Strength training for runners
25 June 2019
HINT: IT’S MORE THAN SQUATS AND LUNGES.
Runners are a motivated bunch! Once we get our heart set on a goal or event, nothing will get in the way of us achieving it and giving it our all right?
I know, I have been there, and it is only due to my years in the sport of running (and a few injuries) and triathlon that I now appreciate that there is so much more to strength and conditioning for running than I originally believed.
The body is absolutely incredible. It has an amazing ability to compensate for muscular imbalances and get the job done. This is great for us stubborn runners who sometimes ignore performance plateaus or injury niggles – but maybe taking a step back and getting the basics right would be a better option…
Now, I am not here to preach or suggest that you are doing things backwards or training the wrong way. What I would like to suggest is, that by giving the body what it needs, you will achieve a much more sustainable result that will improve your performance whilst maintaining healthy and happy joints and connective tissue.
There is one thing with conditioning for running that we just cant get around and that’s stability.
In order to move forward efficiently, we must be able to stabilise our own body weight in the most efficient manner. Basically, to be able to move forward with the least amount of effort, we need to have good balance on one leg whilst maintaining good alignment of the thigh.
In order to achieve this, you need a strong core and strong and stable hips. When this is achieved, there will be minimal wasted movement when you run. Wasted movement is typically caused by both a lack of core strength and inefficient running technique.
As runners, we should understand that we are literally using every single muscle in the body when we run.
When we run, some muscles are more active than others; however, they are all connected – so, failing to address muscular imbalances prior to commencing a heavy training load may not end up well (and usually doesn’t).
Muscular balance is about your joints having an adequate range of motion – not only in the sagittal plane (forward and backwards) but also the frontal plane (side to side movement) and transverse plane (rotation movement).
Why is this important?
Because, in running, the body uses all three planes – if there are limitations to one or more of these planes, the body will tend to overuse another plane in order to get the job done.
As I mentioned earlier, this may not seem like a problem until there is a niggle or injury (but remember…when the body is out of postural balance, it is not nearly as efficient).
You see, when we are running in a straight line, we are calling upon the muscles that flex and extend the body (i.e. drive the body forward). What is really helpful to understand is that there are a series of muscle stabilisers that need to be working efficiently in order to be able to propel the body forward with minimal effort and minimise movement elsewhere.
By putting in the time, using a combination of activation, strength, coordination and mobility exercises, you will notice a big improvement in your performance and overall running enjoyment. This is when training smart and identifying your own personal joint and connective tissue limitations comes in to play.
Often, when I am training runners to improve their performance, they are unaware that they actually lacked the range of motion, stability and optimal strength it requires to run well and maintain healthy joints.
It’s only once they are put through a series of muscle activation patterns that they understand why they are having issues with injuries and/or a plateau in performance.
The good news? It’s not all doom and gloom – it’s actually very easy to correct muscular imbalances once they are identified.
Within just a few weeks of what may have seemed like a long way back from injury, we will have you back on the training track in no time.
Strength and conditioning is a matter of restoring muscular balance and optimal function –it’s not about loading up muscles on a body that is already out of muscular balance.
Loading up your muscles will only exaggerate imbalance. In my experience, this is where most runners get a little off track.
Often when we think of strength training we think of squats and lunges. Although these are great exercises, and important in regards to gaining strength, it’s not uncommon for an athlete to be able to squat a huge load yet struggle to apply the strength to actual running performance.
Why? Because the movements are very different. What’s required here is a combination of muscular activation exercises along with some running technique coaching.
The body learns via repetition, so if you never learnt how to run/move correctly, you have most likely developed some faulty movement pattern that is impacting your progress.
We all run in a very unique manner, but there are some important biomechanical considerations that need to be present for an athlete’s true potential and longevity in the sport of running to be truly realised.
Lunges, squats and arabesques are a great way to improve stability and strength. I’d suggest focusing on your form and activated movements until you can no longer perform the exercises with good form.
However, as a guide I’d suggest:
- 10-15 reps per leg for the squat
- 10-15 reps per side for the lunge
- 10-15 reps per side for the arabesque