It used to be runners did just that; ran. Today, you need to do more if you want to be harder, better, faster and stronger (see what we did there?) Strength training not only decreases your risk of injury, it enhances performance too, and if you're not strong, your risk of injury is increased. Did you know that the annual injury rate for runners is 66%? (1) So here's why you should strength train, whether you're new to the world of running or a seasoned pro.
Get into the habit
There's no denying that strength training can enhance your performance, and it doesn't have to mean lifting heavy weights everyday until your resemble The Rock. In fact, just 10 to 20 minutes of strength training a day can give you real results. You want your tendons, muscles, ligaments and bones to be strong so they can withstand impact, right? So strength training totally makes sense, and it can also improve your speed and stamina, vital if you're planning on running that 5K in 2015.
Go the distance
If you're putting in lots of miles, such as planning to run the London Marathon or training for a 5K, strength training is even more important. Many of us lead fairly sedentary lives at work, and sitting in front of a computer screen every day isn't doing your muscles and ligaments any favours; in fact they're losing strength even as you read this! You'll find that strength training plays an important role in almost any sport, remember:
Stronger = Better Performance
Whilst it's true that running training will improve your running – e.g. hill running and interval training can be used to boost your speed – this can often lead to injury. When you think about it, running mainly benefits the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. When you begin running, it's true that your muscles and ligaments will gain strength in order to cope with the additional impact, but after a while when your body's used to it, your strength stops improving. So by running more or training harder, you could easily become injured.
Fall at the first hurdle
Injury is no laughing matter; it can set you back and could even mean you're unable to compete in your 5K or take part in that fitness challenge you signed up for. Unfortunately, although many runners take up strength training after they have been injured, to boost their rehabilitation, many often ignore the advice to continue this training once they've recovered from their injuries (2).
Specialised strength training
So when we talk about strength training for runners, what do we actually mean? Well, we're talking about focused strength training, which targets the key joint actions involved in running. This type of training can provide you with plenty of benefits, and it's well worth asking your running coach or personal trainer to create a tailored strength training program for you. Focusing on major muscles such as your hip flexor muscles, which are responsible for driving your thighs forward and maintaining your speed, can greatly enhance your running and improve performance. It's strength endurance you're looking to build rather than strength alone, which means using plenty of resistance and carrying out a higher number of reps.
Make the change
Strength training can also be useful if you are changing or modifying your running technique. For example, if your running coach suggests you should be using a more upright posture when you run, but your lower back is weak, this will be very hard for you to do. Focusing your strength training on this area can really help.
Tips and tricks
So, if you want to become a better runner, specific strength training can really enhance the performance of your muscles and prevent injury. Here are a few tips which we hope will help you choose the right type of exercises to focus on for your strength training:
These types of routines help to build strength and boost your recovery after running. Mix things up a little by adding in moves such as squats and press-ups. Exercises which focus on core strength in particular can make you a better runner.
Strengthen your hips
Weak hips are a major cause of running injuries, so focusing on this area makes total sense if you want to run faster and for longer. The ITB Rehab Routine (3) is a program recommended to treat and prevent injuries. Heavy weight lifting is also a great idea, but limit yourself to only a couple of times a week.
Movements not muscles
Compound exercises that target multiple joints are a great addition to your workouts at the gym. Squats, bench press, step-ups and deadlifts are all helpful, and you'll notice the difference when you go for a run.
Always make sure you build your strength training program slowly. If you're working with a personal trainer, they will devise a programme which eases you slowly into the training, minimising the risk of injury. Save your strength workouts for after your run or days when you're taking a break from running, as you don't want to increase your risk of injury by being tired. Start small and gradually begin increasing your reps, adding more exercises to your routine as your strength increases.
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