The lower body strength gain is essential for high-speed running and a solid lower body foundation provides excellent results for the four building blocks of high performance in running
In this article we are going to focus on lower body strength and its crucial impact for high-speed safe running.
Please note, it does not mean that you only train your lower body for running. Overall strength training targeting all important areas like core strength, shoulder strength combined with lower body strength is must.
As core, shoulders, and legs are fundamental for handling high running speeds and avoiding injuries. In fact, lower body houses some of the most powerful and big muscles of the human body, care to find out more?
What is lower body strength?
“The maximum force that can be exerted by a muscle or group of muscles during a single contraction”. The lower body strength exercises are more commonly referred to as ‘leg day exercises’. These lower body workouts are aimed to develop strong quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and gastrocnemius complex.
Combined, these big muscles have ability to produce high magnitude forces essential for power production.
- Quadriceps are the group of muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius) present in your front thighs.
- Hamstring are the group of muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris) present in your posterior thighs.
- Glutes (gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus) are your bum-cheeks, posterior hip
- Gastrocnemius complex or more commonly referred to as calves (gastrocnemius, soleus and tibialis posterior) are present in your muscle bulk posterior lower leg
Importance of lower body strength in running
The most important biomechanical quality, essential for achieving high performance in running, is power.
and Power = strength X speed.
So ultimately, for power gain, either you should produce good amount of force or your muscle actions should possess high speed (velocity). The leg muscle combined efforts generates maximum power output for the body, applying this to running;
good power ability helps you to produce large amount of force in limited time scale preparing your limbs for high propulsion swing phase.
Stretch shorting cycle in running
The stretch shortening cycle (SSC) is the bodies spring-like ability of the body essential for efficient running movements. It involves 3 consecutive phases of muscle contractions:
- Eccentric contraction
- Isometric contraction
- Concentric contraction
The main purpose of SSC is to store elastic energy in connective tissue for achieving high propulsion gain during concentric phase. So, good strength is key to produce strong eccentric force in lower body muscles for maximum utilization of elastic energy. Therefore, training lower body muscles helps in optimal utilization of power and SSC in a runner.
In addition, undertaking a training program with lower body focus (with compound exercises like dead lifts, squats and lunges) have multiple advantages:
- Improve your overall fitness levels
- Strengthen muscles in your lower body for power production
- Improves your overall metabolism essential for building running stamina and muscle mass
- Helps you to improve your bone strength for efficient and safe running
- Strengthens important muscles and joints that helps in improving race times
Decreasing injury risk
All which help empower your run performance (and speed up your race times). Who doesn’t want that?
Testing before a training program
The biomechanical testing of athletes (prior to adhering to a training schedule) is a strong foundation of scientific training. To that end, a variety of biomechanical jump tests (on a force platform) are perfect for the job.
Countermovement jump test (CMJ) is one of such tests, a very simple jump test which measures your strength in the lower body. The results are presented in the form of different peaks on force time curve. The first peak is the direct evidence of the lower body strength of an athlete. Higher the peak, better is the lower body strength.
Not only is this test utilised before a specific training programme, it can also be repeated at regular intervals to check training progression, and the effectiveness of the programme.
Important workouts for lower body strength
The dead lift is a phenomenally versatile exercise, that focuses on hamstring strength, mobility and muscle lengthening, proprioception and neuromuscular control (primarily when completed single legged) as well as glute strength.
The deadlift action helps you to propel forward after your foot strikes the ground. Plus, by holding your core under tension and hinging at the hips, the deadlift trains your torso to remain upright leading to efficient running and prevention of early fatigue.
In this way, the deadlift helps you to maintain running form essential for energy efficient and safe running.
Squatting is another great exercise for strong legs and glutes, a compound movement involving multiple joints; hips, knees, and ankles. The exercise primarily recruits hamstrings, quadriceps, glues and core. When effectively trained, these muscles are the powerhouse to your running. A well balanced, thorough strength training programme builds the muscles to protect joints, which also prevent chances of running injuries.
The squat is another incredibly versatile exercise that is only really limited to your imagination. It can be completed single leg, two leg, with weights, different foot positions, with and without an array of equipment. Perfect for rehabilitating injuries (mobility, muscle activation), to improve fitness (increasing weight, amount of reps/sets) and master performance (plyometrics, working on weaknesses with exercise manipulation); it is definitely an exercise for everyone.
Lunges is (you guessed it) another compound exercise that is functional to running (sharing similar movement mechanics). The lunges include slight off balancing of body with emphasis on single leg at a time just (similar to run mechanics) so, it is a very good exercise for muscle coordination and maintenance of balance to compliment your running.
Like squats, lunges recruits prime running muscles; hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, core and gastrocnemius complex. The key benefit of lunges in relation to running is their ability to challenge and strengthen neuromuscular control muscles too for solid balance and stability through the running motion.
To ensure the exercise is completed to its maximum efficiency, ensure both knees are flexed to 90 degree angle, and lift the front foots toes; feel the activation of your glues/hamstrings maximise. No, seriously.
As already discussed, core workouts are a necessity for stability, which translates into your running – A strong, solid core ensures stability during high speeds and allow your body to handle high magnitude forces produced by bigger running muscles.
There are many core workouts targeting your abdominal muscles like:
- Abdominal crunches
- Heavy weight squats
- Any balance work
- Oblique crunches
The list goes on and on..
Plyometric exercises like box jumping, hopping etc. optimize your ability to use stretch shortening cycle (SSC) for energy efficient running. In addition to this, plyometric workouts train your brain for better coordination during faster movements like running and prevents chances of injury. Note: Plyometrics can hinder performance if not performed correctly with balanced effort. So seek advice before adhering to a plyometric programme.
So, there we have it, you’re not fully clued up on the importance of lower body strength training for achieving safe and high-performance during running.