By Tracy Duke, Biokineticist, www.kinetics.co.za
Are you tired of struggling with kneecap pain or “runner’s knee”, a nagging hip or low back pain? Have you been trying to better your 10K time over months but all you’ve done is plateaued or got worse? How about searching for the answers as to “when does it get easier” or when “will I feel less fatigued”? Strength training could be the answer you’ve been looking for.
Strength training is an important component in most professional sports. In distance running, however, there seems to be a cloud of uncertainty as a result of runners associating strength training with getting ‘bulky’ and slower. Unfortunately with this thought in mind, most runners make the mistake of not putting back into their body what the stress and strains of running takes out. Our cars need servicing to maintain them in good working order however a runner does not maintain their body in the same way. Strength training when applied correctly presents with positive effects, these include:
• Burning extra calories: Through strength training you increase your metabolism by adding more muscle; this in turn means you’ll burn more calories at rest and during training.
• Reducing your risk of injuries: Lower body exercises are very important in running. Strength training, using weights on your legs will help develop power, increase endurance and assist in the prevention of overuse injuries caused from running. Areas which are prone to overuse injuries should be strengthened, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings and achilles. Hamstring curls, calf raises and squats can help strengthen these muscles. Functional strengthening exercises are hugely beneficial such as dead lifts, single leg squats and step-ups. Furthermore, upper body exercises are essential for hilly courses and are most beneficial for maintaining rhythm when your legs begin to fatigue. A great amount of drive can be generated from your arms when hill climbing. Dumbbell and barbell curls, pull ups, military presses, chin ups, bench press, and rowing are recommended.
• Strengthening of weak joints and muscles: By strengthening muscle as well as bone and connective tissue, strength training helps to prevent injury, but also helps reduce the severity of injury when it does occur. Many running injuries, especially knee and hip-related problems, are a result of muscle imbalances or weaknesses. Keeping the correct balance, for example between the front and the rear of your legs (quads vs hamstrings) is absolutely essential. Strengthening abdominals and core are also important to running. These provide stability for the trunk of the body, since you are moving most of your extremities. Crunches, bent leg sit-ups, leg raises, planks/side planks are perfect for strengthening these areas. Have you ever had a long run or race when your form fell apart as you got fatigued towards the end? You’ll definitely benefit from strength training. The correct balance between core and lower back can reduce the possibility of lower back pain caused through running. Strengthening your core can help improve and maintain your running form, which translates into greater running efficiency.
• Increasing muscle endurance: Strength training helps your body cope with the stresses of running. Your muscles will be able to perform longer before getting fatigued, especially in the upper body allowing you to drive further for longer, maintaining your proper running form. Improving your form and endurance also translates into faster overall pace, so strength training is an excellent way to get faster. Runners usually see improvements in their race times fairly soon after they add strength training to their schedules. It is not a major time commitment, but rather consistency is the key. By adding two or three 15- to 20-minute strength training sessions a week, muscle and in turn strength, will increase.
• Minimize fatigue: Strength training will condition your body to run further for longer and will speed up the process of making running “feel easier”. The aim of any good strength training routine is to help maintain and develop your body to deal with the stresses of running and improve your running performance. So, what more could a runner want in the pursuit of an injury free running life with added personal bests!
Whether you’re new to running or you’ve been running for years, strength training is extremely beneficial for runners. You may be hesitant at first but if performed properly with attention to breathing, posture and adequate time given to each repetition, the results are endless. Remember, you are a runner and not a body builder! A runner should use all the components of an effective strength training program by carefully manipulating the volume, duration, frequency, and intensity of the exercises to compliment your running; this is of utmost importance in producing positive results and in turn, improving your running performance.
So give it a bash, add a strength component to your running schedule and become that ‘complete runner’ we all strive to be!
If you are unsure, visit your nearest Biokineticist to get you on the right path.
(Note: Do not start a new strength training schedule just before or just after an event. Allow your muscles time to adapt to the new training and to recover from the event).