Strength versus In-Season Conditioning for Runners

By Kristina Pattison, DPT, OCS, CSCS from Alpine Physical Therapy

Spring is here! And Run Wild Missoula runners are preparing for the next event of the season: Run for the Trees 5km and 10km on April 23rd. This time of year, as volumes are increasing in the marathon and half training plans, and runners try their mettle at shorter courses, questions start rolling in about injury prevention. Particularly, how to incorporate strengthening exercises into the routine to help prevent overuse injuries. 

Strength is defined as the body’s ability to create force to perform work. For runners, this includes production of propulsion force to move the body forward with every step. Strength also means the ability to withstand force or pressure, which translates to being able to absorb nearly 3-4 times the force of the body’s weight with each step. Heavy weight training is associated with improved performance in short distances.1,2It also leads to improved running economy at submaximal intensities, such as during endurance runs.3 These changes are believed to be related to changes in muscle fiber composition, improved neuromuscular coordination, and increased musculotendinous stiffness. 

Realistically, strength training must be employed carefully during the running season. For example, heavy strength training prior to a running workout can increase the cost of running and reduce running performance that day and into the next.4 Also, it takes at least 6-8 weeks to learn appropriate movement patterns for strengthening safely prior to loading with heavier weights or explosive movements. For these reasons, it may be best to start introducing traditional progressive resisted exercise in the fall or winter, while directed by a professional, such as the certified personal trainers at the Peak Health and Wellness.

However, you can absolutely use some variations of traditional lifts during the season to work on conditioning the core, hips, legs, and arms for improved running performance.5,6 These variations include variations of the single leg deadlift, the single leg squat, and lunges, with or without arm movements to work on upper body posture and arm swing. 

Deadlift to Row: 

Front Squat to Overhead Press: 

Lunge and Row: 

Kristina Pattison is a Missoula, Montana based ultra-distance trailrunner. Locally, she works as a physical therapist for Alpine Physical Therapy at the Peak Health and Wellness Center Downtown. She is board certified in orthopedics and certified as a specialist in strength and conditioning. Formerly, Kristina worked as a wildland firefighter and Missoula Smokejumper. She is passionate about helping athletes dream big and achieve their goals. Contact Kristina today about coaching through Flight Phase Coaching. 


1. Rønnestad, B.R. and Mujika, I. (2014), Strength training and endurance performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 24: 603-612. 

2. Storen, O., Helgerud, J. A. N., Stoa, E. M., & Hoff, J. A. N. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 40(6), 1087. 

3. Guglielmo, L. G. A., Greco, C. C., & Denadai, B. S. (2009). Effects of strength training on running economy. International journal of sports medicine, 30(01), 27-32. 

4. DomaKenji and DeakinGlen Bede. The effects of strength training and endurance training order on running economy and performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 38(6): 651-656. 

5. Sato, K., & Mokha, M. (2009). Does core strength training influence running kinetics, lower-extremity stability, and 5000-M performance in runners?. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(1), 133-140. 6. Schmitz, A., Russo, K., Edwards, L., & Noehren, B. (2014). Do novice runners have weak hips and bad running form?. Gait & posture, 40(1), 82-86.