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Strength For Runners

 

Strength training for runners is an interesting topic to discuss. Especially in long distance runners devoting a lot of time to running each week. With this blog, I want to dive in to a few questions I get regularly from runners and address a few aches and pains most folks mention when they run regularly. We will take a look at some literature from the National Strength and Conditioning Association to help us answer some of these questions!

SHOULD I STRENGTH TRAIN BEFORE OR AFTER I RUN?

As with most answers, it depends. There is research to support performing strength training and improving performance both ways. In theory, strength training would be placed before we run. Especially a long distance or a high intensity shorter run. This is because, generally speaking, when we run longer distances or times longer than 30-45 minutes, we exhaust our energy availability. Once this happens, there is a higher likelihood of breaking down muscle tissue to create energy if you participate in high intensity strength training after a long run or an intense run. With that being said, there are ways to counteract this somewhat. Not to mention, there is that whole “time” thing and the fact that we have a limited amount of it. For me personally, I go both ways. Sometimes I run first, sometimes I lift first. It depends on where I am at in my training, weather, life, etc. Regardless, on days where I run, I won’t train legs much. I’ll generally leave leg day for an upper body focused workout and save the leg training days for days where I run after or am not running at all. Also, any day where I am doing both, I consume BCAA’s. Branch Chain Amino Acids are essentially protein but already broken down. When we take them in prior to exercising, it allows us some free floating protein to convert to energy which spares our current muscle mass. If you are going to run and then lift, BCAA’s are a must!

“Bottom Line: Do what works best for you but use common sense. Strength train upper body more on days where you have longer or higher intensity runs. Drink BCAA’s to help maintain muscle mass on running days.”

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I STRENGTH TRAIN?

If you are running regularly, based on the literature review pictured above, 2-3 days per week with 2-4 lower body exercises is solid for a high level runner to actually see improvements in their running. This is pretty important because in those studies, they studied high level runners. If high level runners who are already well trained can improve their running from strength training, so can a general runner that does not strength train.

“Bottom Line: Strength training 2-3 times per week with 2-4 lower body exercises each week would benefit nearly all runners. The intensity level does not have to be super high. Anywhere from 40-70% of your max will benefit you.”

Here’s an example of a basic program that would be great for a runner who wants to focus on the lower body. This is somewhat of an intermediate program. All of these exercises can be regressed and progressed based on different variables.

Week 1: Monday, Wednesday, Friday

Exercise 1

RFE Split Squat 3×10 R/L + Split Jumps x10 R/L

Lateral Lunge 3×8 R/L + Skaters 3×8 R/L

SL RDL 3×6 R/L + Explosive Jumps 3×6

Exercise 2

Romanian Deadlift 3×10

Goblet Squat 3×8

Box Squat 3×6

Exercise 3

Front Squat 3×10

D. KB Sumo Deadlift 3×8

Travelling Lunges 3×6 R/L

Exercise 4

Glute Bridge 3×10

Hip Thrust 3×8

WHAT EXERCISES OFFER THE “BIGGEST BANG FOR THE BUCK” FOR RUNNERS?

With runners specifically, there is a lot of benefit to be had in the prep work before a run and after. This includes lower level exercises to “wake up” hip stabilizers that help control knee position when running as well as foam rolling to relax some of the stuff that gets tight when we run often. In terms of strength for the lower body in runners, sticking to big compound type of lifts would be best. If you can include some single leg work, that would be even better! Think exercises like lunges, step back lunges, Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats, Lateral Lunges, Glute Bridges, and Single Leg Romanian Deadlifts just to name a few. Sticking with free weight type of movements would be best. Click the links in the workout program to see them all!

I’VE BEEN GETTING PAIN ON THE OUTSIDE OF MY KNEE OR MY OUTER HIP?

This is super common in runners and is generally related to a lack of glute medius activation in the hip. Think of the glute med as the rotator cuff group of the hip. It’s important in lateral hip pain (often diagnosed as hip bursitis as well). Here’s why: The gluteus medius acts to do a lot of things in our hips. Mainly, it’s job is to keep the femur tied into the hip socket during movement. Many of us, due to a lack of activity and sitting as much as we do, do not activate this muscle as we should during activity and that can allow things to get out of line. When things get out of line in the hip, other things move and sometimes this can lead to a scrubbing or rubbing effect on the surrounding tissues. Think of bones grinding against tendons. That’s usually where the lateral hip pain comes from.

With the lateral knee pain or “Runner’s Knee”, we generally get pain there from other muscles picking up the slack for the gluteus medius not firing when our foot strikes the ground. Specifically the Tensor Fascia Latae. It tends to pick up the slack and get over worked when the gluteus medius isn’t able to stabilize properly. Then the TFL gets “tight” and tugs on the IT Band connective tissue leading to pain where the IT band inserts further down the leg.

So, how do we help with this? Sometimes you have to cut back on running and lifting but, most times, we need to activate the gluteus medius prior to training, perform regular single leg strength training, and do this every single time we workout to get the thing fired back up again. Here’s a few exercises you can do before going out running to help with that:

I hope you were able to learn a little bit from this blog and grab some things to throw into your routine. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to email at info@bfpnc.com or reach out through the comments!

Thanks,

Coach Joe



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