Strength Training for Runners
I think most of us will have given a home workout a go during lockdown. We asked Women's Fitness Specialist, Zoe Cowell-Jones, which key exercises she recommends to compliment your running. All the exercises recommended are bodyweight so no equipment is needed.
Over to Zoe:
The exercises I've chosen will make up a set that targets all the key areas from a strength perspective. Quite often the areas we need to strengthen because they're weak are the ones that you need to stretch because they're tight. Often, but not always, the two go hand in hand, so don't forget to stretch the same areas.
I've focussed on one side or cross-diaganol patterns like you do in running. When you think about it, running is a single leg exercise, so if we are going to strength train for it, then it we need to do single leg work. This will really help with any imbalances you might have and often highlights a dominant or weaker side in certain movements. Not a bad thing in itself, it just helps identify where you need to put in bit of work in to help improve your running and reduce your risk of injury. People typically find single leg exercises harder – myself included, and that is really normal, but because they’re harder, it doesn’t mean we should shy away from them if we want to get better.
How often should you do a strength workout?
I recommend two focussed strength sessions a week, about 30 mins is plenty of time. Try to avoid these within 24 hrs before a hard session so you have time for recovery. It's important you give your body time to recover and rebuild.
A second approach is to tag a 10 minute strength session on to the end of your run. You can select a few of the below exercises to do on different days of the week do you get a rounded approach alongside your running.
How many reps should you do?
This really depends on your starting point – but in most cases a good fit is 2-3 sets of 8-15 reps per exercise (or per side).
My top exercises:
Bridges - try glute bridges and hip thrusts. Again, focus on single leg versions and keeping your hip bones ‘level’, not dipping the ‘non working’ side. These exercises focus mostly on your glutes, hamstrings and core.
Squats – try to challenge yourself with single leg squat. Focus on trying to keep that working leg knee in line with the foot rather than collapsing inward.
Split squats (like a static lunge) are also a good way to build up to single leg squats if you struggle with balance as your back leg is either raised on something or grounded.
Or single leg squat back to a chair, and stand up through with one leg grounded – or split stance to build up.
Split stance or single leg deadlift or ‘running man’ – these challenge your glutes, and your lower leg and ankle stability. These are really effective as bodyweight only.
Dead bug, bird dog and high plank pull throughs- all focus on maintaining a neutral spine and stability, with minimal rocking or the pelvis and torso.
Step ups - both forward and lateral (side) – use a chair or stairs, the humble step up is fantastic for all the muscles in the glutes, hips and legs. Focus on the front leg and driving through that foot rather than ‘pushing off’ with the back foot.
Calf raises & lowers – lifting up on to your toes and slowly lowering your heels back down. Doing this off a step and lowering your heel slowly and controlled below the step increases the load and difficulty of this exercise. This obviously strengthens & stretches your calves but also works the muscles in the mid foot and ankle too.
With all the exercises exhale on the effort, don’t go holding your breath! So exhale as you step up, lift hips in the bridge, come back up out of the squat or lunge, or as you extend limbs in the deadbug / bird dog. Using the breath in this way helps you to both protect and better use your core.
So, if you’re new to strength training, try incorporating some of my tips and exercises in to your routine and notice how it helps to improve your running!
Women’s Fitness Specialist