The 5 exercise groupings are: Lunges, Bridges, Planks or Pushups, 4 point exercises & Rotational Control exercises. Each is described in more detail at the end of the post. There are also a few progressions for each exercise.
Starting this week, there will be a strength building session scheduled every Wednesday and Saturday in your Training Peaks workout calendar. Not yet on the Training Peaks program? Send me an email and we’ll get you “hooked up”.
Before describing the exercises, I thought I might go into WHY runners might want to add strengthening exercises to their program. I was taught that fitness was composed of Cardiovascular fitness, body composition, strength, power and flexibility. Endurance running, builds a great cardiovascular fitness level and MAY help you reduce your body fat % (if you combine it with the correct eating program) but how does it affect the other three components? AND, do we NEED the other components to be a FASTER runner?
1. Flexibility: Is it beneficial for runners?
As we discussed in our session on dynamic warmups, where we used gradually larger or exaggerated movements to ask a group of muscle to RELAX so the opposing or antagonist muscles could perform uninhibited…while these exercises don’t lengthen our muscles, they do affect our nervous system and give us the ability access greater range of motion or flexibility in the joints while running. The reduction in tension of the opposing muscle can lead to less resistance for the working muscles, thereby (hopefully) making running more efficient. The other big reason flexibility impacts runners is because adequate flexibility likely helps prevent INJURY!
2. Strength & Power: How does this play out in distance running?
As an example, let’s say we have a runner who undertakes the same, mostly flat running course for ALL his training runs.What happens it the results of this training diminish over time. Initially, this athlete might see fitness gains (resting heart rate goes down, the ability to cover the same distance gets a bit faster etc). These are the results of training, or the “training effect”. Without any NEW STIMULUS however, this runner has possibly reached his “peak level of fitness” for this course/distance/effort level.
If this runner now wants to run faster, he would need to be able to generate more power to be able to sustain a longer stride and/or increase his ability to take more steps per second. To take more steps per second will initially TAX his cardiovascular system by increasing the intensity of the work (raise his heart rate etc). To SUSTAIN that level of work, the runner needs to increase his muscular endurance, ie. the muscles ability to withstand longer periods of high intensity activity before it fatigues. This is what strength training and power exercises can help with.
For us distance runners, building our muscular endurance will come from different types of workouts, namely hill training & intervals. These types of workouts are the MOST SPECIFIC for increasing our strength and speed for running, especially when they mimic closely what we will be doing in the goal race situation (ie. sustaining 8 minute miles for 13 miles in hilly terrain such as in a half marathon). To meet those goals, one might practice runner shorter distances faster, or run hills repeatedly that are of a similar length or grade, to condition the body through challenging it progressively. These are just some examples.
Another way to achieve muscular endurance/strength is with focused exercises that may bias a group of muscles or an action that takes place during ( or is similar to…) running. While these exercises are less specific, when chosen appropriately, they can help create a more balanced body that may be more resilient to strain or training (aka less injury prone).
This is where our Fab Five come in.
1. The Lunge group of exercises have many variations, many of them of great benefit to runners. Because running involves balancing alternatively on one leg, and then the other, over and over again, being able to balance on one leg is KEY. For a great webpage with 10 variations of lunges, including images and instructions, check out this site.
2. The Bridge group of exercises helps target the glutes and encourages openness of the front of the hip, two typical areas of weakness for recreational runners. The bridges we practiced included the basic bridge, a bridge with rotation of the pelvis and a bridge with one leg in the air.
3. The Plank and Pushups are added to this list for the sake of creating connection between the upper and lower body through the strengthening of the trunk.
Furthermore, it can’t hurt us to have a little shoulder girdle support, so we don’t get fatigued on long runs and experience cramping or a slumpy/slouchy posture (which makes breathing less effective). We performed a basic plank on elbows, a side plank on elbows and pushups. There are many ways to progress these when you are proficient at the basics.
4. 4 Point. (this is physio-speak for being on your hands and knees). I introduced this with opposite arm and leg lifts with a “pole” on the back. This is NOT the entry level for this exercise. if this is too difficult. Start with ONE arm lift or one leg lift, with the “pole” giving you some feedback as to how much trunk rotation is occurring. We added stretchy bands to one foot to isolate the glutes in a “kick back” motion, while always maintaining a decent “neutral” back position. But “neutral back” is a whole other post…
5. Rotation Control refers to moving loads from the extremities through the torso while maintain control of the spine’s rotation. We started lying on the half foamie rollers,
because it is tippy and shows us our “poorly controlled” directions. We let one knee fall slowly to one side with smoothness & control (maybe) while not falling off the roller! there is a whole series of other exercises on the half roller that become more and more challenging. These exercises were designed to build awareness of our lower abdominal muscles and their girdle effect when teamed up with the deep lower back muscles (that is also another blog post for the future). We also challenged our trunks using arm motions holding tubing as resistance. Having good rotation control is important in having a symmetrical and fluid stride. It will help deliver power during arm swing when tackling a steep hill. It will help the pelvis be a strong driver of movement!
OK. That was an extremely LONG post. My apologies. Some topics just require a bit more detail. I hope I haven’t put you all to sleep!
RUNNERS: Please share YOUR FAVOURITE STRENGTH EXERCISE in the comments section below, I may have neglected some good ones, plus variety is always nice!