Running has a bad rap. First of all, it’s hard! The first few runs feel incredibly effortful for barely any forward movement. You stick with it and in time you start to see improvement. There is generally a great phase of consistent training and fitness gains. Unfortunately, at some point many runners will face some kind of injury. A few days, weeks or even months off follow and the cycle starts over again (if ever). The truth is, it’s not the running itself that causes injury but a mismanagement of your training volume and intensity, poor technique and/or some sort of muscle imbalance or weakness. In this article, I will touch on the latter and ways to combat it so you can run for life.
One of the most common issues amongst runners is poor glute function. I have had many runners come to the gym and about 90% of them share this problem. Runners will complain about knee pain when in fact the issue originates in the hips. The best way to combat a “lazy bum” is to throw some glute exercises into your routine 2-3 times per week. You will save yourself a lot of pain and time off by taking this simple step towards correcting muscle imbalance in the hips.
Core stability must also be an integral part of your running program. You need to be able to control your pelvis while balancing on one leg and simultaneously swinging one arm forward and the other back. This takes a lot of muscle coordination and you want to be sure that you’re firing on all cylinders. Again, this should be done 2-3 times per week and ideally would involve all of the muscles of the core (abdominal, oblique and lower back). It is a good to find exercises that imitate the patterns performed while running.
Injury prevention isn’t the only benefit to running that you will achieve through strength training. There are many performance benefits to adding some strength work into your training routine, one being muscle economy. What this means is that your muscles will be able to produce more force with less effort. Strong legs will get you up that hill much more quickly and with less effort. Strong arms will enable you to draw on your upper body at the end of a race to help propel your legs forward when they start to fatigue. The best way to make strength gains is to get some weights to use at home or hit the gym.
Mobility should also be an integral part of your training program. Strength training is great where there is weakness, but too much tightness is also an issue. You can’t strengthen an overly tight muscle, so be sure to get your hands on a foam roller or lacrosse ball (or hire a massage therapist!) to relieve overly taut areas of the body.
If you are just starting out or you have been running for years, it is essential to add strength training to your program. If you’ve never embarked on a strength regime before, it is highly recommended that you hire a professional to get you started. It can be a little complex and there is a lot of noise out there to sift through. Get started, keep at it and you will keep injuries at bay and see improvements in your running performance. You will realize that running is one of the best activities out there and all it takes for longevity in the sport is a well-balanced training program that involves the proper exercises to complement the work you’re doing on the road and on the trails. Happy training everyone!
~Lindsay Lynk, Strength and Conditioning Coach at PISE and proud mother of a beautiful, little girl.