Strength training for Runners: How to Stay Strong
Running is a fairly simple sport to get into. A pair of running shoes and an outfit and you are on your way! While the actual act of running may seem simple, without proper support it may put you at risk of injury. The load of landing during each footfall of running is called the eccentric load and it puts an increased amount of pressure on the joints of your back and lower body. If your muscles aren’t up to the demand of each step you will start to feel the symptoms of it in the joints and muscles of your lower limb.
Common overuse injuries during running can affect your ankles, knees and low back. While running injuries aren’t completely unavoidable, spending time strengthening your muscles outside of your run time will help decrease your chances of pain during or after your runs and increase your ability to maintain your running program.
Running targets specific muscle groups over others. The quadriceps and hamstrings along with the calves tend to get worked. While things like the core musculature, glutes and upper back muscles don’t get directly worked during the run, this however doesn’t mean that they aren’t required to be strong to allow you to keep running.
We have compiled a list of 7 fairly simple (yet not always easy) exercises that you can start to include in your routine . By completing 15-20 repetitions of each exercise two to three times through, ideally 3 times a week, you will help increase muscular strength and decrease your injury rate.
Top 7 exercises include:
- Push Ups
Why will a push up help your running? Controlling your arm swing and maintaining an upright posture long into your run will not only help decrease your risk of energy but will also help maintain your speed throughout your runs! Start with your hands and toes on the floor, slowly lower your chest towards the ground while bending your elbows. Once your elbows are below 90 degrees, reverse the motion and push the floor away from you! If this is too difficult try doing them on an elevated surface. Avoiding modifying them by going to your knees, when you are on your toes and hands it increases core engagement which is key to running!!
The love hate relationship is real with the plank. We are going to switch it up a little bit here. On your elbows and toes, you are going to hold yourself in the plank position hovering above the ground for 10 seconds, then rest for 2 seconds and repeat it 6 times per round! On your last round you are simply going to hold the plank as long as you can!
- Reverse Lunge
Single leg strength exercises help decrease imbalances from side to side. By working each side separately you decrease the chances of a large imbalance in muscle strength from your left to your right! For this one you are going to start with your body weight. Step back with your right leg lowering your right knee towards the ground and bending the left leg. Allow your right knee to touch the ground then stand back up and bring your feet back together. Repeat all repetitions on the right prior to moving to the left side. Once this gets easier add some weights (soup cans, jugs of water and small children work well)
- Bent Over Row
This one requires a little equipment but pays off I promise! The row targets the upper back musculature which is responsible for helping keep you upright during your run! Back pain can limit your speed and distance, so the stronger you can keep it the less likely you have to modify your running! With a weighted object in your left hand, bend over, placing your right hand on your right knee. Step back with the left leg in the split squat position, pull the weight to your chest and slowly lower it back down towards your knee. Complete all of your repetitions on one side prior to moving to the other.
- Hip Thrust
While this one may feel a little silly it is a staple in increasing glute strength, which in turn prevents low back pain and can help increase power output when running and jumping. There are many different variations in this to help you feel the exercise in your glutes but the basics are the following: Place your shoulder blades on the edge of a bench or couch, feet on the ground with your knees at 90 degrees, chin tucked holding a bridged position. Slowly lower your hips towards the ground, then reverse and push your hips up towards the ceiling pushing the weight through your heels. Play around with the width of your feet, the height of your bench and how far out your legs are from the bench until you feel it like a pain in your butt!
While doing more leg work after a run may seem counterintuitive it is actually a great way to increase your strength and leg power without the pounding of hitting the pavement! For this you can start with body weight or a weighted object. I like to begin by sitting down on a chair, feet hip width apart. Step one stand up, step two sit down BUT don’t sit all the way down, go down until your bum hits the chair and then stand right back up without fully going into a seated position.
Each step you take while running puts forces up through your foot towards your pelvis, two muscles that don’t propel you forward, but rather prevent you from going side to side are the glute minimus and medius. Strengthening them (especially for females and even more so for females post-partum) can help decrease hip pain! For this one you are going to lay on your side with your knees bent, one leg on top of the other. Keep your heels together and slowly lift your top knee off of the bottom one. Make sure you don’t twist through the low back, and slowly lower it back down. If this is too easy you can hold a weight on your top knee, or add resistance bands around your knees.
As with any exercise program if any of the above exercises create pain stop immediately. Not all exercises are ideal for every person and if you are already injured or have previous chronic injuries it is best to consult your Chiropractor or Running Coach prior to adding in specific exercises.