You are running longer, incorporating speed workouts, and pushing harder than ever, but still not seeing results? The key might be in STRENGTH TRAINING!!! Strengthening exercises are often times long forgotten for distance runners. “If I run more, I’ll improve and reach a PR!” is often the default mindset. This is unilaterally not true!
Strength development of leg muscles is effective at improving both endurance, strength, and stride. Exercises in particular, such as leg press, squats, and lunges assist with balance and movement coordination as they engage your stabilizing musculature. They replicate the demands that your muscles endure when running or sprinting. What’s more, strength training, when performed for upper body exercises and performed on ONE LEG (think front and side lateral raises, curls, etc…), increases your leg stability! So easy to incorporate, but frequently overlooked!
But here’s the real clincher, the often overlooked strength training can make your faster!!! That’s right, increasing the strength of your “fast-twitch” muscles, in particular, can improve your running and lay the groundwork for a personal record, “PR” this fall!
For a most effective and proper, injury-free lunge, load onto the front hip and heel, not the knees while bending both knees equally. Keep your torso tall and strong, placing your hands on your hips to stay upright if necessary and push through your midfoot and heel. Do not extend your front knee over the foot and keep your knees aligned in a forward (not bending in our out) movement.
Light dumbbells may be added to create a compound exercise with arms as shown.
For a front lunge, work to push off that front foot to stand back up, rather than pulling yourself up with the back leg.
If you find a lunge too challenging with complete range of movement, hold onto a wall or chair at your side for added stability.
To get the most out of a squat, pretend you are going to sit down in a chair to maintain proper form by driving your hips back, and only squat to the angle you are still comfortable.
Drive heels into the floor and keep knees aligned (without caving inward) as you squat and as you straighten your legs to return to the starting position. This focuses your work on glutes rather than knees.
Knees should remain in line with your toes using a natural tilt in your torso with shoulders back as you squat.
Work to reach a 90 degree angle with your knees, making thighs parallel to the floor.
Complete 3 sets of 15 reps, adding dumbbells for compound work on shoulders (lats)
Studies in recent years have consistently found that endurance, running economy, and speed increased with consistent strength training for elite and recreational runners alike.
In 2013, the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports released a study showing that resistance training improves running economy and endurance. As if this weren’t enough, strength training your FAST-TWITCH MUSCLES is particularly important as a runner. As Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., CSCS explains, fast-twitch muscles are “the largest and most powerful muscles but also the most neglected…fast-twitch fibers are designed for strength and power activities.”
The good news is that with strategic (leg) workouts, you can better develop your fast twitch muscles for speed. Aim to incorporate two weekly leg workouts with 1) greater intensity and with 2) shorter rest periods between sets. These TWO VARIABLES will allow your slow-twitch muscles to experience fatigue, resulting in fast-twitch development! EASY ENOUGH!
…And, if you’re still not on board, please note according to a Runner’s World report that “recent studies have proven that running does not protect against the gradual loss of lean muscle tissue and, as we lose muscle, we also lose a larger percentage of our fast-twitch muscle fibers.” …It’s time to get lifting!
HAPPY STRENGTHENING…and running!