Strength Train Your Way to a Great Race Day
Many runners’ resist resistance training and many weightlifters run away from running. Alas, there are great benefits from hitting the road AND hitting the weights. Strength and endurance are actually just the two ends of the performance continuum, not mortal enemies. Here are some exercises to reduce running-related injuries and possibly kick up your pace a notch.
Running-related injuries occur for a variety of reasons, including poor biomechanics, which may put strain on some structures. Poor biomechanics are often caused unbalanced muscle strength (agonist and antagonist pairs) or incorrect firing patterns. For example, if you have a tight hamstring on one side, the adjacent joints (hip and ankle) on that same side (ipsilateral) may have to adjust for the lack of movement, or structures on the opposite side (contralateral) must compensate and withstand undue stress. Strengthening programs can often restore balance and proper firing of the system.
Too Much or Too Often = Frequently Injured
Resistance exercise can serve as an injury-protection policy, the great equalizer or the turbo-boost you may need during the race. The purpose of resistance training is simple—it makes parts stronger, including your muscles, the tendons that connect muscles to bones, and the ligaments and cartilage in the joints that give them stability. Many injuries in running occur from overuse. In repeated trauma injuries, no single movement or trauma is enough to cause injury, but repeated trauma will eventually cause a breakdown. Recovery from minor trauma, as well as having stronger muscles and supporting structures will prevent this.
Joining the Band
Resistance exercise can be done using body weight, resistance bands or tubes, suspension training and, of course, free weights. In general, the more closely you can recreate the resistance environment, the better the training benefit. This phenomenon is known as the training-to-performance transference. Resistance bands or tubes provide a progressive resistance, which means that as you go further into a movement with a band or tube, the amount of resistance increases. Running occurs in a non-stabilized, dynamic environment with many progressive resistances, so a resistance band can work very well.
The following exercises can be done with either a resistance band or a loop, although a strip is preferable because you’ll be able to quickly shorten or lengthen the band by wrapping it around your hands. For the hip-abduction exercise, you will need to tie the strip into a loop with a knot to make it the appropriate length.
Start with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width, toes pointed forward. Put the middle of the band under your feet, with the ends in each hand. With palms facing inward, engage your core and curl your hands up to your shoulders. Keep your chest lifted and chin parallel to the ground as you shift your weight into your heels. Bending at the hips and then knees, lower your hips back and down. Keep your abdominal muscles engaged and back flat as you lower until your thighs are parallel or almost parallel to the floor. Exhale and return to the starting position by pushing through the heels. Repeat 10 times for a full set, eventually building up to three sets.
Turn your band into a loop by tying the ends together. Put the loop around both of your ankles with the knot positioned near the middle of your body. Stand on your left leg with the knee slightly bent; keep your right leg straight and lift it out to one side. Count to two and then release down for a count of two. Repeat 10 to 15 times. Repeat on the left side. Build up to two to three sets on each side.
Straight-leg Dead Lift
Stand with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart, toes pointed forward. Put the middle of the band under your feet, with the ends in each hand, similar to how you started the squat. Hinging at the hips, bend forward while wrapping each end of the band around your hands several times; keep your palms facing inward. Continue until your hands are hovering about 8 to 12 inches above your feet. Throughout the movement, keep a flat lower back, with shoulders pulled down and back away from your ears. Pull with the hamstrings and straighten to a standing position. Repeat 12 to 20 times.
Start in a seated position, with one foot on the ground and the other leg straight and fully extended. On the extended leg, begin with the ankle flexed, toes pointing straight up. The band should be stretched tautly over the ball of the foot and both arms should be extended so the hands are roughly on each side of the extended knee. Point the toes away from you. This is known as plantar flexion. Make sure to keep your foot and foreleg in a direct line. This will build some of the lateral stabilizers of the ankle, as well as strengthen the calves and soleus. Make sure to keep the torso straight and chest lifted. Repeat 15 to 20 times each side.
These exercises can be done almost anywhere, anytime. Be sure to pay attention to your form and give your body the time it needs to recover between workouts. By keeping your body parts strong you should be able to keep your running injury free.