Strength Training For Long Distance Runners
Everyone wants a quick fix, especially runners, because all we want to do is run. Is that too much to ask!? Runners will keep going unless stopped by an injury. At which point the solution is typically to rest for a period of time, or expect a physiotherapist to fix you, instantly of course - like magic. That's how it works, right?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not exactly. That method may work for a select few , but for most of us, it's not exactly going to cut it.
If you've ever been injured, there is a good chance you were told your glutes aren't firing, or perhaps your hip abductors were weak, tight calves/hip flexors...and so on. Some of these might be primary causes to your injury, others may be a result of something else not working properly. One of the best ways to really get to the bottom of an running injury is to have 3D gait analysis - it's like an MRI scan for runners to find out where the problems are. But that's not the point of this...
"Why do I need to strengthen if i'm running? Surely running IS strengthening? "
Yes - this is technically true, your muscles are working and therefore something is happening whilst you are running. But remember that (horrible) saying - 'there's more than one way to skin a cat?' (who came up with that?). Well, your body strives for efficiency and it will always choose the path of least resistance, UNLESS you tell it not to. For example, if your glutes aren't switching on (because you've been sitting in your office chair all day and your glutes, being notoriously a lazy muscle, have switched off), to extend your hip you will have to use your lumbar spine, your hamstrings, or even your calves instead. But those muscles aren't designed to do that job in the same capacity as your glutes. Therefore by changing your muscle patterning, you are technically strengthening by using muscles, but it's not in the right way or even the correct muscle group for the movement! This is what leads compensation, overload, and then overuse injuries.
The number one question is then, what do you do about it? How DOES a runner strengthen to avoid this? As we aren't all anatomically or physiologically built exactly the same, every individual is going to require a slightly different recipe. There isn't a cookie cutter strength program that will work for everyone. But there are a few key ingredients you should consider, and these are things that have been found in research to be problem areas for most runners.
Here is a basic Runners Strengthening (and a few mobilising) Program to help reduce your risk of injury:
Note that these are just one way to achieve each of these descriptions, there are several other methods, progressions, and levels of each activity that could be done!
- Glute Activation - Firing up those lazy bum muscles that you've been sitting on all day at work. Your muscles need to be able to switch on to be functional. Makes sense doesn't it? Lying on your front, heels together and squeeze at 1 or 2 second intervals for a minute.
- Glute Strengthening - Now that you've switched them on, lets make them stronger and more effective. Remember what I said about efficiency - don't let your body choose easier options that aren't the best options. Vote for glutes! Lying on your front, or on all 4's - extend your hip back by squeezing your glutes upwards. Try doing 3 sets of 12. Adding therabands or a weight to your ankle will make it harder.
- Hip Flexor/ Quad stretching - How do you expect to extend your hip and use your glutes, if you can't even get your
leg into that position because its too tight? Its not rocket science. Foam rollers are your friend!
- Hip Abductors - these are key stabilisers of the hips and pelvis. Think of them as your 'core' for running. They are the ones that allow you to stand on one leg and hop without falling all over the place. Fairly key for running! Lying on your side with your pelvis in a neutral position, lift up the leg to about 45 degrees and then slowly lower. You can do this with therabands to increase the resistance, or even in a standing position to make it harder.
- Ankle Inversion/Eversion Strengthening - Your feet are the first things to hit the ground. You definitely want them
to know what they are doing with that load - make sure they are strong and stable. Ankle inversion/eversion theraband works really well for
strengthening them. A more dynamic option would be wobble boards and cushions.
- Calf stretching/ mobilising - If you can't get over your ankle, or enough movement through the calf for long distance
running, you are likely to lift up the heel too early or what is called 'abductory twist' and move through the ankle in a different position. Neither
of these are very good for the knees.
These aren't going to be the 'be-all-end-all' of strengthening for a runner, particularly if you are doing pretty high mileage. BUT, doing this set of exercises twice a week will make you a more stable and a stronger runner. Will they make you run faster? Directly, no. Indirectly, yes - they will help you stabilise so that you can move forward more efficiently and use your energy towards your speed work!
Choose to be a stronger and smarter runner now before you get injured. You'll thank me later.
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