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Strength Training For Runners & Why It Is Vital To Improve Results

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 24 October 2015
Hits: 6113

Chronic injuries like piriformis syndrome, achilles tendinitis, Knee pain & ITB friction syndrome, plantar fasciitis, osteitis pubis and even back pain are all common running injuries that could easily be prevented. Having been a very keen distance runner for a long time I myself am very aware of all the injuries associated, and experienced first hand many of the most annoying and painful injuries in my time. For what seems like a fairly gentle sport, I have had more injuries from running than playing football. Having said that all the injuries I am referring to occurred before I discovered how to actually prevent them. All of my best times as a distance runner were not until I was 35 years of age, when I was finally running pain free and really taking my running to new levels. I am now 41 years of age and can still get out and hit a 20 minute 5km within a few weeks of training and always without pain! So what is the secret? Well it was not from running more, in fact my best times were when I was running less! The secret was using strength training & running technique. I found the perfect combination of strength training, stability training, postural retraining, movement skills and more efficient running technique that allowed me to reach my potential. If I had of known this many years earlier who knows what I would have been able to achieve. I have since used the same methods for assessing hundreds of runners and sporting athletes to overcome some of the most annoying and chronic injuries preventing them from enjoying their running or sport. In this article I am going to show you these secrets and also what I have found to be the common traits so you can prevent them from stopping you in your tracks.

Is Strength Training Useful To Runners?

Many runners fear that strength training will make them "big" by producing huge gains in muscle mass, creating a ‘dead weight’ to be lugged around during running. This is true if you do weight training like most people do in the gym. Which is based on body building. The body building technique will definitely make you stronger, and bigger, but it will not help you run faster, and it definitely will not prevent injury. If anything it will create injury! To get "big" you need to devote a huge commitment of time and energy – far more than most runners are willing to do. So that hits that myth right out of the park. What runners also fail to understand that unless you are a sprinter you are actually eating your own muscle tissue from running too often. This is called the catabolic process. You are in fact becoming weaker in the legs as opposed to stronger! Okay so you need to strengthen your legs. Does that mean just start doing some heavy squats in the gym and a few step ups and you will be right? No you need a plan. A simple program like this will add some strength and power to your legs, but a key problem is that it may contribute to some muscle imbalances becoming greater. Meaning it will cause problems rather than solve them! Where do you start? There are nearly an infinite number of strength exercises and almost as many workout programs. How do you select the exercises and program which are perfect for you? How do you coordinate your strength program with your running routine? You need a starting point, and that means you need an assessment.

Before I move on I encourage you to get a copy of our Little Black Book Of Training Secrets. This PDF report has over 100 workouts and an entire chapter devoted to running workouts that include strength exercises, core exercises, best stretches and also specific running plans for distances of 5km to Marathons! Plus you get all the basic rehab programs for knee pain, hip pain, back pain etc. It is the ultimate report we put together late last year to help people who were contacting us from all over the world wanting ideas and better ways to train.

Click here to see more about what is inside or click the image below to get your copy today.

Why You Need An Assessment To Define Your Weaknesses & Muscular Imbalance

Below is a great video to watch of how we use a Single Leg Squat to pinpoint any weakness. Understand however you need to assess all movements and not just this one, but this gives you a great insight into how important strength training will be for improving performance and preventing injury.

Unfortunately there is not a single set of strength exercises which is best for all runners, which magazines like Runners World will tell you, there is only a few key exercises for YOU. That is because we all have unique strengths and weaknesses based on previous injuries, posture, occupation, genetics etc. It would be impossible to narrow this list to a handful of exercises. For each of your weaknesses, there are a handful of key stretches, stability exercises and strength-training exercises that will make you stronger. Your job is to identify your weaknesses and find the best ways to strengthen them. A detailed assessment will help you pinpoint these weak links? If you are consistently injured in one part of your body, that area is unnecessarily weak and needs to be strengthened. Sometimes though it may not be injury but that you lack any power or speed. You will also need some strength exercises to develop your speed. Speed and Power come from strength. This is where we use what Paul Chek calls the Success Formula. This is an excellent method to apply with any injury, in particular running injuries.

Now even though we have established that the exercises we need to use will vary significantly from person to person. The causes are nearly always the same! They are:

  1. Poor posture
  2. Poor running technique
  3. Weak glutes
  4. Stiff ankles
  5. Weak lower abdominal muscles

Without doubt you could say EVERY RUNNER needs to continually develop significant glute strength. Why? In a single leg stance your glutes are needed to control the alignment of the leg and prevent excessive pronation. Excessive pronation is the common theme to every injury I listed at the start. When you look at the running action it really is a series of single leg squats. Meaning if you have a problem with a single leg squat, then you will have a problem with running! Guaranteed!

How To Strengthen Your Glutes

I suggest you read our more detailed article "How To Strengthen Your Glutes & Improve Performance". This will provide you with a much more detailed answer to this question. The simple answer is to start with hip flexor stretches followed by easy isolated exercises such as the bridge and the clam. Once you have progressed to a point where these are becoming easy you MUST evolve to a standing position. Deadlifts and Squats are the easier exercises to use when first moving to a standing position, but eventually you must progress to single leg squats, deadlifts, lunges and step ups.

The Single Leg Squat is the BEST leg exercise you can do if you are a runner! It is absolutely critical you become the master of this exercise if you want to be a great runner and have no pain. For running is a series of single leg squats at high speeds!

Changing the loads, sets, reps and tempo while at the same time maintaining perfect form is the key. Many runners get this phase completely wrong and focus too much on isolating the muscle, or doing way too many repetitions with one particular exercise. The body will adapt only to the level of challenge that you give it and will not improve any more until it is given a greater challenge. This is called the progressive overload and it is very important for continual improvement for both athletic performance and also rehabilitation. Just mixing it up for the sake of it is no good either. Like I said at the beginning you must have a plan and this is where the success formula and your assessment are critical as you must earn the right to move onto the next level or progression. Each phase you are on is preparing you for the next harder phase where more strength, stability and improvement will  be made.

Make sure you also assess the ankle and the feet. I find so many people with running problems have a lack of mobility around the ankle. This sets of a chain reaction of problems if left untreated. Read our article "Why Poor Ankle Mobility Can Cause A Chain Reaction Of Injuries" to see exactly what happens and also what exercises you can do to correct your ankle or feet problem.

Now to help you out I am going to give you a brief overview at our rehabilitation and injury prevention programs for the 3 most common running injuries, and prove to you how linked they are with the same weakness.

Plantar Fasciitis

A very annoying injury and one that most people ignore in the beginning before it becomes much more chronic, which can seriously derail your training efforts and affect daily living. If you suffer from this make sure you read this article "Plantar Fasciitis Exercises" as I provide detailed instructions of what to do. Anyone who has had that real burning feeling in their heel or underneath their foot knows all about this injury and how painful it can be. This injury affects the heel and underside of the foot. And it is characterized by inflammation, or structural breakdown of the foot's plantar fascia. Pain is worst first thing in the morning when you get out of bed and try to put your foot on the ground. Typical treatments usually involve remedial massage, trigger point balls and lastly orthotics to correct the pronation of the foot. However the breakdown of controlling the internal rotation of the femur by the hip, because of weak glutes and abdominal muscles we have found to be a much more significant contributor.

Also do not underestimate the role of poor breathing mechanics and overall posture. The forward lean of being a mouth breather trying to get more air is another common cause to this problem. Poor footwear, tight ankles and tight hips are all factors that need to be considered in designing the overall program. And last but not least assessing your running technique is critical. Quite often I find people with this condition over stride and are massive heel strikers.

Piriformis Syndrome

A much more severe injury with this condition leaving people almost disabled and unable to stand! Common causes of this condition trace back to sitting too long, genetic weakness within the hips, poor posture and movement skills, that includes running technique that all become exacerbated once running training begins. A more detailed article on this is here "Piriformis Syndrome - What A Real Pain In The Butt". The function of the piriformis muscle is to assist the glutes to externally rotate the hip when it is extended, and abduct the hip when it is flexed. The problem occurs when the Piriformis begins to overwork due to lazy and weak glutes. Because the glutes are not controlling the "rolling in" of the hip the piriformis and other hip muscles, try to take up the workload. When it overworks it becomes short and tight, and starts to compress the large sciatic nerve due to it's location which is right next to the sciatic nerve. This leaves a deep aching pain in the butt or a radiating sharp nerve pain that extends along the back of the legs near the hamstrings. It feels like hamstring tightness but it is only nerve irritation. Sometimes this can even lead to numbness and tingling into the calf and toes.

Our detailed program, with over 60 minutes of video and 70 pages of exercises and instructions will give you the best information on how to treat this condition. To find out more go to Quickstart Piriformis Video Toolkit. If you are a runner who suffers from this now, this will be the best money you ever spend and can save you  a lot of time, money and unecessary pain by implementing these methods which we have provided hundreds of people all around the world long lasting results. Click here or on the images below to get yourself a copy of the Ebook or the video.

 

 

Knee Pain

If I was to conduct a survey with 100 runners asking how many were dealing with knee pain at the moment, there would be a good chance about 85% of them would begin to tell me about their niggling problem that wont seem to go away, or how it hurts going downhill but seems okay on flat ground etc. Unfortunately for some people this niggling problem can grow into a much larger more sinister problem that can lead to chronic pain! Surgery should always be a last resort after every other more simple less invasive methods are tried. Because as you will find, just like the other two injuries Knee Pain actually has not much to do with the knee! This is because unlike the ankle and the hip, the knee joint itself cannot perform any other movement than flexion. It is basically like a hinge on a door and can only flex forwards and backwards, it has very minimal rotation movement. It basically gets caught in the crossfire of the ankle and the hip who are meant to be controlling all of the sideways movement. The knee cannot control what happens if the hip or ankle are too stiff or weak and do not keep the entire leg aligned. This is why people with knee pain find the lateral movements most painful and difficult to do. And why runners find downhill so much more painful because the quadriceps are trying to "brake" to stop you falling flat on your face but the excessive forces on your leg must also be controlled by the glutes to stop you over pronating. To see detailed article on knee pain read this article "Weak VMO & Knee Pain". Once again we see the role of the glutes and the abdominal muscles combining to create perfect leg alignment in a single leg stance. Excessive pronation will cause the compensatory movements from the hip in order to prevent the knee getting pulled into sideways movement, which it cannot do.  In many ways this injury is so much easier to work with compared to the previous two injuries but unfortunately many people make the mistake of trying to work with all the muscles around the knee such as the VMO.

Trying to strengthen the quads and even isolate the VMO is what most people are told to do. Strengthening the VMO without first incorporating the glutes or integrating the posterior chain of muscles is a complete waste of time and why so many rehab programs for the knee never work. For many people the whole reason they have knee pain in the first place is due to Quad Dominance and a weakness in the entire posterior chain! Your solution is to learn how to release the tight muscles around the hip and encourage the lazy glute muscles to fire.

As with our Piriformis Syndrome video we also released a Knee Pain video and ebook that you can find out more by going to Quickstart Knee Pain Toolkit or go straight to our online shop to download instantly by clicking here or on the image below. We provide latest techniques, over 60 exercises, stretches and mobilizations plus a 6 month program to get you back into action. An absolute must if you currently have knee pain and want to be able to run pain free!

Running Technique

An article on running injuries would not be complete without looking at your running technique. The two videos above give you some basic insights into how to do this. But I highly suggest finding a good running coach who knows the Pose Method. Here is a link to another good video about pose running - POSE RUNNING VIDEO

I changed my running technique about 10 years ago to this method and along with the strengthening and stability work mentioned already this made me not just injury free but very efficient. As time went on and I got better and better at this technique my times juust kept coming down and down even from not running all that often and the fact I was getting older!

My best times by the way are: 5km - 18:51, 10km - 39:31, 15km - 1:02:30, 21km - 1:27:31. All of these were set in 2010 when I was 37 years of age! I am by no means a world class athlete but no chump either!

Anyway looking at the running technique. The main emphasis with pose running is that you are trying to land on the mid foot! Many people are taught to land with a heel strike and most of us will do that automatically, which is not only very inefficient but very quad and hip dominating. What the pose method tries to do is use the hamstring muscles to withdraw the foot from the ground, relying on gravity to propel the runner forward. The bad news with this technique is extremely that it is really hard to master. It took me a good year to get just the slightest idea of it and I had to use a lot of the drills to help get it into my head, not to over stride or land on my heel. A good runner should have a very high leg turnover not a long, extended stride length which is what I used to do. In pose running, the key is to maximise your effort in removing your support foot from the ground; good training is essential to ensure that you don’t over-stride or create excessive vertical oscillation. The runner should fall forwards, changing support from one leg to the other by pulling the foot from the ground, allowing minimum effort and producing minimum braking to this body movement. The idea is to maximize the use of gravity to pull the runner forward.

Without a doubt the best running method for injury prevention I have seen in all my years as a trainer and keen runner.To find out more about this google Pose running or go to Rehab Trainer for heaps of information and case studies. Below is another video we use to teach beginners the basic concept of this.

Conclusion

To achieve your potential as a runner or simply just to enjoy your run without that niggling pain you must adopt a well designed strength training program. Following someone else's program or a one size fits all workout from a Runners World magazine will not do much good for you, and as we have shown you could make it worse. You need to apply a simple assessment method of defining tight muscles that need to be stretched, followed up with stability and strength exercises for muscles that are weak. Your focus will inevitably lead you to work on your glute strength in a standing position with many single leg squats and various lunge or single leg methods. If you can apply this to your training you will never look back and be able to complete every run without fear of re injury and more importantly have fun!

If you enjoyed this article and would like to schedule a Free Postural and Movement assessment fill in the form below and I will get back to you within 24 hours to book a time