Strength training improves running performance and helps prevent injury. But what exercises should you focus on? And how often should you do them? This guide to strength training for runners explains more.
Why is strength training important?
When it comes to muscles, the saying, ‘If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it,’ certainly applies. After the age of 25 most adults lose about half a percent of their muscle mass each year. This accelerates after the age of 60.
Although the loss of muscle tissue is a natural part of the ageing process, strength training works to slow it down. Whether you are a runner or not, regular strength training is important as we age to try and overcome the loss of muscle tissue.
How can it help maintain weight?
Regular strength training helps to maintain muscle mass, which is associated with metabolism, the speed at which your body converts its food into energy. Strength training will increase your muscle tissue, which means your metabolism will also increase. Muscles burn more calories than fat, so with more lean muscle your metabolism will improve, making it easier to maintain your desired weight.
How does strength training benefit runners?
For runners, strength training can improve speed, running economy, and help to prevent injury. As strength training works the muscle, bone and connective tissue, any injuries that are sustained may not be as severe.
Why is functional strength important?
Functional strength exercises are exercises that engage the muscles used in a particular sport. So, for example, squats will have an impact on improving a person’s running performance because the movement of running uses the glutes and quadriceps, the main muscles worked when squatting. Doing exercises that use one leg, such as a single leg squat, will have more of an effect on your running because it mimics the one leg at a time action of running.
Neglecting strength training
The problem for many runners is that they neglect strength training or even avoid it altogether. Many prefer to just get on with the running. But incorporating a regular strength training workout into your programme will make you a stronger, more efficient, and powerful runner, who is less likely to get injured.
Here are seven exercises to improve your running performance. Do them consistently two to three times a week and you will soon notice results.
Squats work the glutes and quadriceps
Stand with your feet should-width apart. Keeping your feet flat, your back straight and your abdominals engaged, squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. The movement is like sitting down on a chair. Keep your weight on your heels and do not let your knees move over your toes. Keep you hips, knees and feet pointing forward throughout the exercise. Return to the starting position, making sure you push up using the glutes. As you perform the exercise, place your hands on your hips, or out in front of you.
Single leg squats
Single leg squats work the glutes, quadriceps, hip abductors and external rotators.
When you are comfortable with the basic squat, progress to single leg squats. Stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart. Your hips, knees and feet should be facing forward. Bend your right knee, making sure your calf is lifted and parallel with the floor. Keep your left foot flat on the floor, back straight and abdominals engaged, and squat down as far as you can. Try to maintain your balance and remember to look upright and don’t drop your head. Push back up to standing, then repeat on the other leg. Do not let the hip or knee move towards the midline of your body.
Lunges work the hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward with your right leg and lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Your left knee should almost be touching the floor. Don’t step too far forward so that your front knee extends beyond your toes. Make sure you stay tall, engaging your abdominals throughout. Return to the starting position using your right leg to push back up. Repeat with your left leg.
Box step ups
Box step ups work the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings.
You will need to use a box or step. Place your right foot on top of the box with your arms in a running position. Step up using your right leg to lift yourself to an upright position on the box or step. Try not to push up with the foot on the ground. As you step up raise your left thigh up to waist height. Your arms should switch position as you work through the movement. Lower yourself back to the ground, using your right leg. Return to the starting position. Then repeat with the left leg.
Bridges work the glutes, hamstrings and core.
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides. Push your heels into the floor and lift your hips off the floor, tightening your glutes and abdominal muscles. Your hips, knees and shoulders should be in a straight line. Slowly lower your glutes down to the starting position. Repeat the exercise.
Single leg bridges
Single leg bridges work the glutes and core.
Try single leg bridges when you are comfortable with the basic bridge exercise. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and arms by your sides. Straighten your right leg and hold it so that your knees are at the same height. Keeping your left foot flat on the ground, raise your hips off the floor so that there’s a straight line from your knees to shoulders. Keep your right leg extended straight out. Make sure your abdominals are engaged throughout the exercise. Do not strain the lower back. Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg.
The Clamshell works the abductors.
Lie on your side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and ankles together. Your heels should be in line with your glutes. Raise your top knee towards the ceiling as high as you can away from the bottom knee, and then return to the starting position. Make sure you keep your feet together and do not let you hips roll back. You can make the exercise more difficult using a band around your legs to add resistance. Repeat on both sides.