…..and why you shouldn’t skip them.
As a long-time runner, it took me a while to get into strength training. I had the typical excuses: it would make me too sore, I don’t have time, and I just don’t like it. If it wasn’t cardio, it wasn’t for me. Then I met one of my coaching mentors who was very much into strength training. But specifically strength training for runners, and he added it to my training plan.
I’ll never forget those first few sessions. My form was constantly being corrected, and I was so incredibly sore the two days after that it did impede my runs. However, as every story goes, I stuck with it and began to enjoy it. I also got better at running through some soreness and scheduling the correct strength days around my more important runs.
Fast forward to me getting a personal training certification and adding that to my coaching resume. In addition, I trained for a bodybuilding competition that even furthered my respect and knowledge for strength training. Since then, I’ve gone back to running and yet I still make it a point to strength train twice per week.
Through strength training I have noticed I don’t get injured as often as I used to. I still have imbalances to work on, but they are far less noticeable. And while that is a great benefit in itself, we all know that strength training is crucial as we age to prevent loss of muscle mass. It also increases bone density and contributes to better balance and coordination. And, if you care about calorie burn, strength training has what is called “after-burn effect” where you continue to burn calories even after your session is complete. And finally, increasing power will increase your running speed.
Without getting too technical into heavy lifting versus high rep/low weight and which works best for sprints versus long distance, it’s safe to say that adding any strength training to your regime will help you. As we see from TV and print interviews, professional athletes in every sport cover the majority of strength exercises and then add in a smaller amount that are specific to their sport. For running, I think it’s best to focus on hips, glutes, and core. From what I have seen, as runners, our weaknesses seem to lie most in those three areas.
In order to work on these areas there are three strength exercises that can help improve your running. And best of all, they don’t require any equipment. While I wouldn’t suggest just doing these three forever and ever, I would recommend starting with them and building them into a larger strength routine.
Three Strength Exercises To Help Improve Your Running
- The Plank – The plank hits the whole core, including your back and shoulders. We use more of our upper body than we think and planking on our forearms strengthens our shoulders, back and arms. To start – lie on your stomach and then prop yourself up on your forearms. Keep your legs hip distance apart. Keep your body in alignment without sticking your rear up in the air as if in downward dog. Hold this position for 30 seconds to start. As you get stronger try to hold it for longer periods of time. The other great thing about the plank is that there are so many variations! Try plank jacks or side planks. Feeling adventurous? Give my favorite plank a shot. The up and down plank where you alternate arms to engage even more upper body strength.
- The Glute Bridge – The glute bridge is a classic move for both hips and glutes. Start by lying on your back with your legs bent and hip distance apart. Push your pelvis to the sky and squeeze your glutes. Start with 15 reps and try to hold the bridge at the top for three seconds. As you get stronger add in more rounds. And guess what? The glute bridge has awesome variations too! You can do single leg glute bridges, weighted glute bridges, and elevate your feet on an exercise ball.
- The Bulgarian Split Squat – I bet you thought I was going to say the squat. While the squat is effective, the Bulgarian split squat targets the same muscles but adds in the element of balance through being a single leg exercise. It also better hits calves and core. To perform this move, find a low stair or curb and step your rear foot back onto it. The front foot should be about two feet in front of the step. Essentially you are in a lunge position with your back leg slightly elevated. Start with a low step (around 4”) and then you can progress to a higher one as you get stronger. (Typically around 8-10”). Keeping your body positioned forward and with good posture, eyes looking straight ahead, descend until your knee lightly touches or comes close to tapping the ground. The front leg should be doing 80% of the work. Try to push up through the heel of that foot and focus on the glute doing the work. Be sure the front leg isn’t caving in or out. Start with 10 reps per leg. If you have any knee discomfort, the squat is always a great exercise to fall back on. You can add dumbbells to this exercise if you have them and feel comfortable in doing so.
These three exercises are not the end all be all in strength training for runners but they are a great place to start. Just as you did when you started running (or swimming or cycling) don’t do too much too quickly. And if possible find a coach who can further help you with your training regime.