Earlier this week, I was invited to speak to the participants of a local half-marathon clinic on the topic of strength training for runners.
As the group was heading out for a tempo run immediately after my presentation, I didn’t want to burden them with handouts of exercise descriptions and strength training protocols. Instead, I promised to recap the talk, including our quick Q&A session here on the blog. Enjoy!
Strength training for runners: why you need it and how to do it
I’ve trained a fair number of endurance runners. Many have had to deal with injuries at one point or other. Most of their injuries can be traced back to one (or more) of the following root causes:
- forward leaning postures; while most of us suffer from postural deviations caused by sitting too much, endurance running can exacerbate the problem if the runner consistently extends the head, neck and shoulders forward.
- muscular imbalances; front of the body muscles become stronger than back of the body muscles leading to lower back pain and overly tight joints
- weak lateral movement patterns; side to side and rotational motions are rarely trained, compromising agility, core strength and increasing the potential for knee and ankle injuries
- too much of the same thing; repetitive stress injuries frequently occur once a particular ‘threshold distance’ is reached. These injuries are often difficult to rehab without completing stopping the activity that caused them.
When designing weight training programs for my runner-clients, I tend to focus on the following four muscle groups:
- hamstrings and gluteus maximus; due to constant forward motion, runners are often ‘quad-dominant’, that is the quadriceps are much stronger than the muscles that ‘oppose’ them.
- obliques and erector spinae; improving core strength can not only reduce the likelihood of lower back and hip pain, it can also improve athletic performance by making proper running posture easier to maintain. In most runners, the obliques and erector spinae (lower back) are typically the weakest link in the core-chain.
- gluteus medius and adductors; strengthening weak medial glutes and inner thigh muscles can help improve knee tracking, thereby reducing the likelihood of a variety of knee injuries as well as ITB syndrome (here are some ideas for working out with a knee injury)
- posterior deltoids, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi; strengthening the muscles of the upper back can improve posture and running form; not to mention make you look taller and five pounds lighter!
Below are a list of the exercises I recommend for strengthening the weak muscle groups described above. If you’ve ever suffered a running injury before, you’ll notice that many of the exercises I suggest are the same ones you performed during rehab; an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure!
Click through the links to see demonstrations of proper exercise form and suggestions for progression.
Hamstrings and gluteus maximus:
- Hip thrusts (with single leg only)
- Hamstring curls on the ball (start with both feet on the ball)
- Kettlebell (or dumbbell) swings
Obliques and erector spinae:
- Bird dog
- Plank (keep forearms parallel to engage back)
- Side planks (with optional rotation)
- V-sit with core rotation (start with both feet on the ground)
Gluteus medius and adductors:
Back of the shoulder and upper back:
- Bent over reverse flys (can also be performed from standing)
- Bent over rows (using a band or dumbbells)
- YTWL (using a bench or a stability ball)
And OF COURSE, I always remind all of my clients to spend some time foam rolling and stretching after their strength workout. Focus on stretches that target the muscles you’ve just worked, as well as any other tight spots that you’re aware of!
Strength training for runners: Q&A
Q1: How should we combine the above exercises? How many reps and sets of each?
A1: Try choosing one exercise from each of the categories above. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions of each, circuit-style, with minimal rest between, 2 to 3 times through.
Q2: How often should we be strength training? As our half-marathon training progresses, we don’t have much time left in our schedules for more exercise!
A2: Aim to fit your strength training workouts in twice each week. The above workout should only take 20 minutes and can be easily done at the end of one of your shorter runs (when you’re already warmed up and should be thinking about stretching anyways 🙂 )
Q3: You mentioned foam rolling after a workout. I’ve always been told to do it before my runs. Which is better?
A3: In my opinion, you can’t foam roll enough! Doing it before a run can loosen up adhesions and tight muscles; but make sure you’ve done a bit of a dynamic warm up first. I find both foam rolling and static stretching to be much more effective when performed on warm muscles, regardless of when in your workout you do it. Experiment and see which works best for you!
Thanks so much to the Port Coquitlam Running Room for inviting me to chat about one of my favourite topics!
Runners, do you include weight training in your exercise schedule?
If so, how has it affected your running?
Disclaimer: Although I am a certified Personal Trainer, I am not YOUR Personal Trainer. The exercises described above may not be the exercises YOU need to improve your running and avoid injury.
For a PERSONALIZED program, please check out my ONLINE TRAINING options. And add your e-mail address to my newsletter to be the FIRST to hear about my new ONLINE GROUP TRAINING program set to launch early this fall!