Strength training is a vital part of any runner’s training program, during preparation for races and during the off-season. The goals and emphasis of strength training vary during preparation for races and during the off-season. Depending on the fitness level and goals of the runner, strength training may be divided into as many as five different phases including: functional, endurance, strength, power, and peak or performance. Strength training is important for improving speed and for injury-prevention. This article focuses on how to effectively use strength training during the off-season and addresses one particular area that runners should focus on.
What is strength training?
• Performing exercises against resistance to increase muscular strength (or amount or rate of force production) and improve function of skeletal muscles
• Forms of resistance include:
– Body weight
– Resistance bands
– Medicine balls
– Kettle bells
– Resistance machines
Why is strength training important?
• Improves running economy (basically how efficient we run) and increases running speed, especially speed at lactate threshold (speed at which lactate begins to significantly accumulate in the blood and in which our breathing rate significantly increases) which is one of the best determinants of running performance
• Corrects muscle imbalances to improve running efficiency (biomechanics) and to minimize injury-risk • Helps maintain or improve body composition
• Provides psychological benefits
• Helps improve respiration or breathing during running
• Increases short duration and long duration endurance capacity
• Prevents loss of muscle mass that occurs as we age
• Helps maintain or improve mobility and stability at appropriate joints
Although often ignored, strength training is a must for all runners. Many runners are weak in the core muscles, especially the gluteus maximus and hip abductor muscles (muscles responsible for moving hips away from the midline of the body and stabilizing the leg as the foot hits the ground), such as the gluteus medius. Many of the injuries that runners experience can be linked to weaknesses in the core muscles, especially the gluteus maximus and medius, such as IT Band Syndrome, plantar fasciitis, medial tibial stress syndrome, and Achilles tendinopathy. Incorporating strength training into your program only requires 20-30 minutes 2-3 days/week and can significantly reduce your risk for the above-mentioned injuries. Another group of muscles that get ignored and should be trained are the scapular stabilizers (muscles that stabilize the “shoulder blades”). These are important to maintain proper posture in the upper body during running to avoid early fatigue and unnecessary strain in the upper back, shoulders, and neck.
Guidelines for strength training:
• Frequency: 2-3 days/week
• Number of sets: 1-3, start with one set and gradually increase the number of sets
• Number of repetitions: depends on the phase and focus of training, can be as few as 5-10 repetitions, if focusing on strength and power, or higher if focusing on endurance
• Intensity: Again depends on the phase and focus of training, such as low to moderate for functional and endurance training, and moderate to high for strength and power training
• Be sure to exhale on exertion and inhale on relaxation during strength training exercises
Ideally, exercises which are functional should be used, especially early in a strength training program or during the off-season to transition into the next season. Functional exercises mimic the movement and muscle recruitment patterns of running, and also help improve mobility and stability, which are important to running performance and injury prevention.
Simple exercises to improve hip abductor strength:
• Clamshell and side lying leg raises with foot in three different positions (neutral or normal position, toes pointed up, toes pointed down)
• Perform these exercises 2-3 days per week on nonconsecutive days
• Perform 10-20 repetitions for each exercise (or each different foot position) or until fatigue
• Clamshell (clams in the video below), side lying leg raises exercises appear in the first part of the following video by Coach Jay Johnson:
• To increase resistance and gain more benefit from the exercise, lower the leg at a slower and more controlled rate
Final Note: The primary focus of strength training during the off-season should be on correcting any muscle imbalances and improving core strength. Functional strength training will lay the foundation for you to be successful in your training for 2014 events.