If you are a keen runner, you have probably already heard that a strengthening programme is something worth spending some time on as it’s been shown to improve running performance (get you faster!) and reduce injury risk (help keep you running pain-free!). The scientific evidence is hard to ignore and now you want to get going with the benefits. So here are a few common questions and answers to consider as you are heading to the gym.
What muscle groups should I focus on?
A well-rounded programme should target your calf, thigh and hip muscles. The calf and thigh muscles support our bodies, one leg at a time, during running. The hamstrings and glutes swing your leg behind you and help propel you forward.
While we’re here, let’s talk a bit more about calf muscles.
You have two major calf muscles on each leg. Together they can take forces up to 8 times your body weight when running, especially uphill. These muscles contribute to about 50% of the torque that supports our body during long distance running. It’s been shown that calf muscles decline about 31% between 20 and 60 years of age. This contributes to a shorter step length (i.e. shuffling pattern) during running that is common among older runners. If you’re a seasoned runner, or just getting into running a bit later in life, a solid calf strengthening plan is a must!
What types of exercises are most beneficial?
There should be a mix of multi-joint (i.e. deadlifts, squats, lunges) and single joint (calf raises, hamstring curls, knee extensions) exercises to work the muscles adequately in the way they are used during the running gait cycle.
How many sets and reps should I do?
One of the benefits of strength training is the impact it has on tendons. To make the tendon more tolerant to the loads of running (read: reduce injury risk!), we need slow, heavy resistance training. Current recommendations suggest 2-4 sets of 4-10 slow repetitions, using a weight that corresponds to about 80% of 1 repetition max. Allowing 2-3 minutes between sets is important in allowing beneficial adaptations to the muscles, tendons and bones.
If you’re completely new to a strengthening programme, spend 2-4 weeks doing 2-4 sets of 15 repetitions with lighter weights as you build up towards a heavier resistance programme.
How do I fit strength training into my running training?
Two strength sessions per week is ideal. It is best to strength train on the days after a harder run. Then use the following day to recover either as a day off or an easy recovery run. Simply see what works best for you.
If you’re starting up a new running training plan, ideally you should start strength training for a few weeks prior to starting your running. This way your body isn’t adjusting to two new changes in load at once.
If you are training for a big event, taper down your strength training as you get closer to the event, the same way you would taper down your running.
Where should I strength train?
The obvious answer is anywhere you can find weights, like a gym. At home you can use a rucksack with books in it, bottles of water, etc. Get creative to find a way to load up these movements.
And naturally, if you’re local to Hoddesdon, Shawe Physio runs a Strength Training for Runners class every Monday at 7pm. The focus is on proper technique and using the principles discussed in this article to load the right muscles the right way!