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STRENGTH TRAINING FOR RUNNERS
Why is strength training useful for runners? How can strength training compliment a running program? How can you avoid injury when training for a marathon? What can you do if your running isn’t progressing? How do you manage quad or glute pain from running? Read on to hear me answer these questions from my own experience of training for my first marathon, mistakes and successes…
MY EXPERIENCE OF TRAINING FOR A MARATHON
I was midway through my 16 week training block for the NYCM, things were tracking well, I had accomplished 3 weekends of 21 km with improving speeds. I did my usual recovery and the DOMS settled in on Monday. Fast forward to Thursday and the DOMS had gotten worse, I started to think something was up.
I cancelled my next weeks strength training and couldn’t get 2km without breaking down. Alarm bells started to ring, my diet was good but the one thing I kept coming back to was lack of strength training, I was running and nothing else. All the advice I got was to keep low impact strength and mobility training while running and I ignored it. Now it wasn’t about going out and power lifting it was about using the right type of training tool to compensate the running. Strengthen the muscle groups that were letting me down while running.
WHY IS STRENGTH TRAINING NECESSARY FOR RUNNERS?
While my body was conditioned for running (to a degree) the muscles were not strong enough to deal with the stresses of longer distance running. And not all muscle groups were equally strong. The impact of longer runs was causing fatigue and pain in the weaker muscles, for me giving symptoms of pain and heaviness in the glutes and quads. This led to poor posture when running and further strain on the weaker muscle groups.
SEEING THE BODY AS A WHOLE SYSTEM THAT INTERACTS
After speaking to another trainer we started to look at why my body was letting me down, why were my glutes in agony, why do my quads feel like rock? The biggest take aways were a lack a core strength, glutes not activating and overcompensation from my quads. Over the shorter running distances the bigger muscles could handle picking up the load but as the distances got longer these muscles were looking for the support and it just wasn’t there which caused the breakdown. This was due to lack of equal strength in different muscle groups.
TIMING YOUR TRAINING
This is an area I struggled with most, the majority of marathon training programs run 12-16 weeks ranging from 3-4 runs a week, now let’s be honest that’s a long amount of time to train for something and no matter how committed you are, you will have days where you don’t have the motivation. It’s tough to fit in the strength training especially with work and family life. You have illness, sick kids, prior commitments and everyday life thrown in the mix, time becomes precious. Going back to what I mentioned earlier strength training doesn’t have to be this 1hour sweat covered session where your legs are jelly. Try getting up and running 15km the next day like that, muscle fatigue leads to injury and that’s where the damage is done. A better approach is short regular sessions, still working the right muscle groups, preferably many different areas in the one session. Personal training can achieve this, ultimate sandbags are an excellent tool to incorporate.
HOW CAN STRENGTH TRAINING PREVENT INJURY OR HELP RETURN FROM INJURY?
5 weeks out of the marathon and I could neither run nor train due to severe quad and glute pain. I had to ask, how could I look at this situation differently to make the best out of a bad situation? Aiming for a PB was out the window, now it was just about being able to finish the race. I eventually settled on a strengthening and reconditioning workout training plan everyday for 20min, aiming to run a couple of times a week at a slow pace hoping that the endurance and cardio I had already built in running was enough to get me through. An example of one workout is explained in the paragraph below.
EXAMPLES OF STRENGTH EXERCISES WITH THE ULT SANDBAG
Now if you told me I’d be running 5km 3x a week at 6m30sec km after doing 42km I would laugh but here we are 50 days post marathon and I run 3 days a week and strength train 3 days a week. While the distances aren’t huge (yet) my body feels good and is adapting to everything I’m throwing at it slowly… A week for me is the 3x 30-45min sessions based around building strength while focusing on functionality and form “starting from the ground up” as I’ve heard it called from some great trainers. This includes Hip bridges, dead bugs, kneeling push outs and around the worlds. Every exercise listed above is about connecting the body as a whole and strengthening the connections between muscles. Creating a support network so the body works as one. They might not look like much but put together it’s a fantastic workout in a short time. The best tool for me was the ultimate sandbag, the ability to create an unstable load that allows me to replicate the conditions the body faces everyday.
I’ll use the dead bug as an example. (images below) At first it may look like a weird exercise. I’m creating tension in the bag by pulling the handles apart, this makes my lower back stack against the ground and therefore recruits more abdominal strength which takes the load off my back. How many times have you seen (or done) sit-ups or crunches and see (feel) the back raise off the ground to create that over extension? Like I mentioned earlier I’m trying to create a supportive network of muscle recruitment and by adjusting my shoulders I am stacking the lats and in turn recruiting more core strength. Alas the body is working in connection instead of opposing factors. IE The stronger muscle picking up the slack.
Doing this as I continue to run is building a strong foundation that I can build upon as I head towards my next two challenges The Chicago marathon in Oct 2020 followed by London in April 2021. We can only learn from our mistakes and my experience at the NYCM was an amazing one. I learned a hell of a lot and that’s something I want to put into practice with my clients, be it someone coming back to running, someone 7 weeks into a program or someone coming back from injury.
Thanks for reading Mark
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Forward Momentum PT