If You’re a Runner, You Should be a Lifter, Too.
If you call yourself a runner, I hope you’re finding your way into the weight room as well. It’s a common misconception that runners don’t need weights, strength, or any form of cross training because all of their work is done on the pavement or track. While it’s true that the bulk of your progress will be made while actually running, if you’re not doing some form of cross training you are seriously limiting your results and increasing your susceptibility to injury.
Whether you’re a competitive runner or simply a weekend warrior, distance running takes a serious toll on the joints. Working toward an efficient stride can work wonders, to a longer healthier career, but as can getting on a strength-training program to help build lower body power, proper mobility, and working on activation drills to ensure the proper muscles are firing to avoid the types of overuse injuries we often see with runners.
So where do we start? There are two ways to improve in your running: increase your stride frequency (cover a distance in less strides), or increase strength length (increase the distance each stride covers). So which area do you try to improve? The answer is both. While your height, weight, limb length, etc. all play a role, and assuming aerobic capacities equal; the runner who has the longest stride with the least ground contact time will have the greatest advantage, and ultimately, best running times.
So how do we improve on our stride frequency and length? The answer lies in a combination of mechanics and strength work. But why do you need strength as a runner? Let’s take a look at the running stride: A running stride is a jump; thus, the more power in that jump the greater the length the stride will be. Not only will a stronger leg provide a stronger stride, but also you’re now exerting less energy per stride, increasing your ability to expend that energy over the duration of the run. If we look at decreasing the ground contact time, this too comes down to the leg’s ability to produce force (power) quickly, which again can be improved by increasing lower body strength and working on some simple plyometric drills to minimize ground contact time.
So what kinds of exercises should we be looking at doing? Running requires strength in the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, hip flexors and core. Strengthening the body by doing a squat, hinge, lunge, and plank will go a long way in not only building that lower body power, but also to help “fire” those muscles that may have gone dormant due to a lack of activation during running. The glutes are undeniably the most valuable muscle for runners (in both short and long distance) yet most of the population has a flat, inactive butt, yielding a weaker stride and a myriad of pain issues. Strengthen the glutes through exercises like a deep lunge, hip thrusts, kettle bell swings, squats, and deadlifts. On top of strength work, focus on glute activation drills like banded sumo walks, monster walks, and clam shells. Build that butt and your body (and stride) will appreciate it!
If you’re the type of runner that loves to pound the pavement, but not put in your time to balance your body elsewhere – think about putting some valuable time into other areas. Mobility issues, imbalances and poor mechanics can all be improved by putting in some time to form basic maintenance on our bodies. If you don’t know where to start, perhaps look at hiring a coach to get take you through an assessment and get you on an individualized program to help you become the best runner and athlete you can be. If you’re going to continue running, you might as well be the best runner you can be!