If you search online for ‘10K run plan’ (or any other distance), you’ll find that strength training is likely not of the plan, or at best makes only shows up as a soft ‘suggestion’; something to do as cross training on off days. If you’re following a typical run program, your plan has you running 4-5 times per week, leaving little time (or energy) for other workouts. However, if you want to improve your running, or be able to run for many years without injury, you need to strength train.
There are a few, very important reasons runners need to balance their running with strength and mobility training, (not simply just cross train with other forms of cardio).
Cardio is stressful. While cardiovascular exercise can be a fantastic way to reduce stress and anxiety, too much cardio can have the opposite effect. Cardio training is a stressor, and as a result, the body produces cortisol. In moderation, this is a good thing, however if you’re running on most days of the week, you are likely not giving your body enough time to adapt and recover. If one of your goals is to reduce body fat, too much exercise-induced stress will work against you.
Injury prevention. Many running related injuries, such as plantar fasciitis and IT band issues, are a result from muscle imbalances. A well-designed strength training and flexibility-training program can address muscle imbalances and improve your movement patterns.
Running puts a lot of stress on the body, especially if you have muscle imbalances. Reducing your mileage and focusing on healthier running can add years to your running ‘life’.
You’ll run faster. With a well-designed strength program, you will be able to activate muscles to generate more power, train injury free, and run more efficiently. The result? You’ll clock faster times.
Improved body composition. Strength training can improve your body composition by increasing muscle mass, metabolic rate, and burning more calories throughout the day. Be sure not to rely on the scale to measure progress in this area! We have many examples of clients who lose body fat and gain muscle mass, resulting in little or no change on the scale.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Ditch the body builder approach to strength training; your running will not improve by isolating your biceps and triceps. Instead, focus on functional fitness. Train your muscles to prepare for the movements you’re doing in real life (running). For example, a squat or lunge will have a better carry over to running than using the leg press machine.
2. Incorporate balance exercises. Most strength training exercises are done with both feet on the ground (such as squats, and lunges). When you run, however, you never have both feet on the ground. At the beginning, simply balancing on one leg may be enough to improve your balance. As you progress, challenge yourself with single leg exercises such as single leg squats, a lunge to a balance. and a reverse lunge to balance. Single leg exercises are a fantastic way to activate and strengthen your hip stabilizers (which in turn will reduce your risk of running injuries).
3. Do not sacrifice form! While it’s fun and challenging to try fancier exercises, use heavier weights, or to sneak in those last few reps, be sure to maintain proper form. The point of strength training for running is to reduce injuries, not to get injured by doing exercises improperly!
4. Fire up the glutes. Runners, and most people for that matter, have weak glutes. Weak glutes are a common cause for overuse injuries such as IT band syndrome and plantar fasciitis. The problem is compounded by the fact that the glutes are not only weak, but are also inactive altogether. If the glutes are not activating, the lower back and hamstrings will take over. Incorporate glute strengthening exercises, and be sure that your buttock muscles are actually firing, not just your hamstrings and lower back!
5. Include mobility exercises. Tight hips and ankles cause many running injuries. Sitting for long periods of time and wearing high-heeled shoes don’t help! End off each run and workout with mobility exercise or add range of motion exercise to your strength training routine.
6. Change up your routine often. To prevent boredom, and to keep improving your strength, balance and mobility, change up your routine at least every 4-6 weeks.
I wish you many years of happy, healthy running.
Tanja Shaw is a Certified High Performance Coach, host of the Fit and Vibrant You podcast and founder of Ascend Fitness + Lifestyle. She helps men and women transform their bodies and life, and to love the way they feel again with fitness, nutrition, mindset and lifestyle coaching. Learn more at www.ascendfitnesslifestyle.com.