Most runners find it’s easy to add an extra run into their training schedule but struggle incorporating strength.  Although we know getting out on the road or treadmill will improve our run we often forget strength is also an enormous performance booster. For a good overview, check out this webinar, where I discuss exactly how your strength can improve your running performance!  Unfortunately, it can be a struggle for runners like yourself to incorporate strength training into your weekly schedule.  This is because you might view strength training as an “extra” activity and therefore easy to drop when you get busy, choosing to run instead.

Struggles with strength

Often strength is ignored in the endurance world because of cost and time. Going to see a coach 1on 1 every week in the gym can be quite expensive and difficult to line up your schedule with your trainer. Or perhaps you found the cost effective alternative – group exercise classes – made you stronger but didn’t really help you run faster. All of these factors make it very easy to skip strength training altogether and opt to head out for a run instead. The issue arises when you have been consistently training and can’t seem to drop your time or seem to easily be injured when you ramp up the volume/ intensity of your runs.

Strength training is one of the factors that can have an enormous impact on your ability to maintain a faster pace

Strengthen your hips

Thankfully, both of these issues can be addressed with a well designed strength program.   Even better, you can start the process at home by practicing proper movement patterns. One of the biggest movement patterns runners struggle with is their ability to load through their hips. This is going to have an impact not only on your ability to maintain a faster pace, but also help keep you injury free.  Injury free training means you can stay consistent with your training and see those long term performance improvements.

When a runner is not “loading through their hips” it means their knees are either traveling forward or coming together.  This often means there is an issue with glute activation and can be a source of back pain. Not being able to “load though the hips” could also mean the muscles in your posterior chain (glutes/ hamstrings) are underperforming.  This is a massive source of untapped energy (more details in my webinar)!!

Hip dominated movements have an impact not only your ability to maintain a faster pace, but also help keep you injury free

Corrective Strength

So what can you do at home to start changing to these more optimal movement patterns? One of my favourite exercises is called the “chair drill”. This is one of the first exercises I use to help teach runners what it feels like to perform hip dominated movements.  Once you can comfortably perform this movement, it’s easy to integrate into other exercises.

To set up this exercise, stand on one leg about one fist distance away form a bench. Next, go into a quarter squat, without letting your knee touch the bench (you should not be able to squat down very low). “Loading through your hips” means your hips go back and down (like sitting in a chair).  “Loading through your knees” means your knee coming forward and hitting the bench (this is a movement we want to avoid when performing this exercise). If your knee hits the bench, reset (stand up) and try to bend your knee without it hitting the bench.  Another key technique tip for this exercise is to work to maintain a tall posture as seen in the video. I discuss the progression to this exercise as well as other hip dominated movements in this webinar.

“Good” vs. “Bad” exercises

Although this is just one exercise, there are many exercises that can be adjusted into a hip dominated movement. It is important to keep in mind that there are not “good” exercises and “bad” exercises.  More accurately, different exercises serve different purposes. For example, if my goal is glute and hamstring function, I am going to choose hip dominated movements. However, if I am trying to improve achy knees in a runner, I might choose exercises that puts the knees though a full range of motion (i.e. knee over toe lunges). Both exercises serve a purpose, but one is a “hip dominated” while the other is a “knee dominated” movement.

When looking to use group fitness classes as a way to improve your run, keep in mind what your purpose is.  The exercises in class are designed to serve a purpose, but that purpose might be different from what you need. It is this reason that many runners find they get stronger from going to classes such as CrossFit, but aren’t seeing that strength carry-over into their run.

Alternative to group classes

Group fitness classes are a cost effective alternative to personal training but often very little carry-over into running performance. This is why I have created online strength programs, complete with exercise video demo’s.  I also include virtual coach feedback for form corrections to ensure you are doing the movements properly!

Online strength is the most cost-effective form of strength training.  This is because there are no overhead costs (facility fee’s/ admin) so you can really optimize your budget.  It also allows you to pick and choose what resources you need, while staying within your price range. If strength training is very new to you, you also have the option to book in-person one on one sessions.  The purpose of these are to accelerate you’re learning in the initial stages to get you confident in your movements sooner. However, as mentioned above, in-person strength training can be costly and time consuming in the long term.  Therefore, it is expected you take notes/ personal videos to help yourself transition to online strength programs as soon as possible.

Amanda Regnier, Strength/ Run Coach
MS. High Performance Sport, Strength and Conditioning, C.S.C.S
Movement Specialist (FRC®)

Great post Amanda! Thank you for clarifying the difference between “hip dominated” and “knee dominated” exercises. I remember you introducing me to the “chair drill” during our first strength session together last fall and I’m still doing it today to continue to work on my knee health.  ~Coach Mary