It can be said that good runners are built on the road, but great runners are built in the gym. It's common to see distance runners under performing, stuck at a plateau or continuously plagued by injury, which can often be linked back to muscle weakness and imbalance.
If you want to take your running up to the next level you've got to get in the gym and build a strong muscle base to deal with the repetitive demand of the sport. Don't worry, you don't need to be selling any "tickets to the gun show", but you definitely want to target some specific muscle groups. You're not looking to get jacked, you're goal is to build functional strength that will support you out on the roads.
Generally speaking, 2 strength workouts per week is enough to compliment a well developed running program. These should be in the 30 - 45 minute range if you're doing them efficiently, and not spending too much time checking yourself out in the mirrors........call me guilty on occasion with this one.
I build custom strength programs for my athletes that are designed to target in on their individual objectives, and weaknesses I'm looking to address. There are countless exercises that I draw from and various rep and set formulas, so I'm not going to unpack all of that in the scope of this article. What I will walk through however are the 5 exercises that you will find in almost every plan I build, due to the proven benefit I've observed, and their ability to create durable runners.
- Proper Deadlift form starts with the weight on the floor.
- Pull the bar to your mid-thighs and lock your hips and knees.
- Your lower back must stay neutral to avoid injury.
- Don't overload the bar! Keep the weight light enough to stay controlled and in good form.
- Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus & Erector Spinae.
Deadlifts are a highly functional exercise that work the muscles in the same fashion as when running. Many runners often have an imbalace between their quads and hamstrings, which makes deadlifts effective at directly improving the running stride. In addition, the activation and strengthening of the glutes is often a key area of focus for most runners who have weakness caused from sitting at a desk for hours each day. Fast twitch muscles in the hamstrings are responsive to intense exercises like deadlifts, which come in to play with fast paced running.
Keep deadlifts in your strength program and you can reduce the risk of injury significantly.
- Keep your knees aligned, front knee over your shoe and back knee pointing down.
- Keep your knees, hips and shoulders all facing forward.
- Do not let the kneecap of the lead foot go past the toes to avoid injuring the knee.
- Keep your head up and back straight. Think cofident posture.
- Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus, Rectus Abdominis, External Obliques.
Lunges can be a difficult exercise to master, and should be performed without weight until good form is achived. Once you're confident in your technique, dumbells can be added to add resistance.
Lunges develop core strength as well as work the hamstrings and quadriceps; key muscles in the running stride. There is also the benefit of hip stretching through the movement, often an issue for many runners. Lunges can help to lengthen the stride and support single leg strength and balance.
Lunges are one of the best strength moves for runners, period.
- Don’t Squat by just bending through your knees. Be sure to sit back with your hips.
- Breathe deeply and expand the chest. Maintain the natural curve of the back when straightening back up.
- Keep your eyes looking forward and slightly above your head.
- Keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement.
- Quadriceps, Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus, Hamstrings, External Obliques and calves.
Squats provide primary benefit to the quads due to the stability demand required. Also excellent for building core strength, runners can build explosive power in the running stride thanks to the large muscle groups involved.
When it comes to injury prevention, squats are a must do. Knee injuries, hip issues and IT Band soreness can be reduced as strength, balance and stability is increased with this powerful, foundational exercise. Just be sure to use a weight light enough to allow you to stay in control during the entire squat. Heavy weight and poor form puts additional strain on your back and knees if not executed properly.
4. Lat Pull Down
- Keep weight controlled throughout the entire movement. Do not jerk on the bar when pulling down.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together at the bottom of the movement.
- Keep your chest out and a confident posture. Bar should touch the top of your chest.
- Never pull the bar behind your neck, always in front.
- Latissimus Dorsi, Teres Major, Triceps, Deltoids
Building a strong back is a critical component of your strength program. The muscles invovled in this exercise help to suport the spine and assist in respiration and posture. For longer running events having a strong back helps you to maintain good running form as you start to fatique. It's common to see runners starting to slouch over near the end of long runs, which can add additional stress on the legs, hips and lower back.
Another major contributor to running injuries is a weak core. Your core muscles help to provide stability in the running stride, which enables good form and posture in your stride. If weakness exists you will find it difficult to mainatin a tall, athletic position as the miles add up. This forces you to sit back on your heels, lose speed and put your legs in a position to take a higher amount of impact.
So for this one, I'm going to give you not just 1 exercise, rather an entire cycle that you can put in at the end of a workout. Repeat the cycle 3 - 4 times and try doing this twice a week.
Crunches X 25
Back Extensions X 15
Planks - 60 Seconds
Supermans X 10
Hope this helps you run strong, long and injury free. Feel free to comment below with your questions! I love hearing from you.
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