As we head into the warmer months and better weather, we are going to see more and more people running outdoors. For many of these people taking to the park paths, trails and roads, running is their only mode of exercise. Although ANY mode of exercise is always better than none at all, there are many reasons why ‘runners’ should incorporate basic strength training into their exercise regimen.
Two reasons why: Strength training helps to prevent injuries by strengthening muscles and connective tissues, and strength training helps you run faster by increasing your power and coordination. To put it simply, strength training makes your body more efficient because the greater strength you have, the better you will be able to perform.
Trying to improve running by running faster and more frequently can often lead to injury. This is because running is ‘mainly’ beneficial for your cardiovascular and respiratory system. As a beginner, you may feel stronger because running will help to enhance the strength of your muscles as your body adapts to this new activity. However, once you are able to sustain a steady running pace, there will not be any additional increase in your overall ‘strength’.
Strength training will help to prevent injuries by preparing your muscles for the intensity of the activity of running. Think about it this way: If you are continually driving your thigh forward through the same range of motion, wouldn’t you be able to do so faster and more efficiently if your hip flexors were prepared to sustain this motion? This is not to say that you need to perform extremely heavy squats and/or lunges at a powerlifter level; on the contrary, the type of training that runners will benefit from would be to focus not purely on strength, but on strength/endurance. This type of training would look like a higher number of repetitions with enough resistance to ensure that you are still feeling challenged. As a distance runner you wouldn’t want to add very much muscle mass, so increased repetitions with lighter weight are optimal.
It is important to remember that as a runner, your main objective should be to strengthen all of the major muscle groups of your body because running is a full body exercise. Sure, you are going to base your strength training on lower body specific moves that would duplicate your running stride, but let’s not forget about your core, your chest, your arms, and your back. When you run, your abdominal muscles and your back muscles help to stabilize your spine. Strengthening your core and all of the muscles that support your spine will help your legs grow stronger. As I mentioned earlier, the greater strength you have, the better you will be able to perform.
Strength training to avoid ‘Runners Posture’
Training all of the major muscle groups will help you to avoid the infamous ‘runners posture’. We have all seen this in many competitive runners: The slight forward hinge at the hip, rounded shoulders, upper back slightly rounded, and the head sits just a little too far forward. If you incorporate full body strength training, you can avoid this posture. After all, running requires a solid foundation.
In summary, to back up my quote earlier that “ANY mode of exercise is always better than none”, if you choose only to run, you will still be increasing your mitochondrial, capillary and bone density, plus increasing your muscular endurance. However, if you keep in mind that the human body is a kinetic chain and you need to treat it as such, incorporating flexibility, balance, mobility and of course strength training, will help you to be the best runner you can be!
Here are a few key things to remember to help you to ‘Train Smart’:
- Increase your mileage and intensity in small increments
- Give your body time to recover between workouts
- Develop a training schedule; leg day can be a couple of days after a long run to give your body time to recover
- Include plyometric, stabilization and balance exercises into your training schedule
- High reps of 15+ per exercise for 3-5 sets or as many sets as you can do without compromising your form, with minimal rest between exercises
Here are some strength focused exercises to help improve your running game:
Stabilization: superman, glute bridges, planks
Upper body: push ups, inverted rows, reverse flys
Lower body: plyometric lunges, calf raises, farmers carry
* Hip Flexion: while standing, attach tubing or cable around your ankle, drive your knee up and forward against the resistance of the tubing or cable
* Hip Extension: (kickbacks): while standing, slightly lean forward with both legs behind you, attach tubing or cable around your ankle, drive your leg behind you and raise your leg up, extending the hip and knee against the resistance of the tubing or cable
* when your legs get tired you are going to use your arms more!
Jennifer Slauenwhite is a Fitness Professional and a Mother of two with a passion for health and overall well-being. She has spent her entire life in the fitness industry through many family owned and operated fitness centres and has spent the last decade cultivating a community of strong like-minded women. She strives to set an example for women to be the best they can be by channeling their inner athlete and putting up some healthy competition against themselves! She is also the founder and owner of Queens Fitness Strength & Conditioning Studio for Women in Toronto - follow her on Instagram @queens.fitness or on Facebook @ One Tough Mother By Jennifer Slauenwhite. #leadbyexample