.

Repetitions per exercise: Work out your starting repetitions with the method above.

Rest between exercises: Rest for at least 1 to 2 minutes between sets. As mentioned above, you can save time by creating a circuit. This allows one muscle group to recover while you work another.

Sets: Do 3 sets of each exercise.

Aim: If you are training for a race, you should really just aim to maintain the strength that you currently have. Don’t push the strength training too hard – leave that for during the off season.


How to progress the exercises safely


You should always aim to slowly progress the difficulty of the exercises over time.

To ensure that you do this safely you should cut the number of repetitions you do per set every time that you make an exercise harder. Perform a new endurance test at the harder level and use the formula mentioned above to work out how many repetitions you should start with.


For instance, pretend that I’ve built up to doing 3 sets of 15 repetitions of the heel raise exercise. I now want to make it harder by holding a 2kg weight. I test my endurance with the 2kg weight and find that I can do 13 repetitions before my calf gets tired. I use the formula (13 – 4) and work out that I can start doing 3 sets of 9 repetitions with the extra weight. My aim is now to build the repetitions up to 3 sets of 15 with the added weight before progressing it further.



My Strength Programme For Busy Runners


Single Leg Sit-Stand-Sit

The benefits: This is an amazing all in one exercise that helps to develop your balance and Position Sense and strengthens your Glute Max, Glute Med, Hamstrings and Quadriceps.

Starting position: Choose a chair that you can manage to get up from using only one leg. Your aim should be to use a chair that places your knee in 90 degrees flexion, but if this is too hard use a higher surface. I usually place some pillows on the chair to make it easier. Sit on the edge of the chair with your one leg on the floor and the other one in the air.

Movement: Slowly stand up from sitting, using only one leg. Make sure that your pelvis stays level and your knee moves in line with the middle of your foot. Then slowly sit down again. You can initially hold on to the back of another chair to help you stabilize and control the movement.

Check that: Your pelvis and knee stays aligned. If you find that you “plonk” down instead of slowly lowering yourself down, you may have to use a higher chair or raise that one by placing a few pillows on it.

Aim: Your ultimate aim is to build up to being able to do 3 sets of 15 repetitions from a normal chair (90 degrees knee flexion). Rest at least 2 minutes between sets.

You will likely have to start by doing it from a higher surface and you may initially have to hold on to something for balance. Build up to 3 sets of 15 slow repetitions on each leg at this higher height. If you’ve been holding on to a chair for balance, you should also aim to be able to do it without holding on before you progress. Once you can achieve this, lower the height of the chair and slowly start building up your strength at this new height.

Progression: You can progress this exercise by holding a dumbbell in your hand or wearing a backpack with extra weight on your back. Please read the section on safe progression before you add extra weight.

When am I strong: When you can do more than 22 slow repetitions (in one go) from 90 degrees knee flexion (about the height of a low dining room chair)

Toe Taps

The benefits: This exercise is great for developing core strength and lumbo-pelvic control. It teaches you how to keep your pelvis and lower back stable while moving your legs.

Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent. Some people find it useful to place their hands under their lower backs so that they can feel if it moves. Use your lower stomach muscle to press your lower back flat onto the floor by tilting your pelvis backwards. Your chest and neck should be totally relaxed.

Movement: Make sure that YOUR BACK STAYS FLAT ON THE FLOOR throughout the exercise. Lift one leg up to 90 degrees hip flexion, keeping the knee bent. Then lift the other leg up to join the first. Slowly tap with your one heel on the floor and then bring it back up. Then tap with the other.

Check that: Your pelvis does not twist and lower back DOES NOT LIFT off the floor as you lift and lower your legs. I find it best if you concentrate on making sure that you feel the pressure of your back pushing into your hands or the floor, rather than thinking about lifting the legs.

Aim: Build up to 3 sets of 20 lifts (alternating legs) with 2 minutes' rest between sets. Once you can achieve this, progress the exercise.

Progression: Start tapping further away from your bottom, but make sure that you are still able to keep your back flat on the floor. Please read the section on safe progression before you start this.

When am I strong: When you can manage the 3 x 20 repetitions at the most difficult level.

Single Leg Chair Bridge

The benefits: It strengthens your Core, Lower Back, Glutes and Hamstrings.

Starting position: Lie on your back with your one heel on a chair and your other leg bent up into your stomach. Make sure that your bottom is close to the chair – you are looking for a 90 degree angle in your knee. Also ensure that the chair is wedged against a wall so that it can’t slip away from you.

Movement: Activate your pelvic floor and deep abdominals by squeezing as if you don’t want to wee. Keep them activated and lift your bottom into the air so that your body forms a straight line. Make sure that your pelvis is level! Once at the top, you should squeeze your buttocks and make sure that you don’t feel any strain in your lower back. If you do feel strain in your lower back, make sure that you are squeezing your stomach and glutes and not trying to just arch your back. Slowly lower back to the floor.

Check that: Your pelvis should remain level throughout the exercise. You should not feel any strain in your lower back. If your hamstrings cramp, move your bottom closer to the chair.

Aim: Build up to 3 sets of 15 slow repetitions on each leg. Rest 2 minutes between sets. Once you can achieve this, progress the exercise.

Progression: Move your bottom further away from the chair so that your knee is nearly straight when you’re at the top. This will make the hamstrings work harder. IMPORTANT: Your knee should still be slightly bent e.g. 15 degrees when you’re at the top. Please read the section on safe progression before you do this.

When am I strong: When you can manage more than 25 repetitions (in one go) with your knee in the straighter position (15 degrees knee flexion).

Single Leg Heel Raise Over Step

The benefits: It strengthens the Calf muscles and Achilles tendon.

Starting position: Stand on one leg on a step. Hold on to something for stability – this is not a balance exercise.

Movement: Slowly lift up on your toes and then lower yourself down so that your heel drops below the level of the step. Do not hang there - immediately lift back up on your toes.

Check that: Don’t hang at the bottom – if you want to stretch the calf muscle, do so afterwards. If you do it during the exercise, you’ll stop the muscle working optimally. This exercise should be performed very SLOWLY (especially the lowering down part).

Aim: Build up to doing 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg. Rest 2 minutes between sets.

Progression: You can progress this exercise by holding a dumbbell in your hand or wearing a backpack with extra weight on your back. Please read the section on safe progression before you add extra weight.

When am I strong: When you can manage 3 sets of 15 repetitions with a weight that is equal to about 20% of your bodyweight. E.g. I weight 75kg. 20% of my bodyweight is 15kg. So my aim would be to slowly build up to doing 3 sets of 15 repetitions with 15kg in a backpack on my back.

Let me know if you have any questions. You can consult me via Skype for online diagnoses of your injuries and a treatment programme tailored to your needs. I’ve also created a free Facebook group where you can ask questions about your injuries and get injury prevention advice.

Best wishes

Maryke


About the Author

Maryke Louw is a chartered physiotherapist with more than 15 years' experience and a Masters Degree in Sports Injury Management. Follow her on LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Contact

  • White LinkedIn Icon
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Instagram Icon
  • White YouTube Icon

Sports Injury Physio is owned by ML Physio Ltd. (England No. 7434251) trading as Sports Injury Physio. Registered office: 4 Frederick Terrace, Frederick Place, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 1AX

© 2019 by ML Physio Ltd.