Smart runners know that targeted strength and conditioning routines as part of their regular training programme will significantly reduce the risk of injury, as well as help them improve overall running performance. There are of course so many different options available in terms of means of developing run specific strength, from resistance band and body weight training, to kettlebell workouts and olympic lifting.
I wanted to write this article to highlight not specific exercises, but target muscle groups to work on for the benefit of your running.
The vitally important muscles that make up your butt. Glute Maximus, Glute Medius and Glute Minimus have a number of roles in providing strength, power and stability at the hip and pelvis in all three planes of motion. Not only this, but they also play a large role in how alignment of the knee is controlled as the standing leg takes our body weight as we run. A common dysfunction is to have Glutes which don’t engage when they should, thus leading to tight hamstrings and excess stress on the lower back, poor pelvic posture, knee injuries and possibly even shin pain. In my experience, if you had to choose one muscle group to work on as a runner, due to lack of time – it would be the Glute muscles!
As a muscle group, the Quadraceps are made up of four different muscles, comprising the bulk of the front of your thigh. Many runners are disproportionately strong and tight through their Quads – particularly Rectus Femoris, which plays a large part in the forward motion of the swinging leg in running gait. This tightness can cause postural problems and muscle imbalances which can affect the knees, hips, pelvis and lower back. So, keep stretching those Quads as well as strengthening.
Core & Abdominals
I like the following analogy – “Trying to generate force in any direction with a weak core, is like trying to fire a cannon from a canoe”. What this means in terms of running, is that if we’re trying to generate propulsive force, we need a strong and stable base (hip and pelvis), so that the force goes where we want it. Without this core strength, we see an increase in unwanted compensatory movements which can cause injury over time.
These make up the muscles of the back of the thigh. The Hamstrings play an important role during a number of the different phases of running gait. However, we often see that they are weak in comparison to the Quads, their opposing muscle group. Such weakness can affect muscle balance at the knee and hip, potential increasing injury risk. As with the Glues, improving Hamstring strength will benefit you greatly as a runner.
No matter what your running technique is like, your calves are always going to get worked hard. There is very little like the repetitive loading of running to prepare the calves for these demands. It’s not surprising that in runners who suddenly increase their training load (volume, intensity or frequency), we often see calf or Achilles injuries, as it takes time to build up the calf strength. Exercises such as single leg calf raises and jumping rope can help in terms of building the calfs up for running.