Runners run. We have all heard this statement before. If you ask a runner about their training they will list their mileage and times like a proud parent list the accomplishments of their children. While other athletes have moved their training indoors or across a broader spectrum of activities, it seems distance runners have maintained the ‘training is specific’ concept.
Yes, you improve the skills you practice- improve endurance with regular long, slow runs, and improve speed with occasional spells of short sprints. The general issue we find with working with runners are muscular imbalances which leads to movement impairments and altered joint motion. Some of those imbalances are stronger quadriceps and superficial hip flexors versus having weak gluteal muscles, deeps hip flexors [Illiopsoas] and hamstrings. If we contrast that with the distance runners more muscularly developed cousin the sprinter what we find are tremendously developed glutes, hamstrings and exceptionally strong hip flexors.
What sprinters, football players and other athletes [and their coaches] have come to realize is cross training and in this case resistance training will not hinder performance but enhance it.
WHY RESISTANCE TRAIN?
Implementing a running specific resistance program will improve:
muscular endurance- keep your muscles from fatiguing too early in the race
speed- stronger muscles mean more powerful strides
help prevent injuries- build stronger tissue and joints
prevent burnout- overuse injuries as well as boredom
prevent muscle imbalances- by using only a specific set of muscles during activity
improve running economy- use less oxygen at a faster pace
The three key lower body areas we work on developing while correcting any prevelant imbalances are the hip [flexion, abduction and extension], glute muscles [maximus and medius] and hamstrings [using unilateral exercises- one leg at a time].
Standing Hip Flexion [3 sets of 12 reps]: From a standing position keep feet shoulder width apart. Brace your core and drive your right knee straight up just past hip height, then lower back down. You can add resistance by securing elastic tubing to your ankle. Create a more dynamic movement by stepping back into a lunge position before driving your knee up.
Glute Bridge [3 sets of 12 reps]: Lay on your back with your knees bent and heels as close to your butt as you can. Keep your hands flat on the ground at a 45 degree angle from your body. Begin the movement by driving your heels into the ground and extending your hips into the air. Increase the difficulty by using only one leg at a time. Begin by extending one leg straight out and push through only one heel.
Standing Lateral Leg Raise [3 sets of 12 reps]: Standing with feet shoulder width apart raise one leg out to the side. Add resistance again by using your elastic tubing or cable machine.
LEG STRENGTH- Unilateral
Single Leg Deadlift [3 sets of 10 reps]: The single leg deadlift is ideal for training stability on one leg, while working the posterior chain- low back, glutes and hamstrings. Begin in an athletic stance [feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent]. Lift one leg off the ground and extend it back behind you. At the same time hinge at the hips and slowly lower your upper body [shoulders in line with the hips] as far down as possible while maintaining a flat back. Return to the starting position by reversing the movement.
Walking Lunge [3 sets of 10 reps]: The lunge is a great single leg exercise for developing balance, glute, hamstring and quadriceps strength. From your athletic stance take a step forward and bend that knee ,dropping down [1 inch from the floor] so that both knees are 90 degrees. Push through the lead leg and step right into your next lunge [ do not bring your feet back together]. To increase the difficulty carry dumbbells, kettlebells or any other weighted object you might have laying around!
Do not neglect upper body and core training when developing your program. Having good upper body and core strength helps maintain good form and posture while maintaining speed. Your arm swing is very important when it comes to helping propel the body forward so the lower body isn’t doing all the work, thus saving energy.
UPPER BODY STRENGTH
Push Ups [3 sets of 10 reps]: Build that much needed upper body muscular endurance for a strong arm swing. Begin on your hands and toes. Hands should be positioned just wider than your shoulders and inline with your chest. Bending your elbows lower yourself down just above the floor beneath you and press back up. If you cannot lower down to 90 degrees [and come back up!] you can start by doing modified push ups [no such thing as women’s push ups], knees bent and on the floor.
Rows [3 sets of 10 reps]: Rows will help you strengthen your upper back muscles that help maintain good posture. Holding your resistance band handles palms facing each other take your athletic stance. With your arms full extended [make sure there is already some tension built up in the band] draw your shoulder blades down and back. Keep your chest out, back straight and core tight. Draw your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Return to the start position- arms extended.
Front Elbow Plank [3 sets of 60 seconds]: If your upper body begins to break down your core will be next. Having a strong core aids in maintaining good running mechanics and efficiency. Get into push up position on the floor.
Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. If you don’t have the core strength yet to do a regular plank, you can build up to it by doing a bent-knee plank. If you can hold a plank for more than two minutes with ease, you can move on to these tougher variations: Lift one leg up. Lift one arm up. Try holding the plank on an unstable surface like a stability ball or medicine ball.
Add these simply yet effective exercises to your training and reap huge rewards.