If you’ve been following this series of posts about why strength training is important to runners and how to do it, you know that strengthening your core muscles is really important. And if you have to choose one area, because of your limited time or whatever, chose your core muscle group, especially your hips.
Given that, my ultimate recommendation is to strengthen your entire body with running specific exercises. Using stationary machines may get you stronger, but they are not the most beneficial for runners. Using body weight and light weights while moving really focuses on all the muscles you use to run. Running, after all, is not a stationary movement. These exercises are not meant to increase the size of your muscles. You don’t have to be big to be strong. Size only adds weight and slows you down.
What do your thighs do when you run and why is it important to make sure they are strong? Your thighs (and hamstrings) get you up and down hills. They also make sure your knee cap tracks as it should. A knee that does not track properly is painful and can put a complete stop to your running. I’m going to touch on your hamstrings a little here as well because your thighs, aka quadriceps, and hamstrings work together to move your leg forward and back. Many runners have weak hamstrings. An imbalance between hamstrings and quads can lead to over use injuries, muscle strains, and tendon inflammation. All bad. As you strengthen your quads, make sure you are also strengthening your hamstrings.
Quadriceps push you up hills and take most of the impact when you run down hill stabilizing you with each foot step. Your hamstrings and glutes should be working in conjunction with your quads to push you up the hill and stabilize on the down hills. If you have weak hamstrings and glutes, make sure you are focusing on them while you climb and descend, think engage the glutes and feel them flex and push. This is called proprioception or knowing where and what your body is doing. If you read the last post on hips, you can alternate between your hip awareness and your hamstring/glute awareness. For exercises that strengthen your hamstrings see Tuesdays post here.
When runners come to me with sore knees and shins after a long run or race, I always ask how much down hill there was. People think that downhill running is easier than uphill and it is mentally and aerobically easier for most. The issue is the impact to your quads. If you don’t train your quads to absorb that impact, you’re going to hurt, and you’re going to end up injured.
Your quads consist of four major muscles on the front of the leg, one pretty much straight down the front, one that attaches to the inside of your knee, one that attaches to the outside of your knee, and the last one hides underneath the first one is said. Do the following exercises three to four days a week. Complete three sets of 10-20 repetitions. You don’t need a lot of weight because we are not trying to get bigger.
- Split leg squat.
- Narrow leg squat.
- Kettle bell squat.
- Side squat
- Spit leg squat. From a standing position step forward and lower down until your knees are at ninety degree angles (both front and back so make sure your stance is not too wide or narrow). Hold at the bottom for 2-3 seconds. Come back up and repeat. Don’t alternate. Just stay in that position until the set is finished. Keep your knees straight forward.
- Narrow leg squat. From a standing position, place your feet about six inches apart (you can put your hands into fists side by side to measure). Raise your arms straight out and lower down as far as you can. Keep your knees straight forward and behind your toes.
- Chair: Same position as the narrow leg squat. The difference is hold at the bottom for 30-60 seconds.
- Kettle bell squat. From a standing position, step out so your feet are about the length of your leg apart. Turn your feet out a bit, forty-five degrees-ish. Hold a kettle bell below your chin and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Keep your back neutral not bending forward over your legs.To add some arms to this you can lower the kettle bell as you stand and raise it as you squat down.
- Side squat. From a standing position. Step out with one leg and two to three feet. Squat down with the one leg keeping the other straight. Repeat on the other side. You can add a kettle bell to this one too.
Balanced strength in all four quads will prevent improper tracking of your knee cap. An important concept to come way with, for this whole series really, is that our muscles don’t work alone and we need to keep them balanced.