By Mike Kubas
Now that the weather’s turned and it’s getting a bit nicer out, many people are getting back onto the roads and running outdoors once again. Plus, it’s much easier running outside without the impediment of a mask and a great time to start preparing for any upcoming spring/summer races! With that said, you still should not stop your strength training program and it might even be a great time to start a strength training program to aid in your running endeavors. Proper strength training can improve your speed, muscular endurance, recovery, and injury prevention. Improvement in any of these areas will lead to more successful and rewarding runs. A full body program 2-3x a week is typically sufficient and the intensity should be tailored to be complementary to your running intensity. For example, if you’re running 5-7x a week, you can still train 2-3x a week, but the intensity or overall volume should be a bit lower than normal, to be sure you’re getting benefit from the strength training without overdoing it and negatively impacting your recovery from your runs.
In addition, the resistance training program should address core strength, improving ankle mobility and strength, as well as hip stability and strength. Working to alter lower extremity joint loading can reduce the risk of injury. Essentially, strengthening specific areas of the hip, core and ankle can lead to more efficient, stronger, and safer movement patterns while running!
So which exercises will do this? One I like to call the Sailor Jerry calf raise, for trademark purposes, is great for strengthening your calves and improving plantar flexion strength. For this exercise you’ll just need a knee-high box and some dumbbells. You place one foot on the box with your knee at 90 degrees and your other leg should be straight and on the ground. While keeping a tall posture, hold the dumbbells at your side and you’re going to raise yourself straight up by pushing through the ball of your foot and raising the heel of your straight leg off the ground. You want to control the movement all the way through, lowering yourself back down under control. The leg on the box should not move. In addition, try to maintain a slight forward lean, so as not to be too upright or leaning back. Repeat for 10-15 reps, this will give your calves a great burn while also improving foot strength and balance!
A second exercise that’s fantastic for developing glute and hip strength are Straight Leg Monster Walks. These are very versatile. They can be used as a warmup, as well as an effective burnout/endurance exercise after hip/glute dominant movements. You just need a large resistance band and a stable, secure post, to tie it around. Once secured, you’ll step into the band and pull the band up to about mid-calf level, or just above the achilles. It should be pulling you towards whatever you tied the band to. From here you want to keep your knees locked and your weight on your heels, toes elevated if possible. Keep your legs as straight as you can and begin walking backwards with large steps, the resistance increases as you get further away, so go as far as you can while maintaining control, then reverse the direction and take as many short and controlled steps as you can back to the start. You can repeat this for a set number of trips/reps or a predetermined amount of time. It’s a great exercise that you will most definitely feel!!
Lastly, the Band Psoas Hold is a fantastic exercise for runners as it ties everything together. You’ll need a mini band of moderate resistance and you’ll begin by lying on your back with the band around the middle of both feet. Flex your hips to 90 degrees with your knees also bent at 90 degrees. From here you’ll contract your abs (by pushing your lower back into the floor) flex your ankles (toes towards your nose) and extend one leg while keeping the other hip flexed and stationary. You’ll hold the extended position for several seconds and then switch sides. Your abs are firing to keep your back down, while your hip extensors (glutes, hamstrings) work to extend your leg, and your hip flexors (on the opposite side) work to stabilize your hip and provide the resistance on the band. This one really gets your abs working in unison with your moving and engaged hips. This translates to a better posture and ability to stabilize and connect to your core while running. Obviously, there are a ton more exercises that runners can be doing for injury prevention, but these 3 are some of the most efficient. Mixing these in with your fitness routine will strengthen your calves, improve ankle mobility, build the glutes, and get your core firing properly! These combined with a sound resistance training program should help to reduce injury risk for runners. Now’s the time everyone is ready to get outside to hit the pavement and trails again, so be sure to become familiar with these exercises to reduce your chances of pulling your hip flexor or tearing your calf!