minutes per mile blog

functional training for runners: interview with trainer garrett mclaughlin

Remember a while back when I teamed up with Garrett McLaughlin, a Nashville-based athletic trainer, to spread some running love + functional training wisdom with Swiftwick? I recently had the chance to interview this athletic pro on why strength, mobility, and balance matter for runners.


I loved reading his answers and hope you do, too! I bolded some of my favorite bits for you :)

1. How did you become a personal trainer and what are your fitness goals at the moment?

My name is Garrett McLaughlin and I am originally from just outside of Boston, MA. With what I do and where I work, it is common that I am labeled a personal trainer. I actually went to school for athletic training/sports medicine and spent the first four years of my career working solely in the healthcare side of athletics.

Athletic training is a very misunderstood profession since it sounds more so like a fitness profession. In reality, an athletic trainer is someone who handles all the healthcare concerns for sports teams. This requires national certification and state healthcare licensure. I continue to work with various teams/events in the Nashville area providing medical coverage in the event of orthopedic injury or emergency situation.

Over the years, I have created a hybrid model that brings together rehabilitation and fitness. This really speaks to my strengths and experiences as an athletic trainer and strength & conditioning coach. Most people, especially runners and triathletes, are so often concerned with improving performance that they often neglect looking at the body from a function standpoint. My focus is restoring quality of movement first and foremost, and then working away at the fitness goals. This provides a better long-term outcome, not only in a specific sport, but for life.

My personal fitness goals are to feel good and function well. Like all guys, I’d love to have a somewhat muscular build, but in the end it’s about longevity. and quality of life. I rarely run myself into the ground with my workouts anymore and try to feed my body just enough of a stimulus to respond positively. This allows me to continue being active and playing sports like: hockey, tennis, and ultimate frisbee (just started this year). I think my current style of functional training will prove to be more valuable when I get older.

2. What are the most common mistakes you see runners making?

I think most runners are still “strength training” with exercises you would more commonly find in a PT clinic. What we need to realize is that the body needs to be trained as a whole. Yes, there is a time and place for isolation when specific muscle weakness and imbalances are found. But, training to improve movement will have more carryover to the sport. With that being said, strength training is a shortsighted approach that often provides less upside. I truly believe that addressing function will be the best use of time. That means expanding your program to include strategies that address self-myofascial release (SMR), flexibility, mobility, jumping/landing mechanics, core strength/stability, and power.

Some other common mistakes runners are making include: not performing an effective dynamic warm-up and cool-down, lifting light weights for high repetitions, and thinking that running more will make them more successful. I LOVE working with runners who see a significant decrease in their running time due to the addition of functional training. The cool part is this usually happens without any changes to their running program.

3. Are there certain weaknesses or injuries that are more common in long-distance runners than short-distance runners?

The most important thing to realize is that overuse injuries are often magnified in high mileage. The more miles you run, the more quickly a dysfunctional area may display itself as pain/injury.

Certain “weaknesses” that usually predispose runners to injury are limited mobility in the great toe, ankles, and hips. Also, poor firing and stability in the hips and core. I find runners do a great job incorporating hip and core strengthening exercises, but oftentimes neglect stability which is extremely important to running.

The best option for any runner is to complete an evaluation and/or functional movement assessment on a yearly basis. This would uncover any restrictions in range of motion, deficits in strength, and dysfunctional movement patterns that can then be improved before injury occurs. Prevention is the name of the game, not rehabilitation.

4. I have ten minutes a day to dedicate to functional training. What should I do?

It depends. Like I mentioned above, an evaluation on the front end would make this question very easy to answer and also individualized. But, some simple recommendations might include: diaphragmatic breathing, low bear crawl, squat/split jumps, single leg deadlifts, walking lunges, lateral squat, dead bug, and side planks. All of those would provide a very simple but balance program.

5. I want to go for a run and also do a short functional training workout. Should I run first, or do my functional exercises first?

It would all depend on your run for the day. Since running needs to be the focus, a short functional training workout can be completed on shorter run days. And, never would I do it on the same day as long runs. With that being said, I really see benefit in incorporating functional movements before running to act as a dynamic warm-up. As long as you are not causing so much fatigue that your run suffers, than this would be fine. But, if you are actually resistance training with added weight, I would recommend doing so after the run.


You can find more tips from Garrett on his Facebook page and blog (which includes a guest post with me in case you want to read it :) ). He also has a free training guide for distance runners available on his website. Happy running and training!