Are single leg exercises better for strength training in runners ?

Strength training for runners.

There is a good argument that runners who add strength training to their programs will improve their running performance and reduce the risk of running related injuries.

Studies have shown that injuries are reduced by up to 33%  and overuse type injuries are reduced by almost 50% in strength trained runners.

Strength training  helps you run faster  because:

  •  improves the muscle and tendon’s ability to manage load. 
  • Improves the shock absorbency in the lower limbs
  •  Improves running economy by lowering the amount of energy required to hit a certain pace.

There is some debate as to what types are exercises are better , single leg or double leg. Proponents of single leg believe they are better because they are more specific to running actions and postures and as such are more likely to transfer better to running performance.

Advantages of single-leg strength training for runners

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  • Usually in runners we find that the injured leg is  weaker, or has we have poorer movement patterns that  can be improved more effectively with single-leg training.

  • If you are injured it is often an option to continue training by working the other the other leg

  • Increased demand on the lateral core and hip stabilizing muscles, leading to improvements in strength in the lower limb and improved movement efficiency with running.

  • Less equipment is required, which can be an advantage for those exercising from home and don’t have access to equipment

  • Often argued there is a greater level of transfer to running? Single-leg exercises potentially are more specific to the demands of running and can be more specific in movement patterns.

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Advantages of double-leg strength training for runners

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  • Often  easier to perform than single leg exercises

  • Less demand on balance than single-leg training.

  • Less time consuming: single-leg takes twice the time!

  • Higher absolute loads  can be used resulting in greater strength improvements.

 

So which type of strength training  is better for runners

What should i do ?

Its been shown that both types of exercises help improve running speed and reduce injury . What has not been shown is that one is better than the other. Single-leg  exercises are probably more specific in terms of movement patterns to running  but despite this there is no clear advantage over double leg training.

 

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Do all runners need strength training ?

Not always but we often  find that this is a neglected part of running programs that offers more positives than negatives to a persons enjoyment of running. Its rare that those that incorporate strength training into their program don’t see huge benefits.

Some runners are strong enough and their running related injuries may be related to other factors such as technique, sudden changes in distance and amount of training done, footwear selection and many other factors. Others may only need to work on specific strength issues such as calf muscle strength for Achilles related issues or plantar fascia pain.

However strength training is a simple and effective way to complement your running program when you are time poor or need an alternative training stimulus.  This is why its good to get assessed to determine your actual requirements.

What should you do if you want to add strength training to your running program  ?

Clearly there are benefits to using both single-leg & double leg exercises if you want to develop a running specific strength program. For our runners we like to  combine both of double leg & single-leg exercises in their program.

The exercises used  depends on the individual and their specific needs, including:

  • current and previous injury status.
  • strength-training history and access to equipment.
  •  Strength deficits and asymmetries in the core, hips  and lower limbs.
  • What their goals are and available time to train.

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An example of a simple runners bodyweight circuit

To get started keep it simple and allocate maybe 20-30 minutes 2 x week  on top of your running.

These exercises can be done with bodyweight or use resistance with weights, bands or even a filled rucksack.

I’d start with 8 reps and build to 15 reps and do 3-4 sets. Use skipping as a warm up for up to 5 minutes or do 60 seconds skipping between each exercise  or pair of exercises.

  • Step up  : Hips and quads
  • Hip thrust : Hamstrings and hips.
  • Calf raises: Achilles tendon and calf
  • Rear foot squat : Quads and hips.
  • Side plank and hip abduction: Lateral core and Lateral hip.
  • skipping : elastic strength of Achilles tendon

A way that we like to do it is to pair a lower limb exercise with a core exercise so you can create a mini circuit. It keep you moving and cuts down on time required and has the added effect of topping up your aerobic fitness as well as your strength.

For example you do:

  • 12 step ups followed by 12 side planks and repeat 4 times.
  • Skip x 60-120 secs
  • Rear foot squats  and calf raises
  • Skip 60 -120 secs
  • Hip thrusts and hip flexor strength
  • Skip 60 -120 secs

If you are keen to add strength training to your running program or have running related injury contact us here

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  • Moran, J., et al. (2021). “Effects of Bilateral and Unilateral Resistance Training on Horizontally Orientated Movement Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” Sports Medicine 51(2): 225-242.

  • Nijem, R. M. and A. J. Galpin (2014). “Unilateral Versus Bilateral Exercise and the Role of the Bilateral Force Deficit.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 36(5).

  • https://www.running-physio.com/strength-review/
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