Strength training is an often-neglected but hugely critical part of any runner’s training. It’s not the thing to do if you have a little extra time, but the thing you should make space in your schedule for, even if it costs a little running time.
Essentially, your cardiovascular fitness comes before the body’s musculoskeletal readiness. This means that running will help you to become aerobically stronger at a faster rate than the body’s muscles, bones and connective tissue will become strong, meaning you may not have the necessary bodily strength to support the effort.
Strength training helps to bridge the gap between the two, and to provide the strength necessary to run strong and with reduced risk of injury.
Strength training helps to improve running economy (energy required during running) and to correct or improve muscle imbalances. The majority of runners, particularly endurance runners, have significant muscle imbalances and/or a weak core and upper body.
These areas are important to strengthen to support your form as you run and to help reduce risk of injury due to poor form.
Ideally, your strength training routine would incorporate a wide variety of exercises to strengthen a range of different areas of the body that help support your running.
However, if you really struggle for time during the week, ensure you’re doing the below exercises at least 2-3 times per week.
Even if it means cutting a run short by 10 minutes, you’ll get more value from adding in some essential strength work than you will from those extra 10 minutes of running.
Check out the pictures a little further down for examples.
Best for: Core
For the front plank, support your body on your elbows and toes, facing the floor. Ensure your elbows are beneath your shoulders and your hips aren’t lower than your body line (try to prevent them from being too high also – aim for a straight line from heels to shoulders). Hold until exhaustion, and aim to increase the time each week.
For the side plank, lie on your side and prop your body on your forearm (under shoulder) and the side of your foot, with your feet stacked. Keep a straight line from your feet up to your shoulders. Again, hold until exhaustion and work to increase the time each week.
Best for: Core and legs
Stand and keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your body weight over your heels, push down and back, as if you’re sitting on a chair. Keep your back flat and your head facing forward. Descend down, ensuring your knees aren’t in front of your toes, and back up again. Aim for 3 sets of 5 initially.
Best for: Upper body and core
Start similar to the plank position, but on your hands, with your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Lower until your elbows are around 90°, and press up until the arms are straight. Maintain a straight body throughout. Start with 5 and build each week.
Best for: Legs and core
From a standing position, step backwards and bend the legs, keeping the standing leg 90° to the floor. Keep your torso vertical throughout. Lower with the back leg until you feel a little stretch – don’t go lower than is comfortable. Start with 2 sets of 5 on each leg.
Best for: Foot and leg strength
Do these with indoors with no shoes, ideally, to help with recruitment of more foot muscles. Hop on one foot, aiming to land gently on the front part of your foot and to maintain balance. Aim for 25 hops on each foot. This exercise is also great for balance, an important aspect of running.
You don’t need much equipment to keep yourself strong and fit for running – all of these exercises and many more can be done in your living room with no equipment at all.
With a bit of consistency and dedication to including some strength work as part of your training, you’ll soon find the benefits and you’ll be running stronger.
A more detailed and custom running-specific strength training routine can be drawn up for you by a running coach. If you have any queries about this, drop me a line!
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