The Truth About Static Stretching for Runners

Static stretching was probably introduced to you when you first started running. Hell, you probably stretched before you ever went running!

static stretching example

But it’s time to confront the conventional wisdom that runners need static stretching, especially before a run.

We should ask ourselves the hard questions:

  • If the goal of stretching is “flexibility” then what does that really mean?
  • Does stretching before running accomplish the goals of a proper warm-up?
  • Is static stretching an effective injury prevention tool?

When I first started running in high school, 10 minutes of stretching before we started running was standard. We didn’t want to “be tight” and everyone knows (right?) that stretching helps you stay healthy.

This was the prevailing dogma for the first 5-6 years of my running career.

But soon, science started uncovering that what seems like common-sense may actually be harmful. Static stretching was no cure-all.

And that was reflected in my coaching: as the years passed and I became an upperclassmen at Connecticut College, we focused more on dynamic stretching and drills.

Soon, our coaches barely recommended stretching. Our training in college was then reaffirmed by one of my favorite books, Cardio or Weights? by Alex Hutchinson

The conclusion? Static stretching isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

Let’s take a look and see how we can use stretching strategically to improve our running.

Flexibility vs. Mobility

Is this static stretching?

There’s a big difference between flexibility and mobility.

Flexibility is the ability to achieve large ranges of motion in the joints. It’s passive.

Mobility is the ability to move through a normal range of motion with strength. It’s active.

If you can touch your toes, then you’re flexible.

But if you can sprint, move well over some basic obstacles, or run over hurdles then you have good mobility.

Static stretching is a very good way of improving your flexibility – with a consistent and thorough series of stretching exercises you’ll improve it over time.

But runners don’t need exceptional levels of flexibility. We just need to be able to move well as we sprint, charge up hills, and navigate the terrain of trails and obstacle course racing.

All that requires mobility rather than flexibility (more on how to improve mobility later).

Ultimately, we don’t need a lot of flexibility to improve our running. But that doesn’t mean we can’t engage in some static stretching.

Does Static Stretching Help You Warm Up Before a Run?

The most common times for stretching are either before running or stretching after you finish running. When you stretch before running, it’s to warm up.

But is stretching an effective warm-up routine?

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, author of Run For Your Life, does not mince words when it comes to static stretching before a run:

The current consensus is that it’s not necessary, and may even be counterproductive.

The goal is to loosen, not stretch, and the best way to do this is to simply run at an easy, relaxed pace.

Add a few skips, lunges, and even a few short pickups… This is dynamic stretching.

That’s because static stretching does not accomplish the most basic goal of a warm-up routine: to warm up. It does not raise your heart rate, lubricate joints, metabolically prime muscles for work, increase elasticity in connective tissues, open capillaries, and raise your core body temperature.

In other words, it’s a failure as a warm-up.

Stretching our muscles before running may even be counterproductive. That’s because stretched muscles are less responsive and can’t hold as much tension. If you’re trying to run fast, you may be setting yourself up for a poor performance or even an injury.

The solution, as Dr. Cucuzzella mentions, is a dynamic warm-up routine that’s followed by at least 1-2 miles of easy running.

The Mattock Dynamic Warm-up is a good example to get you started:

This series of dynamic stretching exercises will do everything a good warm-up routine is supposed to do and prepare you for running.

Do it immediately before running to get all of the benefits. You’ll perform better, have a lower risk of injury, and feel better too!

Will Static Stretching Prevent Injuries?

best stretches for runners

Runners need not be yogis…

This is where my stance on stretching may surprise you: I consider it virtually worthless for injury prevention.

Dr. Cucuzzella is on board and notes that stretching is not usually a good treatment for injuries:

But when the fascia [connective tissues in your body] become overly stressed, it can become bunched into a knot…

It’s like yanking hard on the ends of a rope to untangle a knot: it only makes the knot harder and tighter. Too often, we do exactly this in the name of physical therapy and traditional stretching exercises.

Consider that most injuries happen within the normal range of motion. And that a very common running form problem is over-striding (i.e., too much range of motion!). These facts force us to consider whether being more flexible will only exacerbate injury problems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually published a review of 361 studies in 2004 that tried to answer this question.

We ought to remember their conclusion:

“Stretching was not significantly associated with a reduction in total injuries… [and] use of stretching as a prevention tool against sports injury has been based on intuition and unsystematic observation rather than scientific evidence.”

If you’re stretching to stay healthy, you’re largely wasting your time.

But that doesn’t mean that static stretching has no place in your training program. In fact, when done properly it can boost feelings of well-being and relaxation – the ingredients necessary for optimal recovery.

Best Stretches for Runners

Ideally, runners will focus most of their time on a series of dynamic warm up exercises like the Mattock Routine above. Coupled with other activities that boost mobility and there’s little reason for static stretching.

Those “other activities” include:

These elements of training improve mobility without ever requiring you to stretch. And since they require active, functional movement, the flexibility you gain is more useful.

But static stretching can still have a place in any runners’ training program as long as a few caveats are met:

  • It’s done at the right time…
  • …at the right intensity…
  • …without any big mistakes

I outlined some of my favorite static stretching examples in this new video:

The 3 mistakes to avoid when stretching are:

  1. Don’t stretch a cold muscle before exercise. Wait until you’re finished running!
  2. No “ballistic” stretching where you bounce in and out of a stretch
  3. Stretch for about a minute – not too long, but not too short

If you enjoy your static stretching routine, there’s no reason to stop. Just avoid these mistakes and you’re ready to stretch!

Loosen Up More Effectively

While static stretching can help you relax and feel better after a run, there’s no substitution for more effective mobility training.

Every week, you should be running fast, strength training, performing dynamic mobility drills, running off-road, and sitting less. Training this way will improve your mobility, competence, and injury resilience. No stretching needed.

But you can also get the effect of static stretching with even more recovery benefits by using a foam roller.

A foam roller – like this one – loosens musles, fascia, and connective tissues. It promotes healing blood flow and increases range of motion.

It’s my preferred way of stretching because it’s more effective.

Download our free Cheat Sheet to foam rolling for runners, featuring a photo guide for:

  • Optimal Positions
  • Common mistakes to avoid
  • Best practices
  • Ideal times for using a foam roller

Get it here and hang it up where you foam roll. Refer to it whenever you need that extra nudge to prioritize your recovery.

And hopefully, it will encourage you to foam roll more regularly and boost your mobility!

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Running for Enlightenment with Filmmaker Sanjay Rawal

Running gives us far more than better health and brag-worthy PR’s. It helps us discover our limits, pursue personal growth, and learn more about what makes us tick as human beings.

Sanjay Rawal

Sanjay enjoying a run

Many of us start running for the immediate benefits of the sport:

  • Weight loss and better body composition
  • Energy and feelings of well-being
  • Improved fitness and overall health

But very soon, most runners find that there’s a stark difference between exercising and pursuing a passion. And running becomes that passion.

When I first started running, it was because I thought the guys on the cross country were funny. Over time, those reasons evolved from fitness, to helping me get into college, to becoming my meditation and good example for my kids.

Of course, I also discovered the girl’s team and ended up marrying one of those runners. I’m sure that helped me stick with the sport!

Many of us have very different reasons for lacing up our running shoes every day. Today, I want to inspire you to run for a reason you may not have considered: transcendence.

Transcendence beyond what you think is possible, beyond “normal” goals, and beyond how you define yourself.

Enter: Sanjay Rawal.

The Self-Transcendence 3100 Miler

3100 Run and Become

Sanjay Rawal is a filmmaker, runner, and the man behind the documentary 3100: Run and Become.

Before becoming a filmmaker, he spent 15 years in over 40 countries working on human rights and international development. His new film is about the longest certified road race in the world: the Self-Transcendence 3100 Miler.

It’s an event that boggles the mind: 3,100 miles around a single city block in Queens, New York for nearly two months in the heat of summer. To win, you have to average about 60 miles per day (for nearly two months).

A race like this is less of a race and more of a journey of self-discovery that reveals the limits of human ability.

In this wide-ranging discussion about the spiritual side of running, Sanjay Rawal and I discuss:

  • Why this race is more of a pilgrimage than a race
  • The mechanics of a 52-day, 3,100-mile race
  • What we can learn from traditional running cultures like the Navajo and Kalahari
  • How we can train our minds to be more resilient
  • What separates a runner who completes 3100 miles from the rest of us
  • How the mindset of a spiritual runner can improve your competitive goals

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources

My conversation with Sanjay Rawal is a unique and moving discussion about the deeper meaning of running. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks to Inside Tracker

This episode was made possible by Inside Tracker who is offering a 10% discount with code strengthrunning at checkout.

They test over 40 biomarkers, like various stress hormones, to determine if you’re training too hard, too little, or have any physiological weaknesses that can be remedied by either diet, exercise, or lifestyle changes.

In other words, you learn about problems that have actionable solutions.

After getting your results, they communicate what you can do to lift or lower your results into the optimal range. For any runner who wants every advantage, to see what they’re truly capable of achieving, I highly recommend Inside Tracker.

Don’t forget to use code strengthrunning to save 10% on any test (including their affordable DIY and Essentials)!

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9 Ways to Avoid Running Burnout During a Long Season

Longevity. If I had to pick one word to define my ideal relationship with running, that would be it.


Sadly, these adjectives are probably far more common for many runners: Stress. Injury. Running Burnout.

No matter how much we love to run, we’re all susceptible to one of those three challenges at some point. Smart training and strength work can greatly reduce your injury risk. Finding a sustainable balance between family, work, and running can also help decrease stress.

When losing your enthusiasm for running goes from days to weeks to months, then you’re faced with running burnout. This can be challenging for even the most seasoned runner to come back from. But finding joy in the process of training, even when it’s hard, is what keeps runners in the sport for decades.

Even when you’re training for the thing you love to do the most, there will be times that it’s not enjoyable. And that’s ok!

But learning how to manage and recover from those times is the difference between a short-term dip in enthusiasm, and feeling overwhelmingly burned out from your running.

How I’m Avoiding Running Burnout

Christine Ultra Marathon Adaptation

At the start of the New Year, looking ahead at my racing schedule felt daunting. While all of my major races have their own specific challenges, how could I continue to enjoy the process of my training through all its ups and downs?

While I have several shorter races scheduled throughout the year, my major races for 2019 include:

  • Hyner 50k in April
  • World’s End 100k in June
  • Eastern States 100-miler in August

These are all part of the Pennsylvania Triple Crown series, described on their website as “Rugged. Dramatic. Punishing.

They sure know how to sell it!

With many ultra races filling up so far in advance, it’s essential to register early or you’ll miss out. But it also creates a lot of time and need for long term planning. With my longest, most challenging race in August, I was looking ahead to over 7 months of training.

Multiple big races require an ongoing balance of training and recovery time to prevent running burnout. Having the tools to approach this in a way that allows me to enjoy the process is essential so that my enthusiasm and energy are still there to tackle the most challenging race I’ve ever faced.

I’ll use these 9 tools to avoid running burnout and thrive in 2019.

1. Set Sound Goals

Enjoying the process of training and racing begins with setting appropriate goals. There are so many fun races out there that it’s easy to get overenthusiastic and sign up for too many! Picking too many races, too close together, can take the joy and excitement out of racing and training.

When selecting multiple races, make sure that they make sense over the course of your training cycle. Even though I will mix in some shorter, speedier races, I love how my three races progress in length and intensity over the course of the season.

Also, know which races you want to select as your primary focus, or “A Race,” as opposed to those you may race for fun or use as a training run.

You may also want to set training goals like:

  • Nail 5×1000 meter repeats at your goal 5k pace
  • Run 15 marathon pace miles
  • Hit a certain amount of climbing/elevation gain over the course of a week

In addition to races, training goals give you a shorter-term focus when your goal race seems far away.

2. Use Motivation (But Stay Disciplined)

Let’s be honest – motivation sounds way more fun than discipline. But even though running motivation can be a wonderful inspiration for your training, it’s often unreliable over the long haul.

Discipline may be less sexy, but when motivation waxes and wanes, discipline is a reliable friend who is always there for you. Long-term consistency and discipline are necessary to discover the path to enjoyment.

In a long training cycle, enjoyment may not always mean “fun” in the sense that we commonly think of it. Instead, enjoyment comes from a consistent, steady effort.

And as you continue to accomplish your goals, enjoyment comes from long-term satisfaction of knowing you put in the time and effort necessary to push yourself.

3. Think Long-term (short-term too!)

As I mentioned earlier, long-term thinking and goal setting are essential to planning your training. But there is a time and place to look at the big picture and a time to stay focused in the moment.

Begin by thinking about what you want to achieve broadly in the big picture, but then work on the specifics in smaller increments. A coach can assist in breaking down a training plan into smaller, less overwhelming components. He or she may even give you a plan for only 1-2 weeks at a time, allowing room for adjustment along the way.

Sometimes even a week of training or a long run can feel overwhelming if you’re fatigued or juggling other life stresses. Taking one mile at a time may sound trite, but it’s essential.

Take each run and each mile as it comes, and if the feelings of overwhelm persist, then it may be time to cut back or take an extra 1-2 days of rest.

4. Follow a plan… But be flexible

Following a well-constructed training plan, whether it’s designed by you or a coach, is essential to a successful training cycle. If you’re a type A personality who likes to nail every workout and follow every plan down to the last detail, it can be a challenge to allow yourself to take a break when you need it.

Though he wasn’t talking about running, Kenny Rogers wisely sang:

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em 
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…

Knowing when to push through and when to take a break is key to avoiding running burnout. Sometimes it can take just as much discipline to take a rest day as it does to push through a scheduled workout.

If you need help modifying your training schedule, this video shows you how:

Walking away when you’re overwhelmingly fatigued, stressed, or on the brink of injury is always the best decision.

5. Balance Hard and Easy

Training should always include a balance between hard and easy days. While it may not sound like a lot, only about 15-20% of your running should fall into the “hard” category. Similarly, it helps to alternate 4-6 harder weeks with an easier cutback week.

Keeping your easy days truly easy can be a challenge for some of us, so it’s important to learn to listen to your body. Running by effort is an important skill.

Know that your easy pace isn’t set in stone – it may vary with your fatigue level and even time of day. My own easy pace may be nearly a minute per mile faster on an afternoon run when I’m well rested, as opposed to when I’m out in the cold and dark before work at 5 am.

On the easy days, leave your watch at home or don’t pay attention to your splits. Tracking your heart rate on easy days may also be useful.

Ensuring your easy runs are truly easy is a surefire way to prevent running burnout and potentially over-training syndrome.

6. Never Judge a Run By the First Mile

Let’s face it: when you’re in a long training cycle, some days can feel like a slog. Not every run is going to feel good, though most should feel better at the end than they do at the beginning.

Fatigue and tightness are normal early in a run, especially when you are running higher mileage, or even early in the morning before your body has had a chance to loosen up.

Give yourself a chance to ease into a run, but always pay careful attention to any sharp pains that don’t improve over the first mile or two. You may want to use a foam roller to help yourself warm up even more thoroughly (get our free foam roller PDF guide here).

I’ve had a few of my best workouts on days when the first mile felt absolutely terrible. So it’s important to keep an open mind and know that your body may be more resilient and energetic than you think.

7. Get Specific (But Vary Your Training)

When preparing for a goal race, it’s essential to tailor your training to what you’ll face on race day. Typically training gets more specific the closer you get to your event.

If you’re training for a marathon, this may mean gradually increasing the number of goal pace marathon miles you run in a workout as you move out of the base training season. If you’re training for an ultra, you may focus on elevation or navigating technical terrain.

What’s important to recognize, however, is that devoting too much of your time to race-specific training may leave you feeling less enthused once race day actually arrives. There’s a fine line when it comes to training and preparation, and it’s important to avoid crossing it.

Variety always complements specificity. Vary your training by:

  • Change your running route if you typically run the same loop
  • Run at a different time of day
  • Wear different shoes to vary the stress your feet and lower legs experience
  • Complete different types of workouts that you’re not used to

During my preparation for my last several road marathons, every few weeks I would get out to the trails for my long run. Yes, this was less race specific.

But since trails are typically my happy place, adding them to my training plan was worthwhile and kept me looking forward to the longer miles.

8. Prepare Your Mind, Not Just Your Body

Taking time for mental training in addition to physical training is another key to enjoying the process of a long training cycle. Mental training and preparation can be both abstract and practical.

It may be as simple as reviewing your training and race plan, and then evaluating where you’re at in your training cycle either in your head or on paper.

Mental preparation can also be a tool to help reduce feelings of overwhelm or anxiety about runs or races. Try visualizing yourself as you successfully tackle your next workout or race. Consider the positive and negative feelings that may arise, and how you’ll handle them.

If an upcoming race is making you anxious because of the distance or your own expectations, take time to look back and look ahead. Looking back by reviewing your training log can help you gain confidence in your preparation.

Looking ahead and plan as many race details as possible:

  • travel itinerary
  • course route
  • fueling plan
  • pace/race strategy

By planning as much as possible beforehand, you’ll avoid running burnout, feel more prepared, and be less worried.

9. Keep it Fun

While there is a time and place for serious training, sometimes you just need to get out there and have fun. After all, most of us run because it’s something we enjoy, not because it’s our profession or source of income.

When your training starts to feel stale or monotonous, find ways to switch it up:

  • Try running with friends if you usually go solo
  • Explore new places, whether it’s roads or trails
  • Leave your watch at home and just run by feel and enjoy your time outside
  • Switch your workout days around
  • Listen to music or a podcast if you typically don’t

When you run or race with friends, try to focus on your own training and development as a runner rather than falling into the comparison trap. While social media is a great way to stay connected and share your training, it can also feel overwhelming if you don’t think you’re doing enough compared to other runners.

Trust your coach and your plan and run for you, not for others.

Longevity in running is only attainable if we enjoy the process. Finding ways to navigate the ups and downs of training and keep it fresh and fun will keep you coming back year after year to the sport you love.

Get the Season Planner Worksheet

I’ve created a free worksheet to help you do this on your own.Race Season Worksheet

It includes highlights from the video, plus:

  • Example tune-up race scheduling
  • The best tune-up race distances for 5k – marathon races
  • The 3 ingredients to a successful season

I want to make your next race a HUGE personal best.

It all starts with a good plan, so make sure you sign up here to get your free Season Planner Worksheet.

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Meb Keflezighi: The Molding of a Distance Runner

Meb Keflezighi is one of the best distance runners ever to run for the United States. He’s also humble, curious, thoughtful, and an ambassador to the sport admired by legions of fans around the world.

Meb Keflezighi Marathon

If you’re not familiar with the life and career of Meb Keflezighi, you’re missing out on a story that weaves together the hope of a family, the ambition of one young man, and the American dream.

Meb’s legacy is cemented as a world-class runner: he’s the 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist, winner of the 2009 New York City Marathon and 2014 Boston Marathon, and 4-time Olympian.

He’s also the author of three books guaranteed to get your competitive juices flowing:

Perhaps more impactful is his approach to the sport of distance running and the marathon. Free from any personal scandal, Meb is a true ambassador to running. In 2017, he was recognized as an ‘Outstanding American by Choice’ by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

He’s also run 26 marathons over the course of his decades long career. And anybody who has completed that many marathons at a world-class level has a lot to share.

What the Marathon Taught Meb Keflezighi

Meb Keflezighi 26 Marathons

Last week I had the rare privilege to sit down and speak with Meb for nearly an hour about his life, running career, and what he’s learned along the way.

The result is a moving discussion of the power of family, hope, and hard work that will change your perspective on what it means to be a runner.

In this conversation, Meb and I have a wide-ranging conversation about:

  • His childhood in Eritrea and how it prepared him for distance running
  • The surprises he learned when running his first marathon
  • Why cross-training is so valuable for him
  • How running has prepared him for setbacks in his personal life
  • When running is particularly hard for Meb

We also talk about his new book 26 Marathons and the many lessons he’s learned from each of the 26 marathons he’s run over the last two decades.

Finally, I ended our conversation with a simple question ahead of next month’s Boston MarathonIf you could talk to the entire field at Boston as they lined up in Hopkinton, what advice would you have for them?

I’ve looked up to Meb as a running role model for years so I was thrilled to speak with him. I think you’re going to love this episode.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunesSpotify, or Stitcher.

Notes & Resources:

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving an honest review of the Strength Running Podcast on iTunes and thank Meb on social media for doing this interview!

Thanks Hemp Daddy

This episode of the podcast is brought to you by Hemp Daddy’s Therapeutics. Started by a trail runner, this company helps athletes recover more fully with full-spectrum CBD products like oil, capsules, and lotions.

And with code strength at checkout, you can now save 10% and get free shipping!

CBD is the non-psychoactive component of marijuana and has been linked to greater levels of overall well-being, reduced anxiety and stress, and sounder sleep (the hallmarks of effective recovery).

All of their products are 3rd party lab tested to ensure purity. Use code strength at checkout to get fee shipping and a 10% discount on any Hemp Daddy’s CBD product.

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Dr. Mike Young Explains Metcon Workouts for Runners

There are so many types of training sessions available to runners. But most of us have never tried Metcon workouts – so Dr. Mike Young is here to explain them for us.

Dr. Mike Young

Metcon workouts are also known as metabolic conditioning workouts. They’re high-intensity sessions that can include a variety of modes of exercise.

Us runners are not used to this! Unless you’ve run circuit workouts, you’re probably not used to combining many forms of exercise into one workout.

Don’t be surprised if a Metcon workout includes:

  • Running
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Gymnastic movements
  • Strength exercises
  • Any combination of these forms of exercise

They’re put together to condition the metabolism. In other words, to enable you to work at a near maximum intensity for a prolonged period of time.

They sound very much like a running workout – like a challenging hill workout, for example.

But the crucial difference is that they don’t have to include any running. And that makes them useful for runners who may not be ready for a hard workout (or who want a different, less-specific workout).

I’ve brought Dr. Mike Young onto the podcast to discuss metcon workouts for runners (and more topics) in more detail.

You can also sign up here for our free course on runner-specific strength training.

Metcon Workouts for Runnners with Mike Young

Mike Young metcon workouts

Mike and I aren’t just discussing Metcons. We’re also touching on a controversial topic in the fitness industry: lifting with free weights vs. machines.

Some folks become very passionate about using free weights. They think because machines require very little stability (if at all) then they’re inferior and don’t produce as much gains in strength, coordination, and overall fitness.

But the debate isn’t that simple.

And Mike Young is the perfect person to debunk these myths and explain how and why runners should be interested in Metcon workouts.

He is the Director of Research and Performance at Athletic Lab. A Lead Instructor for both USA Track & Field and USA Weightlifting, he also works with elite athletes and has consulted with the MLS, MLB, NFL, PGA, and NHL.

An internationally recognized researcher, coach, and educator, Mike has the unique distinction of attending all three US Olympic Training Centers as an athlete, sport scientist, and coach.

He has degrees in exercise physiology, coaching science, and biomechanics – not to mention his prowess publishing multiple peer-reviewed journal articles.

This conversation focuses on strength training for runners and how to think more productively about certain types of strength workouts and whether or not machines are appropriate for runners.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast in iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Resources & Links from the Show:

While there’s no official podcast sponsor for this episode, we’re celebrating STRENGTH with SR’s free strength course (strength = speed).

If you haven’t yet committed to a strength routine in your training, you’ll learn:

  • How most runners prevent progress by making the same 3 classic mistakes in the gym
  • The real goals of lifting that are specific to endurance runners
  • How other runners have used strength training to improve their Personal Bests
  • Example exercises, full routines, and more

Sign up here to get started!

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How Strength Training Can Result in Massive Marathon PR’s

Can you imagine a football player who did no strength training? It’s hard to imagine. But for some reason, many runners think it’s perfectly fine to skip their own strength work.

strength training for marathon runners

Kevin enjoying the fruits of his strength training efforts

Both football and running are impact sports. In football, you’re getting slammed into the ground after being tackled by other players.

But in running, you’re hitting yourself. Every footstep sends an impact force about 2-5 times your bodyweight up your legs. It shouldn’t be surprising that running has such a high injury rate.

Strength training toughens the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and connective tissues. It gives you armor that protects you from the stress of running.

And just like in football, strength training gives runners higher levels of athleticism, strength, coordination, speed, and power. Without those skills, a runner’s progress is stunted.

Just the other day a runner told me he was “too tired after his run” for strength training. But lifting weights would give him the strength and power to be less tired after his run!

Some runners also learn the hard way that skipping weight training is a risky choice. A runner told me this just last week:

“I didn’t carve out the time and didn’t know where to start! Finally got injured and had to cut back on running, so I figured it out and now I love it!” – Molly

But once we avoid weightlifting mistakes and recognize strength training’s benefits, we’re ready to start running healthier and far more explosively.

Just like Kevin, a runner who finally made the commitment. And his results are mind-blowing.

“I didn’t know where to start with weightlifting”

This counts as lifting weights, right?

Kevin was like most of us: he loves running but was skeptical of lifting weights. He knew it would be useful but wasn’t sure where to start. He just didn’t know what to do.

If you’re like me, you need to be repeatedly reminded of the benefits of strength training

He told me:

I ran a 3:43 marathon followed four months later by a 3:41 marathon. What I had been aiming for was around a 3:30 marathon, or better.

I had been running for about four years but my progression to a faster marathon was moving very slowly. I knew that weight lifting would be a useful tool but didn’t really know where to start.

I’ve found that this is one of the biggest hurdles for runners to clear before they start strength training. There’s always a lot of interest in the high level concept of strength training for marathon runners but knowing where to start can be difficult.

At Strength Running, we’ve made things simple so you can focus on training (not building your training).

“I gained muscle and lost fat. Win-win”

Kevin Marathon Runner

If Kevin has spaghetti arms, Jason must have two-dimensional arms

Kevin decided to invest in a Strength Running weightlifting program. He realized that he’d never commit because he didn’t know how to create a strength training for marathon runners program.

So he offloaded that task to us. And he started to like how he felt!

I really liked what began to happen. My spaghetti arms began to get some muscle. I felt stronger and was happy to see a progression to heavier weights.

I even lost ten pounds, which was a surprise to me. So, I gained muscle and lost some fat. Win, win.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying how you look when you start getting fit. Vanity is a fine motivator, at first.

Kevin agreed, noting that he liked his better muscle tone and weight loss.

But what’s more important are your results. After all, if you look great but run slower, what’s the point?

Let’s see what a strength training program for marathoners could actually do.

“Over the Moon Happy”

kevin marathoner

The steely-eyed focus of a marathon runner

Soon, Kevin was able to put his strength training program to the test:

The program was easy to follow and I planned it around my marathon in June. The program tapered at the end, which was great. So, twice per week to the gym with a plan. Easy.

My June marathon was 3:31. I dropped about eleven minutes from my previous marathon only four months before. I was over-the-moon happy about my results and attribute this improvement to the strength training program.

Then, I used a modified version to get ready for a half marathon in September and achieved another PB of 1:38. Again, ecstatic with the result.

In just a few months, Kevin set multiple, massive marathon Personal Bests. He also lost ten pounds, gained more definition, and ran a half marathon PR too.

What’s even more exciting is that Kevin now has the confidence to think boldly about the future:

I believe that if I continue with program it will get me a 3:15 or faster next year.

Now Kevin has his sights set on the next goal: a marathon that’s nearly a half hour faster than what he ran last year.

This begs the question: can we all be successful like Kevin?!

I think so.

Kevin on “But This Won’t Work For Me!”

kevin finishing marathon

If you don’t raise your hands at a marathon finish, did you even race a marathon?

After Kevin answered some questions for this article, I had a sudden realization. He wrote something profound that can help all of us.

You see, Kevin knows that he’s not a special snowflake – nothing makes him stand out from the crowd as a runner except his burning desire to improve.

And that is the real driver of his success. He knows progress starts from within. Here’s what he wrote:

There is nothing exceptional about me except the determination to get faster. I’m a middle-aged accountant who loves to run and who loves to set personal bests.

I’m going to keep using this program to get stronger and faster. I know that the program works.

Those are wise words. Success can be yours – if you’re determined.

Many runners self-sabotage by thinking that they’re too old, too young, not experienced enough, or different in some other way for a proven training strategy.

Kevin, like other successful runners, understands that strength training works for every runner.

Strength Training for Marathon Runners: What Works?

Many will think that strength training is the reason for Kevin’s success. And that’s partly true! But it’s not the entire story.

See, Kevin improved because of his running. But his strength training program was built for marathon runners – and that extra fitness enabled better running.

Sure, extra strength and power helped him improve. Yes, Kevin ran faster because he was more economical than before he started lifting.

But strength training enabled better training – and that’s what his success can mostly be attributed to.

He reflected on his experience:

When Jason asked me to write something about the strength program, I was happy to oblige. Having used it for a full and a half marathon, I would also recommend the program. I like that I actually have some muscle tone and I like the weight loss. I especially love the PB’s.

The program works and it will work for anyone who is willing to commit the time and energy it takes to complete the program.

Strength training for marathon runners has to enable marathon training.

It should have three main goals. It must…

  • Make you more durable and able to better handle marathon long runs and higher mileage
  • Improve strength to help you feel better and run faster when you’re running
  • Boost running economy/efficiency (which is even more important for longer races)

Bodyweight strength training can accomplish most (but not all) of these goals. And the squat is one of the best:

Perhaps more importantly, marathon strength training should actively avoid some aspects of weightlifting. After all, you don’t have the same goals as a bodybuilder!

At a fundamental level, strength training for marathon runners should avoid:

  • Excessive high-intensity lifting with little rest (circuits or AMRAP – as many reps as possible – sessions aren’t the best options for marathoners)
  • Lifting for endurance with high reps and low weight (you get a very similar stimulus from running so let’s not waste our time)
  • Lifting for hypertrophy with high reps, high weight, and long, frequent workouts (we’re not bodybuilders trying to get the biggest muscles possible)

Sign up here and I’ll send you even more weightlifting mistakes to avoid in the gym.

How to Start Strength Training

If you’re new to lifting weights – or you’ve never lifted specifically to help your running – you’re in the right place!

We’ve built a collection of resources over the years to help you start properly, improve your rate of progress, stay motivated, and learn proper form in the weight room.

Get started here and I’ll send you a video presentation about how to lift for speed.

Strength Training Exercises for Runners

But you’ll also get a series of coaching lessons designed to make strength training for marathon runners simple:

  • The changes that you should expect both in your body and with your running
  • Common pitfalls and training errors that can derail your progress
  • Case studies and examples from other runners just like you
  • Example exercises, form tips, and a lot more

Our goals are to help you train well, reduce your risk of injury, and get as much as possible out of this incredible sport.

Sign up here and let’s see if we can get you to a massive marathon and half marathon PR just like Kevin!

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Do Runners Really Need a Foam Roller?

The foam roller is a trusted companion to runners everywhere. But are we using a foam roller correctly? And are they necessary at all?

How to Use a Foam Roller

Flashback to 1998: I just started running. Smart watches were a fantastical sci-fi dream and Strava didn’t exist (actually, the internet was barely used for running back then!).

During my four years on the high school’s cross country, indoor, and outdoor track teams we spent time in weight room and with the Athletic Trainer.

But what’s surprising is that I never used a foam roller until I went to college! They weren’t very popular with recreational runners at the time – and even our competitive high school teams never used them.

Everything changed at the collegiate level. I was exposed to more coaches, styles and philosophies of training, and recovery methods.

More importantly, the training got a lot more difficult:

  • After running 30-40 miles per week in high school, I started running 60-85 miles per week in college
  • Races got longer
  • Workouts got both longer and faster

It wasn’t an easy transition. In fact, I spent a lot of time injured with the Athletic Trainer.

It was there that I was first exposed to the countless recovery tactics that exist in the world of physical therapy:

  • electric stim
  • chiropractic manipulation and massage
  • hot and cold baths (and heat wraps, ice wraps, and ice cups)
  • Foam rolling and other forms of self-massage

Soon, I was the proud owner of a new foam roller and The Stick. They seemed necessary after all that hard training nearly crippled me…

But were they really necessary? Even though massage feels good, was it actually helping my running?

Foam Rolling for Runners: Benefits

Using a foam roller is a form of myofascial release – like getting a professional massage (without the need to get naked and slathered in oil).

And since I’m a running coach (and you’re reading a running site), I’m going to focus on the benefits of foam rolling for runners.

Those benefits are substantial:

  • Enhanced circulation and blood flow, particularly to extremities
  • By stimulating blood flow, dramatically more oxygen is delivered to sore muscles
  • Relaxation and the promotion of a feeling of well-being
  • Removal of scar tissue or muscle adhesions in the fascia that limit mobility
  • Reduction in stress hormones and inflammation
  • Better range of motion
  • Improved immune function

Clearly, there’s a lot to like about using a foam roller!

For this reason, foam rolling can be a prominent and helpful part of any runner’s training program. It can improve recovery, promote well-being, and help you feel better while running.

In fact, Ian Sharman (4-time winner of the Leadville Trail 100) considers foam rolling an integral part of his injury prevention and recovery strategy.

He talks about how he uses a foam roller in our (free) Little Black Book of Recovery & Prevention.

Avoid These Foam Roller Mistakes

While using a foam roller is a no-brainer based on the evidence – and the injury risk is virtually nonexistent – there are some mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

Mistake #1: Using a Foam Roller at the Wrong Time

First, don’t spend a lot of time on the foam roller right before a hard workout or short, fast race. Excessive foam rolling might reduce muscle tension, thereby reducing your ability to run fast.

Relaxed muscles are great to have – but you don’t want to be too relaxed before a big effort.

Mistake #2: Rolling an Injury

Injured muscles are usually damaged – they’re strained, torn, or overly stretched. For that reason, they’re usually hotbeds of inflammation. And too much foam rolling could increase inflammation and tension in the area.

Also, you might not be doing anything to help yourself recover! For example, runners with IT Band Syndrome have long rolled the IT band because “it’s tight.” But it’s supposed to be tight! ITBS is not caused by a tight IT band.

Instead, runners should foam roll the surrounding musculature while improving their strength.

Mistake #3: Rolling Too Quickly (or too long)

Like any type of massage, you can use a foam roller for too long, too little, or use it too aggressively.

Set a time limit of 1-2 minutes per major muscle. Use slow, controlled, and deliberate movements over the roller rather than quick, fast movements.

And if you find an area that’s particularly sore, tight, or painful, you can spend an extra 20-45 seconds pressing on the sensitive area. But don’t spend much longer than that (you might just further irritate the muscle).

Using a Foam Roller The Right Way

Now that we know what mistakes to avoid, how do we start using a foam roller correctly?

Follow these guidelines:

  • Use slow, deliberate motions
  • Don’t hold your breath! Remember to breathe normally
  • Start with a gentle amount of pressure and gradually increase it
  • Spend 1-2 minutes on each muscle but no longer
  • Avoid injured areas and connective tissue that’s supposed to be tight (like the IT Band)

Almost all of your foam rolling can be done in about ten minutes or less if you focus on the major muscles like the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, glutes, and calves.

This video demonstrates several movements for foam rolling these areas:

I also want to encourage you not to overthink foam rolling! It’s very difficult to have “bad form” when it comes to using a foam roller.

Stay comfortable, don’t twist yourself into a pretzel, and remember to breathe.

As long as you’re moving slowly and deliberately while keeping your body in a good position, you’ll be just fine.

Foam Roller Q&A

If you’ve never used a foam roller before, you might have some questions. I’ve put together some common FAQ about foam rolling to help you get the most out of this recovery method.

Who Should Not Use a Foam Roller?

There are several populations that might experience complications from using a foam roller:

  • Folks taking blood thinning medication or who have a blood disease
  • Those undergoing cancer treatments
  • People with osteoporosis

If you find yourself to be in one of those groups, please discuss foam rolling and your exercise program with a doctor.

What if Foam Rolling Doesn’t Work?

It’s true that some areas of your body need more substantial massage than what you can get by using a foam roller.

In fact, in the above video you’ll see that rolling my hamstrings was “easy.” Too easy!

You might want to use a massage ball for harder to massage spots:

  • Hamstrings
  • Hips
  • Arch / Plantar Fascia
  • Soleus
  • Hip Flexors

Always use a massage ball gently at first and increase pressure gradually and conservatively. There’s no need to cause yourself a lot of pain.

What Kind of Foam Roller Should I Buy?

A simple one!

You certainly don’t need anything fancy, complex, or expensive. The affordable versions work well:

If you’re spending a lot more on a foam roller than these models, you’re throwing your cash away.

Should Foam Rolling Hurt?

A little bit! Foam rolling – like deep tissue massage – can be uncomfortable. Releasing trigger points and breaking down myofascial adhesions ain’t easy, after all.

But you shouldn’t be in any amount of significant pain. If you’re experiencing sharp or stabbing pain, reduce the pressure of your foam rolling until it’s more manageable.

Remember: discomfort is fine but pain is bad.

When Should I Foam Roll?

Foam rolling is ideally done after your training session is complete. It can be the final piece to your workout before you hit the shower.

It can also be done as often as every day (no harm in that!) or after your harder workouts and long runs.

Spending 5-10 minutes using a foam roller after a run can be a great way to boost the recovery process and help you relax after a tough workout.

But you can also use a foam roller before you start running. It’s best to do this before training runs rather than workouts or races (for the muscle tension reason we discussed above). Keep it light and don’t over-roll before a run.

Download the Foam Roller Cheat Sheet

While it’s obvious that you would love to watch my foam roller video on repeat, I want to save your eyes from looking at my half-tights for too long.

Download our free Cheat Sheet to foam rolling for runners, featuring a photo guide for:

  • Optimal Positions
  • Common mistakes to avoid
  • Best practices
  • Ideal times for using a foam roller

Get it here and hang it up where you foam roll, refer to it whenever necessary, or make fun paper airplanes.

And hopefully, it will encourage you to foam roll more regularly to enhance your recovery!

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Beth Skwarecki, the Health Editor of Lifehacker, on Health & Fitness Trends

Beth Skwarecki is the author of two books and the Health Editor of Lifehacker. She’s here to dispel fitness and health myths that might be leading us astray.

Beth Skwarecki

You might have come across Beth’s work. As one of the most popular health writers on Lifehacker – a blog with millions of monthly readers – she’s practically everywhere.

Some of my favorite pieces include:

Beth is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the Association of Health Care Journalists. After getting a BA in biology from Alfred University, she received her Master’s in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Rutger’s University.

She also has previously taught nutrition and environmental sciences at the Community College of Allegheny County.

Her two books will interest the science nerds out there:

She’s taking a break from editing health articles to come on the Strength Running Podcast to talk more about health and fitness trends you might have seen recently.

Beth Skwarecki on Thinking About Health

This conversation focuses on the many side aspects of a healthy lifestyle that make running easier.

After all, it’s critical to have a lifestyle that supports running. You can’t train well if you barely sleep and drink a lot…

We’re talking about:

  • DNA trivia for runners
  • How her job has changed her outlook on health and fitness
  • How to engineer a less groggy morning (for the morning runners out there!)
  • Whether elderberry supplements are a waste of money

Beth and I also discuss running in the dark, the cutoff point for running in extreme cold, and the warning signs of frostbite.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Music or Stitcher.

Resources & Links from the show:

This episode of the podcast is brought to you by Hemp Daddy’s Therapeutics. Started by an ultra marathoner, this company helps athletes recover more fully with full-spectrum CBD products like oil, capsules, and lotions.

And with code strength at checkout, you can now save 10% and get free shipping!

CBD is the non-psychoactive component of marijuana and has been linked to greater levels of overall well-being, reduced anxiety and stress, and sounder sleep (the hallmarks of effective recovery).

All of their products are 3rd party lab tested to ensure purity. Use code strength at checkout to get fee shipping and a 10% discount on any Hemp Daddy’s CBD product.

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Lindsey Hein on Elites, Podcasting for Runners, and Training with Kids

Lindsey Hein is the host behind the I’ll Have Another podcast for runners. And after 160+ episodes, she’s ready to share what she’s learned from pro runners around the world.

Lindsey Hein

Lindsey has always been a runner. She ran cross country in high school and after running for fitness and health in college, started running marathons post-collegiately.

To date, she’s run 14 marathons and is currently preparing for the 2019 Boston Marathon. She’s also a RRCA-certified running coach.

Her podcast is one of the most popular running podcasts out there: I’ll Have Another with Lindsey Hein has more than 160 episodes and features the most talented runners on the planet:

Lindsey is in a unique situation after being able to explore the training, lives, mindsets, and careers of so many world-class athletes. I couldn’t help but have so many questions:

  • How do we relate to elite runners who have physical gifts that we simply do not?
  • What separates the best from the rest of us?
  • How do we learn from these runners to enhance our own training?

In our latest episode for the Strength Running Podcast, we discuss the drawbacks and opportunities of interviewing elite runners and more.

Lindsey Hein on Podcasting and Training with Kids

Lindsey Hein Podcast

Lindsey does all of this with four boys (as a father of three, my jaw is on the floor). And as we’re both in the throes of parenting many little children, the topic of time management and goal setting is critical for us. And I’m sure you, too!

We talk about the shifts that have to happen when training as a parent:

  • How does your mindset change when your life includes managing multiple kids?
  • Is marathon training the same when you have four kids? How is it different?
  • Feeling strong vs. racing fast

Lindsey and I also discuss her latest philanthropic adventure: raising $10,000 for The Donna Foundation to fund breast cancer research and support programs. If you’d like to support her campaign, you can make a tax-deductible gift at the link above.

Subscribe to the Strength Running Podcast on Apple Music or Stitcher.

Show Links & Resources:

Thanks Hemp Daddy’s Therapeutics!

This episode of the podcast is supported by Hemp Daddy’s Therapeutics. Started by a Colorado trail runner, Hemp Daddy’s offers full-spectrum CBD oil to help athletes recover more fully.

CBD – the non-psychoactive component of marijuana – can help you:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly
  • Reduce stress and anxiety

Their products are 3rd-party lab tested to ensure purity and come in oil, capsule, or lotion form.

I’ve personally been using CBD oil for about two weeks now and have had good results! I find that I’m able to sleep better (I’ve long had problems staying asleep in the middle of the night) and I agree with the sentiment that CBD products can help improve your feeling of well-being. I’m living it.

Check out all of their options here. Thanks for making this show possible!

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