strength training for ultrarunners

Year-Round Strength Training Movements for Ultrarunners

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Note: Sarah Scozzaro is one of the new voices providing her expertise to the CTS Ultrarunning content. She earned her M.S. in Exercise Science with a concentration in Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention, as well as certifications in personal training and Restorative Exercise, to better serve athletes and keep them running strong and healthy. She has run all over the world and worked with athletes of all levels and experience, including an opportunity to serve as a consultant with an NFL team for four seasons on restorative work, injury prevention and performance enhancement. 

By Sarah Scozzaro,
CTS Expert Coach, NSCA-PT, NASM PES

For many runners, the season is wrapping up and athletes are starting to look forward to the next year and new adventures, challenges, and goals. As you take stock of the past season and look ahead to what is next, you may wonder if strength training is for you and how to incorporate it into your training year. Or, perhaps you currently do strength training and aren’t sure if it’s structured to provide optimal benefits, without hindering your running performance. As a CTS Coach and avid participant in strength training, I believe many athletes can benefit from strength training, assuming they are hitting the marks and getting adequate recovery with their current run volume and programming. Strength training should enhance your run training; not take away from it. Using strength appropriately for your goals and the phase of your training season can lead to be a more durable, resilient athlete.

So, how does one go about approaching strength training to compliment run training?

Something I discuss with my athletes is to periodize your strength training to match your running “seasons” and goals. If you divide the training year into Early (sometimes this can be considered “transition” or “off” season), Mid, and Late season, you can begin to think of how you would structure your strength training to compliment your running as it builds, peaks, and backs off each year.

As you move through these periods, your reps and sets (also known as volume) will change, as will some of the exercises you perform. For instance, we typically program training that is least race-specific farther away from your events, moving to more specific work as the race approaches. Applying this to strength training, you may work on power and plyometrics in the early/off season when run volume and subsequent fatigue is low, and transition to different exercises–at lower volume–later in the season when fatigue is high and most of your resources are aimed at your higher running volume. Just as your running evolves and changes through the year from building volume to blocks of higher-intensity training, your strength training should shift along with those changes.

In an upcoming blog post I will provide some guidelines and parameters for transition period or early season strength training. In this post I want to start with some exercises that can be performed year-round. 

Although athletes can benefit from strength training specifically designed to address individual weaknesses, imbalances, and injuries, some “corrective” movements can generally be done year-round with a low risk of negatively impacting running performance and recovery. The goals here is resilience and durability, not necessarily increasing your speed and race day performance. It is important to keep in mind, as well, that adding strength training to your program will mean an increase in your total workload, unless you compensate by making a reduction somewhere else. If you add strength training, it must be appropriate for your total work capacity and integrated into your program, not merely added on top of it.

The corrective movements include:

  • Lateral hip work: Includes lateral band walks and lateral step ups. Engaging and strengthening the lateral hip and glute muscles can help with pelvis stabilization, as well as lower the incidences of IT band injuries and some knee issues.
    • Example: Lateral Band Walks – see video

  • Glute engagement exercises: Includes bridges (banded, single leg or double) and king deadlifts. Work that targets the glutes can help with running power and efficiency as well as address some issues that can lead to hamstring and knee pain.
    • Examples:
      Banded Single Leg Bridge
    • King Deadlift 
  • Core work: Exercises that address breathing and spinal stabilization, such as deadbugs and offset carries. Core work that helps with correct breathing and spinal stabilization, and core unit control, can go a long way when it comes to the transfer of power when running, as well as resisting fatigue later in training and races.
    • Example:
      Deadbug
  • Balance work: Includes single leg banded flexion and extension. Barefoot and single leg balance work can help with strengthening the feet and lower legs, while also addressing proprioception.
    • Example:
      Single Leg Banded Flexion/Extension

Strength training can be a valuable part of an ultrarunner’s annual Long Range Plan. The specifics of your strength training progression may look different from another runner’s, and will change during the course of the year, depending on your training phase. But, without a doubt, to be a resilient and durable athlete, maintaining a strength program that adapts to your running and your goals (as well as your weaknesses and strengths) is key.

Stay tuned for future blog posts for information and examples of specific strength goals/parameters you can use across the phases of your training year. And more than just providing lists of exercises, we’ll also discuss the best ways to utilize your strength training time to enhance and compliment your running, without leaving you frazzled and fatigued.

Stay strong, friends!


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Comments 2

  1. Thanks Sarah, very informative, and the videos really help, (and, it hardly takes any gear)!
    I hike & climb small mtns., (used to run long), & ride my road bike hard, and trained on the steepest terrain I was able to find, for an upcoming local summit.
    I climbed Mt. Baldy, (Socal), last week, (4k ft. of gain in 3.5 miles to 10k summit), and my Tensor Facia Latae, (upper outside hip / quad muscle) were on fire. I maybe should have stopped and stretched, but soldiered on, and it did get better on the more gradual downhill, but still very sore.
    I think some of these exercises may help, as I didn’t realize I have a weakness. May also attempt to attach a band to a wall or strong object & pull my bent knee away. Cheers

  2. Pingback: Ultramarathon Daily News | Tue, Oct 12 - Yeovil Marathon

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