Strength training – The key to keeping you running
Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have seen an increase in people lacing up their trainers and taking up running. Running is great for mental health, physical health and it’s also free! But as many would have found, running is also very tough on the body – especially when pounding the pavements. For novices and pros alike, an increase in stress on the body can lead to breaking down and ultimately to injury. As a strength and conditioning coach, I regularly see clients who have tried too much too soon and put themselves at risk of injury.
But fear not – with a little extra thought, runners can prepare their bodies for the demands of running and “bulletproof” those injury prone areas. Three common sites of injury for runners are the ankles, knees and hips; so by strengthening these areas you can reduce the risk of injury. Strengthening the muscles around the joints helps a runner produce both higher levels of force (to run faster) and absorb higher levels of force (to protect against injury).
Here are three exercises that I recommend to help keep you running:
1. Rear foot elevated split squats
Targeting mainly the quads, hamstrings and glutes, this exercise also challenges your single leg balance (which comes in handy as running occurs with one leg on the floor at a time!). Start with one leg up on a bench, sofa or chair and the front leg stepped slightly out. Keeping the arms out for balance and the spine in a neutral position, bend the front knee and lower into a single leg squat. Once the back knee touches the ground, push through the heel and big toe to return up into the starting position position.
2. Single leg hamstring bridge with heel raises
This exercise is perfect for combining calf strength and hamstring control. Start on your back with the knees bent and the feet planted on the floor. Pushing one foot into the floor, lift the hips up, keeping the upper back on the floor and drive one knee up (into the position on the left). With the hips up, lift the heel on the planted foot pressing through the ball of your foot. Slowly return the heel to the floor and repeat for the prescribed number of reps.
3. Lying leg raises
Some bang for your buck here, as you are working the lower ab muscles as well as the hip flexors. Runners commonly experience pain in the front of their hips, some of which may be from a weakness in this area. Begin flat on your back, legs straight and arms out for balance. Pull the toes in towards the shins, then lift up the legs into the position on the right. Try to keep your legs as straight as possible. Return slowly back down, until you are an inch away from the floor and repeat for the number of reps programmed.
Sets and reps for each exercise will depend on your current strength levels. If you are a complete novice, then 2 sets of 8 reps twice per week may be enough to challenge you but not leave you with tired, sore muscles. If you are a more experienced runner and have higher strength levels, you may need to increase to 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps to feel the benefit.
Strength training for runners does not have to take hours per week, especially for amateurs. A little training done regularly with the right technique is much better than a lot done once a month. If you need some help structuring your strength training around your running, or want some ideas on other exercises to try, follow my Instagram page @rob_coleman_performance where I regularly put out helpful advice and tips.