Someone recently asked me, what exercises should they include in their strength programme to improve their running. This is an incredibly hard thing to answer! There are so many variables, not least; who is asking? What are their weaknesses? What is their injury status and history? What distance are they running? How much training experience have they got? The list could go on forever.
What got me thinking was trying to nail down some advice that anyone who runs can use. Surely there are some all encompassing suggestions? Well sort of. The biggest factor in strength training is that it depends. One size does not fit all. Instead we can apply some principles that will apply to all injury free runners of any level.
Running can be broken down into certain joint motions and explained in terms of anatomy and forces. This means we can break down it’s constituent parts and understand how gym training or body weight training that looks nothing like running, can be of use and really improve our speed, efficiency and technique.
Some sort of squat pattern:
A squat is a fundamental human movement. Being able to sit or crouch is essential to our survival even in the modern world.
The movement involves a bend at the knee, hip and ankle all simultaneously to bring our torso towards the floor without compromising our spine position. When we run we certainly don’t squat but we do flex and extend at the same joints many times. Getting better at producing force through that motion and ranges will make us stronger runners too.
A healthy runner should have some form of squat pattern in their programme at some point in the training cycle. That could be a traditional barbell squat, front squat, goblet squat (pictured above), Zercher squat, overhead squat, split squat, Bulgarian split squat, a forwards lunge, reverse lunge… get the point? There are a lot of options and thats when we get back to it depends. Which squat you perform will come down to your individual needs and ability, and what your goals are.
Some type of single leg work:
When running we spend much time on one leg at a time. It would make sense that we are capable of both balancing and producing force on one leg then, right? How specific we go depends on where we are in a training cycle and how advanced we are. The lower your training experience, the more you will benefit from more general strength work (less sport specific). Remember it doesn’t have to resemble running - just have enough things in common to make it worth our time.
Balance - No circus tricks please and no bouncing around hurting yourselves! We run on solid ground, rarely a trampoline, so leave the unstable surfaces like bosu balls and wobble boards for when you really need them (which is probably only rehabbing an ankle injury).
You could choose the single leg squat patterns listed above (reverse lunge pictured in this segment), or perform single leg Romanian deadlifts, hip thrusts, good mornings… If in doubt, choose one you can perform well and progressively overload (add a little load, reps or time) over a few weeks. You will get stronger and your balance should improve.
Some sort of ankle work:
You may have seen our article on how and why to improve ankle stiffness (this can be found by clicking here), but if not here’s a quick recap; our ankles are at the forefront of running demands and produce a good elastic spring to keep us efficient if they work well.
We should always include some sort of ankle work in our general programming. That could be toe taps and toe walks in our warm-up or pogo jumps in our plyometric training or even calf raises (pictured right) in our strength work. Again, what and how many depends on you.
Have a think about what is missing from your training. It could be that you never warm up your calf muscles and achilles tendon, or it could be that your calf gets tired before anything else so a bit of strength endurance work of high rep calf raises is ideal for you. Many runners fail to ever strengthen the muscles on the front of the shin (tibialis anterior) which can lead to sloppy technique and even shin pain.
Everything we do at CER is based on principles rather than stead fast rules. There are many ways to skin a cat (horrible saying!) but there are some things we runners all need!
By Alex Adams