Strength training has been well established as an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It is even more important for runners for optimal performance. A large amount of time they spend running puts a large amount of strain on their joints, ligaments, and bones; and this is true for the entire body, not just the legs. However, with the right exercise regimen, this strain can be beneficial by providing an adequate balance of strength, endurance and flexibility throughout the body.
Strength Training Is Imperative To Full Body Stability
Running can easily lead to injury from the use of the same muscles and joints over and over again. Strength training can help maintain a healthy balance of muscle strength and flexibility, minimizing any compensatory movements or habits the body could attain with a singular activity (like running!). Plus, lifting promotes optimized oxygen utilization of the muscles and increases the health and tensile capabilities of connective tissue (ligaments and tendons).
The Power Of Specificity
Some runners still think that strength training can affect their running form negatively. They argue that to improve and stay fit for running, all they have to do is run. While it is essential to run regularly if you want to be a good runner, strength training can magnify it. Of course, a runner’s strength routine should be specific to the muscle groups that are commonly used and prone to developing injuries or imbalances with running. This means a generic lifting routine won’t cut it.
According to Treadmill Reviews, “with the right routine, you will maximize your strength, endurance, and speed for running in addition to minimizing injury risk.”
Basic Strength Routine You Should Start Today:
Opt for 2-3 times per week for 30-60 minutes. To build endurance try 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions (or more!), to build strength try for 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions. Choose weight or resistance that is challenging but still allows good form. For added cardio benefits, try taking fewer breaks between sets.
Mix these 5 basic categories up each week to keep your muscles from plateauing and make steady progress.
Core strength is important for good running power, particularly with rotation since it is a key motion for coordinated running.
- Planks. Get on your hands and knees to start. Keep your hands directly under your shoulders as you lift your knees off the ground to assume a straight line from your head to toes. Keep your abdominals tight. You can start on your knees if needed instead. To progress, try adding alternating leg and/or arm lifts.
- Standing rotation. Stand perpendicular to a secured resistance cable or band (the secured band will face one of your sides), assume a slight squat while holding the cable with both hands in the center of your chest. Tighten your core as you push the cable straight out in front of you. The resistance will try to rotate your spine, your goal is to maintain control and prevent this rotation. To progress, try standing on one leg or a Bosu ball. (Confused? Check out this video.)
This move challenges the body in a position that is very functional for running while addressing hip strength and balance.
- Static lunge with bicep curls. Assume a deep lunge position (ensuring the knee of the front leg stays behind the toes). Holding a weight in both hands, complete a bicep curl by bending the elbows to bring the weight up toward the shoulders. Don’t forget to switch legs. To progress, try adding a small downward pulse with each arm curl to deepen the lunge. You can also try other various arm movements in this position, such as tricep extensions, an upright row, or an overhead press.
- Half-kneeling with an overhead press. This is a great way to build hip and core stability. Assume a half-kneeling position (you’re on one knee while the other leg is out in front balancing on the foot), the closer the front leg is to the middle of your body, the more challenging it is for balance (again make sure the knee is behind the toes). With a lighter weight in the arm opposite the front leg, lift overhead until you reach a “Y” position. To progress, try kneeling on a softer surface. You can also add other movements with the arms such as a one-armed row or bicep curl.
Back And Arms
These extension biased moves will help keep your butt and entire back strong.
- Prone extension. Lying on your stomach, assume a starfish position. Tighten the core (to prevent overextending the back) as you lift the arms and legs off the ground. Focus on squeezing the glutes and shoulder blades as you hold for 3-5 seconds. To progress try bringing the arms overhead as you lift or alternate lifting the opposite arm and leg together.
- Bent over row. With the legs, a comfortable distance apart, lean forward until the back is parallel with the floor. With weights in your hands in front, bend the elbows (while keeping them close to the body) as you bring the arms back and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Focus on keeping the neck relaxed. To progress or modify, try a fly motion by bringing the arms out to the side (into a “T”) or adding a tricep extension at the end of each motion repetition.
- Squats with an arm “chop.” With a weight in one hand, squat to touch the weight to your opposite ankle. As you come back up to standing, push the weight up overhead (above the same shoulder you’re holding the weight in). Using one arm at a time promotes rotational strength of the body. Make sure to keep good squat form with a neutral spine and knees behind the toes. To progress move to a single leg squat (try without any arm movements first and progress if tolerated).
Having good strength and stability at each part of the lower body promotes optimal balance for running. Ankles can often be the “weakest link.”
- Heel raises. The simple exercise of lifting the heels is great for runners. It should be easy to progress to single leg raises and standing on unstable surfaces like foam while performing them.
- Single leg balance on an unstable surface. This can include a bosu ball, dynamics disk, grass, foam pad, etc. Just standing and breathing may be enough of a challenge. Eventually progress by adding wavelike motions, such as bringing the knee to chest or arms out to the side or up.
The glute muscles are large powerhouses for hip extension with running. The main focus should be on the gluteus medius, a smaller muscle group that helps provide lateral stability of the hip with single leg activity.
- Bridges. Lying on your back with the knees bent, lift the butt and hips off the ground. Keep the core tight and focus on squeezing the butt. To progress, try lifting one leg off the ground first before coming up with the other. You can also add alternating overhead arm movements with or without weight in your hands.
- Standing hip abduction. A burner for that gluteus medius! Stand with a cable or band tied around the ankle that is farthest away (again facing perpendicular), the cable should come across the front of your body to attach. Balancing on the opposite leg, bring the leg out to the side. Don’t bend forward at the hips and keep the toes pointing forward (not out to the side). To further challenge your balance, try adding arm exercises with it or standing on a softer surface.
Running is basically an extended series of alternating single leg balance while rotating the body in a coordinated fashion. With this in mind, you can see there are lots of options to challenge these key components. You don’t have to get bored or feel strength training has no place for you. With the right exercises, your running experience will only get better.
Guest author bio: Kevin Jones is a full-time professional fitness expert. When he isn’t in the gym, he is offering practical research, fitness plans and nutritional tips to the world. Kevin regularly contributes to many fitness and health authority websites. With a passion for family, fun, and fitness, Kevin has found a way to manage and combine these three aspects in an effective and successful way.