When one looks at an elite distance runner, whether that be a 5000m, half marathon, marathon or even ultra runner the first thoughts that are conjured are not necessarily going to be that of strength, their smaller lightweight frames and whippet builds generally are juxtaposed to any such thought.
As sport science progresses and athletes begin to have a better understanding of how to become quicker runners it is becoming ever more apparent that not only do the best athletes vary their training through interval training and alike but also incorporate an important element of targeted strength training into their repertoire.
Runlab’s Eloise Wellings who has competed at both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games in the 5000m and 10000m has had her fair share of triumph as well as injury throughout her career spanning over 17 years. According to Eloise “strength training for runners is underrated, it plays a crucial part in helping me stay injury free and also makes me a more efficient runner and subsequently a faster runner”. Eloise currently incorporates 3 targeted strength training sessions a week into her run program, these targeted strength sessions focus on training and strengthening the muscles that she uses when she runs.
Co-founder of Runlab’s Runstrong (a product designed to train and educate runners to become stronger faster runners via run specific strength training) and owner of Up N Adam Personal Training’s Adam Clarke makes mention that “there are numerous benefits of combining strength training with running, some of these benefits can include; positive effects on efficiency and economy, it can enhance the intensity at lactate threshold, improve overall power outputs/amount of force used and can even aid in better body awareness allowing for the correct engagement of muscle groups aiding in the prevention of injury”.
Whilst referring to strength training it is extremely important to differentiate between overall strength training and targeted strength training, for runners “a good strength program needs to be specific to running and running movements, using the same movements and muscle groups used under running load thus the training must be geared towards the type of race, terrain, distance along with your ability/ goals and amount of time to train, as these days we are time poor and quality over volume is the key” says Clarke.
Efficient runners activate a wide variety of muscles, these muscles are often broken down into three subgroups; primary muscles(glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves), stabiliser muscles(abdominals and core muscles) and auxiliary muscles(intercostal muscles that assist in inhaling and exhaling). Through working closely with elite distance runner and founder of Runlab Vlad Shatrov, Clarke and Shatrov have designed and constructed a program around strengthening the facilitators or stabiliser muscle groups. These muscles are the secondary muscle group and whilst their main role is to deal with the wobbles, stumbles, rotation, lateral or sideways movement that occurs whilst running they also work to assist the prime movers in the body, playing a very important role in running and run efficiency. “The stabiliser muscle group does the overlooked roles in tying everything together, when this group doesn’t work effectively or tires early it puts extra strain on the larger muscles like quads, hamstrings, calves, and gluteus causing them to work harder and often tire earlier”. Over the years of training people Clarke has found that most runners he see’s are weak in the stabiliser muscle groups and with Runstrong now in its second term he has noticed a remarkable improvements in the clients as a direct result of incorporating our these sessions into their run program.
Many a decent runner will be aware that in order to become an efficient runner there is a close correlation between strength and form. The better a runners form, the less energy that is used that can then be refocused into running faster. Clarke mentions that the biggest factor for the improvement in runners that he has seen is due to core and strength training, “by integrating this type of training you are strengthening your Kenetic chain and as your core is the hub to all other links in your system it controls and governs a lot of what else happens in your running pattern” including body positioning and even foot strike.
Both Wellings and Clarke are in agreeance that the key to any well-structured run program is balance. In addition to strength training you may wish to include a good mix of swimming, cycling, water running, elliptical general cross training, yoga, massage or Pilates is a great way to actively recover from the rigors and loadings of running and it will help the muscle work at different angles and ensure the body continues to feel fresh.
Adam Clarke from Up N Adam Personal Training in Newcastle is the co-founder of Runstrong along with Runlab founder Vlad Shatrov. Clarke has more than 12 qualifications in health and fitness and is a very competitive runner in his own right.
Below is an example of one of the run specific strength exercises conducted at Runstrong that you may wish to try at home on your own. It’s called the Runners touch.
- Start upright
- Bend at the hip
- Touch toes with opposite hand pointing opposite foot to the rear
- Return to upright