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Get Stronger, Run Longer

Get Stronger, Run Longer

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When you choose a sport that requires you to run up and down mountains, you very quickly learn that strength, not speed is what helps you go the distance. Because of the demands of trail running we need powerful glutes and arms to drive us uphill, strong quads to resist kilometers of downhill and a rock-stable core to rule them all.

Trail runners should master Strength Training (ST) for 2 reasons:

  1. Injury Prevention and
  2. Running Performance.

Strength Training for Injury Prevention:

ST is one of the most effective prevention strategies for running injuries and also the most underutilized. By introducing ST into your normal running program, you can decrease your risk for overuse injury by almost 50%. The illustration below explains how ST prevents injury at different tissue structures:infographics-main-v5

Trail takeaway: The stronger you get, the better your tissues will be able to resist the stresses applied during running. This means we can run longer, race harder and climb more mountains before tissue breakdown occurs.

Strength Training for better Running Performance and Economy:

Most runners believe they can improve their running performance and economy by running more. The more you run the better you get, right? To a point yes, but as we adapt we gradually get use to the stimulus of running and performance will plateau unless we introduce a more challenging stimulus. Strength training provides that stimulus, challenging our tissues to adapt again. Physical therapist Jay Discharry sums it up:

 Weight training requires the runner to produce forces well above those seen during running. It’s possible to activate a very high percentage of a runner’s muscle mass, with minimal physiological fatigue. It’s a great training tool to better develop the runner.

  • Upgrade your Muscle Recruitment for better Power Output.

Strength training not only builds muscle, but also improves neuromuscular recruitment. ST sharpens the communication between your brain and muscles, improving your ability to:

  1. Recruit more muscle fibres for more powerful muscle contractions.
  2. Recruit synergistic muscles in synchronization for better skill performance.
  3. Recruit muscles at a faster rate.

Trail takeaway: Better muscle activation will give you access to more of your muscle fibres, resulting in greater power and speed. Your leg muscles will fatigue at a slower rate, resulting in improved endurance and lower risk of cramping. Better synchronization and faster contraction response will sharpen your coordination for technical trail running.

  • Running Economy and your Free Energy System.

Running Economy (RE) is measured by how much oxygen you use while running at a certain pace. During running, the tendons in your lower legs act like springs by storing elastic energy during landing and releasing the built up energy during push off. This mechanism is called elastic recoil and serves as a ‘free energy system’ that drives you forward, decreasing the workload of the muscles. ST increases the stiffness of tendons, enhancing their capacity to store and release free energy, as a result the muscles are doing less work and consuming less O2, resulting in better RE.

Trail takeaway: Better RE is related to superior running performance in distance running.

infographics-main-v5-elastic-recoil

How to Optimize your Strength Training Workouts:

  1. Work Goal Specific:

ST programs should be designed according to your individual running goals. For e.g. If I have a race coming up with 3000 meters of elevation gain, I will include more weighted lunges and step-ups to simulate the climbs and single leg squats to prepare my legs for the longer descents. ST should also target specific muscle weaknesses and keep in mind present injuries. A runner’s assessment can identify areas that need improvement and help set goals to transform you into a well-balanced runner.

  1. Choose Compound Movements:

A compound movement is any exercise that involves more than one joint and muscle group at a time. Compound exercises save time, as you don’t need to train every individual muscle in isolation. A basic squat requires you to engage over 200 muscles and requires movement at the back, hip, knee and ankle, producing a greater full body effect.

  1. Perform Exercises in Running Specific Postures:

During running we repeatedly land on one leg and propel forward again with the same leg, this makes running mostly a single leg sport. By performing single leg squats in a running position, you are strengthening your mid-stance position and better equipping the quads to absorb the shock of landing. Strength training in running postures also reinforces correct form.

  1. High Load, Low Reps:

A small volume of high-quality strength training is enough to stimulate change in the tissues. The research recommends that we perform one set of 8-10 reps of each goal exercise.

  1. Stop When Form Deteriorates:

As soon as you are too tired to finish a perfect rep, stop and move on to the next exercise. First develop good technique before introducing more weight. Poor technique causes unwanted stress on joints and soft tissue structures, increasing your risk of injury. Incorrect technique also teaches faulty movement patterns that will result in poor form.

  1. Mix it up:

As you improve, introduce new exercises to continue challenging the tissue structures. E.g. the squat can be progressed in 3 different ways: add more weight (barbell squat), move through more range (deep squats) or add a balance component (squat on a bosu ball).

DSC_7185Programs and Equipment:

Basic home gym equipment will include kettlebells, a swiss ball, yoga mat, foam roller and jumping rope.

Commit to two 20-minute sessions a week. Include two exercises from each of the sections below. Perform 8-10 reps of each. Once you master perfect technique, start adding weight.

ST videos are available on the RUNeasy website:

  1. Legs
  2. Arms
  3. Core
  4. Feet

The harder you work, the bigger the reward. A stronger body will be able to withstand the punishment of hours of running. Next time you’re running up a mountain you will be rewarded with power, speed and endurance beyond what you thought possible. Build a stronger body first and then go run.

Happy Running

Tarrin van Niekerk

Physiotherapist and Blogger at Running Clinic & UltraRunner ZA
I am a Physiotherapist with a special interest in running injury prevention.I enjoy running in all its forms; but I am happiest in the mountains.I believe in empowering runners by teaching them self-management and injury-prevention strategies. You have all the answers as to why you have pain, I just know how to ask the right questions.I am a fan of common sense and the best current available evidence.

You can find me at:
tarrin@runningclinic.co.za
071 685 2235
Practice: Lifestyle Management Park
Unit 4, Second Floor, Suite 224
Clifton Ave, Lyttelton, Centurion
012 664 6128

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About The Author

I am a Physiotherapist with a special interest in running injury prevention. I enjoy running in all its forms; but I am happiest in the mountains. I believe in empowering runners by teaching them self-management and injury-prevention strategies. You have all the answers as to why you have pain, I just know how to ask the right questions. I am a fan of common sense and the best current available evidence. You can find me at: tarrin@runningclinic.co.za 071 685 2235 Practice: Lifestyle Management Park Unit 4, Second Floor, Suite 224 Clifton Ave, Lyttelton, Centurion 012 664 6128

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