I run all the time – does that mean my legs are strong?

Running is a wonderful exercise for our whole body, but does it actually make us stronger? There are a number of benefits to running, or any prolonged form of exercise but in this article, we will delve deep into exactly how much strength we gain from running. Our heart rate increases for a prolonged period of time, which is great for our cardiovascular fitness. Cardiovascular fitness is the body’s ability to efficiently transport fresh oxygen, that we breathe in, to the muscles that are needing it. With a higher level of cardiovascular fitness, we also have the ability to remove waste products like carbon dioxide that are generated as a result of burning energy. Other cardiovascular benefits include a lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, improved oxygen delivery, and improved lung function.

But the question still remains – will running make my legs stronger? In short, no, but we will explore this in more detail here. Plus, like so many other occasions, there might be an exception to this rule. When we run, for any length of time, we are using the muscles in our legs (most specifically our calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes) to propel us forwards plus give us the stability to prevent us from falling over. We rely on these muscles to continue to work for kilometres upon kilometres (depending on our ability) and therefore need great endurance from them.  

If we are completing more sprint-based running programs, for example repeated high intensity running over 50-100m, then we begin to rely on the anaerobic system for power generation. Due to the different energy systems being used, it could be argued that sprint-based training is likely to improve the strength of a person’s legs.  However, most of us social or weekend runners are not completing this type of training.

So, to prevent injury to the lower limbs, a comprehensive strength program should be completed alongside any running program. Typical injuries that tend to occur after extended periods of running, without an accompanying strength program include tendon injuries like patellar or Achilles tendinopathies, stress-reactions or stress-fractures to the bones in our lower limbs, or shin splints (medial tibial stress syndrome).

To prevent any or all of these injuries, our physios recommend a strengthening program that includes, but is not limited to:

1. Squats

2. Deadlifts

3. Lunges

4. Calf raises

5. Bridges/hip raises

If you don’t have any equipment to use, or don’t go to a gym, just your body weight can be a great place to start with these exercises. If you do have access to some weights, begin to challenge yourself with a weight that you can complete 8-12 repetitions of each exercise, for 3 sets. Complete this 2-3x per week in conjunction with your running and see how much your times can improve! Alternatively, check out our own Pilates programs.

For further recommendations, speak with the team at Instinct Health today.

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I run all the time – does that mean my legs are strong?