Stability Training vs Strength Training for Runners

This blog post comes straight from down under from our coach Tom Scott (based in Newcastle, Australia). Read on for a break down of stability vs strength, and how to add stability into your training as a runner.

The terms strength and stability training are often used interchangeably when referencing ‘strength programs’ for runners. However it is important to recognise that these are two very separate (although interlinked) physiological outcomes that provide different benefits to your running.

What is the difference between strength and stability?

Lets start by looking at the definition of each:

Strength – the amount of force a muscle can produce

Stability – the ability to maintain control of balance and joint movements by coordinating the action of muscles

Do you need both strength and stability training as a runner?

Running requires your limbs to act independently – one opposite arm/leg combination drives forward, while the opposing combination swings back. Muscle stability keeps your spine and pelvis in the correct alignment with all the rotation and swinging going on around them.

Put another way, while strength helps power you up a particularly steep climb or hold your pace at the end of a marathon, muscle stability provides a solid platform for you to run with a balanced, correct gait. Stability also helps you maintain that foundation when you are fatigued, such as at the end of a race.

How do I test my muscle stability?

There are a couple of simple tests to check in on your muscle stability. One is single-leg squats. When doing your single-leg squats, instead of counting how many you can complete, pay attention to your alignment. Do your hips look like this? 

If so, you need to improve your muscle stability.

A great exercise to test your stability is to close your eyes, stand on one leg and see how long you can balance for. If you can’t last at least one minute, you need to work on your core and hip stability.

How does stability training improve your running? 

Firstly, good stability reduces the potential for imbalances by keeping your core strong and in the correct alignment. Many running injuries initially start out with a fatigued stabiliser. That impacts running form, and it over-stresses a major muscle that is trying to compensate. For example, a fatigued glute muscle leads to a hamstring taking extra load and becoming tight and/or placing extra load on the knee. Secondly, good stability will improve your capacity to transfer the ‘strength’ generated by the major muscles groups into efficient and fast running.

How do you train for stability?

Generally your stability will improve over time with an ongoing running program as your stabilising muscles become stronger with running load. However, you are unlikely to develop strength in your stabilising muscles evenly, or adequately for large volumes of running, without dedicating time to work on them.

Specific stability training often includes single leg activities such as single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts, lunges, and other such movements where you are balancing on one leg whilst moving your body in unstable positions.

Here is an example of a running-specific stability routine for new runners: 

Kettlebell Revolutions – 20 each leg 

Kettlebell Twisting Lunge – 10 total

Lateral hops – 10 each leg

Kettlebell Single Leg Squat – 10 each leg

Single Leg Rainbows – 15 each leg

Kettlebell Reverse Lunge – 10 each leg

Kettlebell Single‐leg Deadlift – 10 each leg

Leg Swings – 30 each leg (15 front to back, 15 side to side)

Kettlebell Swings – 10 each leg

Kettlebell Twisting Lunge – 10 total

Can I still lift weights?

One day, probably yes! However, many runners are best served by focusing on a dedicated stability program first. If you are new to running, or if you failed any of the above tests, then focus on stability training. After six months, if you achieve your goal running mileage without injury, you can incorporate strength training again. 

When it comes to running, training for both strength and stability is important. That said, stability training will give you a stronger foundation to run faster, longer, and more safely.

Get more training advice from Tom by joining Team RunRun and selecting him as your personal running coach!