For many people, running is a sport and/or activity that not only provides them a means to remain fit and healthy, but may also give a great deal of enjoyment and stress relief from their daily stress.  Of course, there are athletes out there who through sponsorships and other means, are able to support themselves off of their running.

These full time runners have the time and means to spend a great amount of time training for running through both traditional training and strength & conditioning.  However, most people who run on a regular basis have to balance full time work, as well as social and family commitments.

For these athletes, spending hours in the gym each week along with their running is nearly impossible. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to both explain the importance of strength & conditioning for improving performance and reducing injuries in runners, and to give clear examples of strength training that can be accomplished without spending hours in a weight-room.

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As a Strength & Conditioning Coach, my number one job, above all else is to help athletes remain healthy and keep them practicing their main sport, pain and injury free.  As much as I would love to see everyone squat triple body-weight, becoming incredibly strong in the weight-room requires a time commitment that would be better spent practicing their chosen sport.

The massive time commitment is more often than not something that does not interest most athletes, and will do very little to increase their performance on competition/race day.  Running is a sport where injuries, especially over-use injuries, are very common.  This is due to the incredibly repetitive nature of running.

Sports such as football, and soccer which involve starting, stopping, changing directions, jumping, landing and moving in all different directions. Long distance running is primarily done at the same speed, plane of motion, and similar surfaces for upwards of 120 miles per week.

Just like doing anything for long periods of time on a frequent basis, the body will start to react in a negative way.  Anyone who has gone on a long road trip, and sat in the car for hours on end for several days will have experienced the resulting tight neck, back, hips, knees (or all the above) that result.

The solution is perform an activity to stretch the tight muscles and joints while strengthening the opposing muscle groups.

For long distance runners, the most overused muscle groups are

often the hip-flexors, which help to lift the leg on each step as well as the quadriceps and calves which absorb much of the force from each landing and are also used to propel the athlete forward on each stride.

When the calves and quads become fatigued, the impact that must be absorbed by the body is transferred from the muscles, to the bones and joints.This is one of the reason why shin splints, knee, shoulder and lower back pain are common aliments for distance runners.  One of the best ways to help prevent these issues is to loosen the tight muscles of the hip-flexors, quads, and calves through means such as stretching, foam-rolling, and massage. Another advantageous method involves strengthening the antagonist and under-used muscle groups such as the hamstrings, gluteus muscles, anterior tibialis (front of the shin) and the musculature of the core.

Strengthening the lesser used muscles results in lower energy use,

force production and impact absorption required of the quads and calves by shifting more of the stress towards the muscles of the posterior chain.  The strengthening of these areas allows the runner to save energy and absorb greater impact forces for longer durations and frequencies before fatiguing to the point where the bones, and joints begin to take on the majority of the stress.

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For distance runners who have access to resistance training equipment

a full body resistance training routine 2-3 times/week for 30 minutes is usually plenty to not only prevent injury, but also improve running performance.  After performing a short warm-up to increase body temperature and break a light sweat, the training sessions should focus on movements that both lengthen the quadriceps, calves and hip-flexors as well as strengthen the hamstrings, anterior tibialis, gluteus muscles and low back.

These exercises include variations of the deadlift

(stiff leg, Romanian, conventional, sumo etc.) hamstring curls, glute bridges, back extensions, core work of all varieties and anterior tibialis raises.  Extra work for the upper-body, specifically the upper-back, can also be useful in preventing the forward head posture and slouched shoulders that many distance runners develop.

Later in this article, I will give an example of a 30 minute resistance training program in a weight-room for runners.For distance runners whom do not have access to a Strength & Conditioning facility, there are options for lengthening the tight muscles and strengthening the under-used muscles listed earlier.  These include a vast range bodyweight lunges (forward, reverse, and lateral, up and down hills), hill running, squats, hip thrust, as well as some other special exercises.

Lunges are an excellent exercise for both strengthening the forward leg,

as the quads, hamstrings, glutes and core are all involved, but in also lengthening the quads, calves and hip-flexors of the rear-leg. Hill runs, and doing lunges on an incline and pulling/pushing a sled can all increase the range of motion and/or activate the gluteus muscles, hamstrings and lower-leg muscles while also providing an excellent change of pace to traditional running.

Walking backwards up a hill

is another excellent option to change things up and activate the vastus-medialis (commonly known as the VMO) which helps with proper knee tracking and is often weak in distance runners.  Including movements to target the notoriously weak gluteus-medius will also work hand in hand with the VMO at improving patellar tracking and proper knee and hip function.

The gluteus-medius’ main function is to externally rotate the femur. When this does not occur optimally, the knees will often fall inwards (valgus) which places large amounts of stress on the knees.  Valgus knee movement can also work itself down and cause over pronation of the ankle and loss of the natural arch of the foot, all of which reduce the body’s ability to properly absorb and return force while running or landing.

I will also include a short training session example for distance runners who do not have access to a weight-room.Ideally, distance runners will include both resistance training in a weight-room as well as bodyweight training using hills and/or sleds in their training program for at least two-three sessions/week.  This training outline will allow the athlete to reduce the chances and severity of injuries which will keep them running pain-free and even help to improve their times.

Sample Weight-room strength training session for runners

A1:  DB Walking Lunge 4/8-10 per leg

Rest 15 seconds

A2:   Single-leg Lying Hamstring Curls 4/6-8 per leg

Rest 60 seconds

B1:  Kettle-bell Deadlift 3/15-20 reps

Rest 45-60 seconds

B2:  Neutral-Grip Pull-Down or Chin-ups 3/8-10

Rest 45-60 seconds

C1:  DB Seated External Rotations 3/10-12

Rest 30 seconds

C2:  Band Anterior-Tib Raises 3/15-20

Rest 30 seconds

Sample body-weight session

A1:  Reverse Lunges 3/10-12 per-leg

Rest 30 seconds

A2:  Prone Super-man 3/45-60 second hold

Rest 30 seconds

A3:  Forward Hill sprints 3/20-30 yards

Rest 30 seconds

A4:  Front Plant 3/max time

Rest 30 seconds

A5:  Lying Side Clamshells 3/15-20 per side

Rest 120-180 seconds

Also learn how to fuel your training with Shona Thomson’s diet plan for runners

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