Strength and Conditioning for runners
Next up in our series of tips to improve your running, following on from our recent article about recovery. The importance of building in sufficient time to work on your strength and conditioning. “Strength and conditioning for runners”.
For most distance runners, particularly those of a certain generation, the thought of *cough*. Lifting weights, fills us with a deep fear. In fact, getting “swole” sounds more like a serious medical condition than a sign that you’re in optimal physical condition.
However, there is more and more evidence emerging that even for long distance runners. There are serious benefits to working resistance training. In other words strength and conditioning, into your training plans.
I have intentionally called it resistance training. Because, importantly, for those trying to optimise their performances in middle and long distances races. Strength work does not mean lifting as much as steel as you possibly can no more than 6 inches off the floor. It requires a focus on strengthening the core muscles such as abdominals, the obliques, the specific lower-limb muscles used for running. But in a functional way and, at the same time. All of the soft-tissue fibres like tendons etc that contribute to an effective and efficient runner.
The benefits of strength and conditioning for runners
The main benefits of resistance training include:
- Remove imbalances between muscles to improve form and efficiency.
- Reduce the impact of fatigue-based changes to form and gait.
- Reduce risk of injury, considerably, by building resilience into soft tissue.
- Increase density of bones in the lower limbs.
- Make you a faster runner by increasing overall power and strength.
What exercises should you build into your programme?
There are a number of different ways you can improve strength as a runner.
One of the most obvious, but under-utilised, is hill reps. We are a huge advocate of hill reps at Trackstaa as being one of the key ways you can take your performance to the next level. A typical hill session might include:
- 2-mile warm-up
- 2 sets of 6 x 30 second hill sprints – recover on the way down (2 minute rest between sets).
- 2-mile cool-down.
We are currently working on a scientific E-book which covers all training methods, so stay tuned for a in-depth explanation on how you can improve your performance.
Talk with Nick Bester
This article is focussed mainly on ways to improve in the gym so we spoke to Nick Bester, a UK Athletics accredited running coach (@Justalilbester), who boasts a client portfolio of a range of abilities and distances, and is himself a sub-2:30 marathon runner with a PB of 15:16 over 5km about the importance of strength training and what his favourite exercises are.
“My top 3 exercises are definitely jump squats, jump lunges and pulse calf raises. All 3 exercises improve both leg and core strength, giving you the ability to move quicker, improve on form and most of all ensure training is sustainable going forward.”
“The benefit of keeping them explosive and not static is that they activate the fast-twitch muscle fibres to help you run faster and improve overall running performance.”
Rather than labelling one day a week as “Leg Day”, Nick advocates a little and often approach. “Over the past year, I have been doing a post-run routine. Rather than doing a big leg session that leaves me too stiff to effectively hit my harder sessions, I find it a lot more effective to do small bits of strength work every day.”
At the end of each run, Nick performs:
- 12 jump squats
- 14 jump lunges
- 20 pulse calf raises on each leg.
More strength and conditioning for runners
However you build your strength training into your programme is up to you and there is no ‘one-size fits all’ and you may prefer dedicating a specific day to performing strength training. As well as the exercises Nick talks about, we have listed some other great exercises for runners looking to improve their performance:
- The plank – a brilliant exercises which engages the abdominals, glutes, and quadriceps for a gut-busting isometric hold. Hold for 45-60 seconds and repeat 3 times. Or to go full beast-mode, hold until failure up to 5 times. You can also add side plank to this, which puts additional strain on your side abs and triceps
- Overhead rear lunge – holding a dumbbell or kettlebell above your head, step backwards until your front leg is at 90 degrees, hold for 2 seconds and power back to a standing position. Repeat 6 – 8 times and then swap leg.
- Stability ball leg curl – Lie on your back, with your heels resting on a stability ball. Push your hips up into a bridge pose and, engaging your glutes, keeping your hips firm, roll the stability ball in towards your glutes and back out again. Repeat 6 – 8 times.
- Thrusters – holding a dumbbell in each hand, squat down so that your legs are at 90 degrees, hold for 1-2 seconds before powering up to standing and thrusting the dumbbells above your head by straightening your arms. Key to this exercise is to engage your core throughout the movement. Repeat 6 – 8 times.
Further strength and conditioning for runners
You can find other routines and suggested exercises online and we have previously written at Trackstaa about the benefits of Yoga and some specific yoga poses that can improve strength and flexibility. If you have just hit a hard gym session and you want to read our top-tips for recovery, you can find our article here.