So you want to improve your running?
Runners are a unique bunch. One would be hard pressed to find a group of fitness minded people more dedicated to their practice. It’s not uncommon to hear people who love running discussing their free time in terms of miles they’ve run this week, or races they’re preparing for. Running is, for many, great stress relief. It is also a very basic, primal movement pattern that all humans should be proficient in. So, what if I were to tell you that to improve your running, you should spend less time running?
It’s true. If you love running or are just getting in to running and want to make sure you get the most out of your runs, I suggest you make time for strength training. I know what you may be thinking. “I don’t want to bulk up and get slow”. Let me put your fears to rest and share with you how a well designed strength training program will have you beating your best time, and reducing the number of injuries you may experience as a result of running.
First off, I want you to know that elite athletes in any sport have specific strength training protocols that they follow to stay on top of their game. Golfers don’t simply play golf to get better. Football players have more to their off season training than just playing football. Running is no different. Top level runners at any distance train for the strength necessary to excel. Top running coaches such as Dr. Nicholas Romanov, founder of the Pose Method of running; and Brian Mackenzie, the brain behind CrossFit Endurance both understand the role of strength training in producing athletes who can perform their best on the track, trail, or wherever your run takes you. So, let’s look at some specific ways in which strength training can benefit your run.
Improved efficiency. Improved speed.
It stands to reason that if one can move more efficiently, and conserve energy, that one will perform better. With improved strength comes a greater resistance to fatigue. Improved core strength results in better posture allowing one to maintain proper running form for longer periods. All of this translates to better times and personal records for you. If you’ve ever spent time with a technique focused running coach, you may have noticed that certain muscles are forced to perform tasks that they may not be used to. After becoming proficient in the new techniques, and after the muscles adapted to their new demands, your running improved. With muscles that are strong and resilient to begin with, you can reap the benefits of new running skills much sooner.
Reduced injury. More time in training.
Running has a very high injury rate among sports. I frequently read articles online or in magazines that cite the incidence of injury among runners at about 65%, plus or minus depending on how the stats are compiled, per year. That’s a significant number. In a given year, more than 6 in 10 runners will experience an injury.
Frequently, the joints of the knee, ankle or hip are plagued by injury, but torn muscles in the legs, fractures of the bones in the feet or lower leg, or low back pain are also common.
Strength training results in more resilient connective tissue and greater bone density. That alone is enough to help you weather the impact of a hard run a lot better than your fellow runners who don’t include strength training in their programs.
Another injury reducing benefit of strength training is improved joint stability. With strong muscles surrounding the working joints, there is less likelihood of twisting a knee or rolling an ankle.
Finally, properly trained strong muscles actually have greater flexibility. Contrary to the myth that strength training makes one tight, it can in fact train one to be able to apply force effectively throughout the natural range of motion of the joint. Weak muscles are overly sensitive to being overstretched, and will contract against a stretch through a subconscious process involving tiny sensory organs in the muscles. So, strong muscles improve flexibility, which as is commonly known, reduces injury. A side benefit of flexibility is being able to make the most of your given running technique. With less resistance, your stride can be slightly longer while still maintaining good form, and your turnover can be quicker, resulting in faster race times.
All things considered, less time injured means more time running, and more time improving your running.
Running for weight loss starts with strength.
When I first started my own weight loss journey, I made the mistake of starting with a running program. By program I mean I would go and run until my bad knees forced me to stop. I’d recover for a day or two, and repeat the process. Over the course of months I lost a little weight, but nothing impressive. I improved my running distance to about 10 miles from less than 1, but my speed wasn’t impressive either. I also increased the amount of time spent with my knees locked up on me in between runs. I loved running, but my wife and friends all acknowledged what I was doing was ridiculous. I wanted to keep running.
Eventually I got smart and got in to strength training. That was the missing link in my running. As soon as I started performing basic strength exercises correctly, my knee pain started becoming less and less of an issue. I was running faster, and I was losing more weight.
If I had it to do all over again knowing what I do now, I’d spend 4 – 6 weeks building a base of strength before even running half a mile. I know I’d be able to get more out of my run, and I’d be increasing my metabolism from the strength training. My weight loss would have occurred so much faster, and I would have avoided so much injury if I had placed strength first.
Strength exercises for running.
Like any intelligent, sports focused training program, there’s more to consider than just which exercises are best to perform. Different phases in the training program leading up to peaking performance right before a race may call for different exercises, and that’s a topic for a different article. That said, if you’re new to strength training and are looking for a place to start, the following exercises will serve you well. Practice them as you would practice any skill. Keep the weights light until you are proficient. 2-3 sets of 10 reps with plenty of rest for a few weeks should be sufficient to practice.
- Squat: There is simply no better exercise for developing strength in the hips and legs. Performed correctly, the squat will improve your health and performance in ways that will surprise you.
- Lunges: Another great leg exercise that also helps to improve hip flexor flexibility. Again, form is key to getting the most out of this exercise.
- Deadlifts: Perhaps the best exercise for the entire body from a health standpoint. Deadlifts build immaculate posture, and strong hamstrings and glutes, which are important in many styles of running that emphasise pulling the trailing foot off of the ground.
- Push Ups and Rows: One can’t neglect the importance of proper arm swing while running. Push ups and rows help to develop strong arms and shoulders and a solid core.
- Plank: There’s more to this important core exercise than meets the eye. Holding a plank with proper form will develop a strong core and will help keep your running posture in check even at the end of your long runs.
If you live in Tucson, AZ; feel free to contact us and schedule a free consultation and we would be glad to show you correct form for these exercises. While you’re here, why not subscribe to our newsletter and get periodic health and fitness tips delivered right to your inbox. Just enter your email in the box in the right sidebar!
Enjoy your run!