Boosting runners’ performance, preventing injury
The mix of terrain along the Niagara Escarpment, the marked waterfront trails and the Around the Bay Road Race (… older than Boston!) all make for a pretty compelling case that Hamilton is Canada’s “Running Capital.”
We are also home to many running clubs that teach everyone from beginners to elite participants. The clubs are great for providing the basic skills needed to take someone from their couch to the finish line.
Where I find some are lacking, however, is when it comes to strength training, specifically weight training. That part is either completely ignored or the instruction is too basic to be of value to anyone other than the absolute beginner.
When I work on strength with runners, we stress three main areas: injury prevention, performance enhancement and body composition. Doing this allows us to give meaning to the planning and implementation of their training program.
I like to work the body as a whole unit on most days, combining both standard isolation exercises and more functional, compound movements. Many strength programs for runners focus too much on traditional bodybuilding exercises, which I feel is a mistake.
There are some very basic things about running that make it necessary to use exercises that focus on “movements” rather than “muscles.”
1. Running is an activity that occurs in “rotation.” Originating from the core, the very act involves a slight twisting of the body where one leg moves closer to the opposite arm.
Bodybuilding works to isolate one muscle at a time in a “linear” fashion. This movement never occurs in running.
2. A runner NEVER has both feet on the ground at the same time, meaning that running is a single-leg activity.
3. Strength and endurance in the upper body are very important to help maintain proper posture, which aids in a more efficient running stride. The longer someone runs, the more the head, neck and shoulders tend to droop if the supporting muscles aren’t properly conditioned. This results in an exaggerated cervical curve in the spine, which affects the thoracic and lumber areas.
When the lumbar spine flattens out, it is very difficult to maintain knee drive and stride length will be shortened. All of this makes the runner “shuffle” at a slower pace and makes him or her more susceptible to overuse or repetitive strain injuries.
Taking into account the various needs of a runner, we can plan a strength program that combines whole body movements along with isolation exercises and perform some of them in rotation. Divide the exercises evenly between the upper and lower body and include single-leg activities in each session.
A great way to meet all of these demands is to use a “hybrid” system of working out. Hybrid training refers to the combining of two or more exercises, in a group, to address different needs.
The exercises are performed in sequence without any rest. After the last exercise is completed, there is a brief recovery and then the group is repeated.
For a runner, I would recommend doing at least three exercises as a group. The first would be a traditional strength training move for isolation, followed by a multi-joint movement using the whole body and the third should emphasize a specific need such as balance or core strength. Since most runners are training multiple times per week, I would recommend doing these strength sessions two to three times per week to allow for maximum recovery.
Here is an example of a hybrid training program for runners.
Strength training “Tri-Plexes” as follows:
Dumbbell Bench Press Rotational Pushups Modified Abdominal Plank
Lat Pulldowns Standing Resistance Band Rowing with Rotation (Alternating Single Arm) Stability Ball Bridges
Dumbbell Squats Single Leg Floor Touches Resistance Band Rotations Depending on where the runner is in his or her training cycle, the weights, sets and reps are to be adjusted to emphasize muscle building, endurance or fat burning.
Ernie Schramayr, CPT, is a Medical Exercise Specialist in Hamilton who helps his clients manage medical conditions with exercise. You can follow him at erniesfitnessworld.com. 905-741-7532 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To watch a video demonstration of a hybrid training program for runners, visit thespec.com.