Believe it or not... being a good runner isn't all about running. Building a good strength program for the lower body can be a tough balancing act while trying to maintain your weekly mileage, but strength training shouldn’t be neglected. Running is a high impact sport with 2x your bodyweight traveling through a single leg at one time. The right strength program in place is only going to complement and enhance your running game. With a few guidelines to follow and apply to your own training, this article should help enable you to reach a new or more consistent level of training and competitiveness, whilst at the same time stopping you from overreaching and causing damage to your body.
BASICS ARE BEST
Don’t over complicate the exercises. Three strength movements max. Squats, deadlifts and calf raises are the foundations and what you will need to focus on. Because we are aiming for muscular strength rather than hypertrophy (muscle growth) my suggestion would be to stay under 5 reps. I wouldn’t program deadlifts and squats in the same workout as the demand on the body is too much but either can be paired with calf raises. Below are the reps, sets and weight that I use. You will see warm up & mobility mentioned as I like to remind people the importance of this.
Squats - Strong quadriceps alongside a good aerobic system will help raise your threshold whilst delaying fatigue, making your running more enjoyable. Firstly, the continued repetition of lifting the leg and moving forwards all comes from your quads.
A change in gradient will alter posture and stride. The upward driving force from the quads becomes more pronounced as you battle gravity uphill. On a downhill, the quads take the eccentric load (shortening of muscle) whilst controlling speed. The activation of your legs and core muscles while performing a squat will help mimic these movements and in turn make running more familiar with less stress. Maintaining good form and range of motion is very important, this will aid in injury prevention, mobility, flexibility and help improve any instabilities you might have.
Deadlifts - One of the best exercises to fire up your posterior chain (muscles along the back of your body) is the deadlift. A huge portion of the population lacks strength in this area through jobs that require you to be seated for long periods of the day, but we will save that particular issue for another day. The muscles activated through deadlifts are going to help maintain a healthy and efficient spinning of the leg as you run. Maintaining a good gait will mean longer and fast runs, whilst using less energy.
A weaker posterior chain means when fatigue sets in, your posture is exposed and you'll find yourself slouching. Your technique will decline and leaning forward you’ll be putting unnecessary stress on your already fatigued lower back. There will also be a dropping and rounding of the shoulders which will affect those deep breaths you should be taking. So remember to run tall!
Personal apadation - In a previous post I've stressed the point of adapting things to best fit you as everyone is different. For me deadlifts are too demanding on my body. The recovery period from doms (delayed onset muscle soreness) is too long. Instead I opt for glute bridges. Although I may not get the same lengthening and stretch of the muscle as a deadlift, the squeeze of the glutes and core at the top of the movement gives me the strength benefits I'm looking for whilst allowing me to run the next day.
Calf raise - Everyone who runs has had a calf injury of some sort during their careers. Many of these can be linked to repetitive strain. The foot is acting like a springboard on every step and the calf muscles (gastrocnemius, soleus) along with the achilles tendon are responsible for shock loading and refiring to propel you forward. Calf strength and work capacity is super important to lower injury risk. Having a variety of reps is a key factor to program in. Fast explosive reps, negatives, time under tension and isometric holds. Performing the exercise on a step so the heel is elevated is closer to the sporting action. The mixture of reps will give you the confidence to plant the foot and push the pace whenever you need to.
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