In part two of our Lunchtime Workouts series, Team Iffley's Tom Wheatley takes us through an efficient lunchtime strength training workout, that will help you become a stronger runner.
As a runner, you’re probably aware that the logical method of training to get better at running, is running. Which is correct, to an extent. Running further distances and pushing yourself to move faster will make you more efficient and train your cardiovascular system and muscles to develop. It’s all about specificity. To get better at something you need to train in such a way that reflects the activity you want to get better at. Basically, you’re not going to be a better runner if you don’t do any running.
So where does strength training fit in? Do you have to do it? Well, there are a fair few benefits to adding in a gym programme that supplements your running, but for me three stand out above the rest:
- Resistance to injury
- Stronger muscles when you need them
Resistance to injury
This is fairly obvious, by building up your muscles, specifically the ones that don’t get a good workout whilst running, you’re helping to protect yourself against injury. A good example of this is how road runners tend to get injured more when they run on an uneven surface, such as when they run on trails. The reason for this is pretty simple, running on roads is flat, so it doesn’t help develop stabilisation muscles in the same way.
Stronger muscles when you need them
The second point covers the need to build up your muscles to an extent that goes beyond how your body develops when running. What I mean by this is your muscles will grow by running alone, but not very easily (especially if you’re an endurance runner). Building stronger muscles is much easier and quicker when doing weight training. The result will mean you feel more powerful and in control whilst running, especially during a race. I actually remember the first race that I actively weight trained for, the Madrid Marathon. The course was one of the hilliest I’d ever taken part in, but my legs felt great, and I hadn’t done any more running training than normal, but I was able to accelerate and move around people much more easily than I could previously.
The third point is about economy. By doing exercises that focus on muscles used in running (which is in fact a lot more than you probably think – like the core), you’re making your body more efficient. A very simple example would be exercises that help to develop stabilising muscles on individual legs. If your legs and feet are stronger and more stable every time you hit the road, you’re using less energy with every step. Over a marathon distance that’s going to make a big difference. Trust me.
This workout focuses on covering a number of things that will benefit running as opposed to focusing on one specific aspect. I’ve done all the weighted ones with a kettlebell, but you can just as easily use dumbbells or barbells.
1) Overhead Lunge — 10 reps per side
One of the all-time great exercises, mainly because it works pretty much the whole body, which means it’s efficient as well. Not only will it build strength, but it will also help develop flexibility and mobility in your hip flexors.
With your left hand hold a kettlebell up in the air with the elbow locked, feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent. With the weight above you, step forwards into a lunge with the right leg, making sure the heel is the point for landing as well as pushing off. Maintain a 90-degree angle from the ankle to the knee. Ensure that you brace your core for the movement and maintain stability and control with your chest upright.
2) Calf raises — 12 reps
Calves play a massive role in running due to the fact that the muscle contracts when pushing you from the ground. The quicker the contraction, the less time you spend touching the ground. The result is a much more efficient movement. Elite athletes spend a long time trying to speed up calf contractions, so you probably should as well.
With a weight in each hand (if you need a weight, it’s actually pretty hard without), stand with both feet on the edge of a step. Lift up onto the balls of your feet as high as you can so you can feel tension in the calves, then lower down so your heels are below the step.
3) Renegade rows — 12 reps each side
If you’re looking at core exercises, and you should be as a runner, the renegade row is one of the best. It's extremely good for balance as well.
Holding two dumbbells, get into the plank position with your shoulders directly above your wrists. Tighten your core and ensure that your head and spine are in a straight neutral position (without your hips sagging).
Without moving anything but one arm, lift the weight back as far as possible with your elbow tight against your torso. Lower for two seconds and repeat with the other arm. The most important thing here is to keep the rest of the body as still as possible. It’s really hard.
4) Side Plank Leg Lift — 45 seconds each side
Running, as you’re probably aware, tends to go in a straight line forwards. However, it's still worth working the muscles not associated with that movement. Side planks will help build your core and leg muscles on the outside of the body. Which are important for stability and running efficiency.
Lie down on your side with your elbow on the ground. Maintaining a straight line from your head to your feet. With your core tight, hold the position until the allotted time is up. Too easy? Lift up your outside leg for an extra workout (and a focus on the leg muscles).
5) Pistol Squat — 10 reps
Okay, the pistol squat is really tough. It’s essentially a squat on one leg. But with great effort comes great benefits, and the pistol squat has many. Not only will it build your leg strength significantly, but the fact that you’re balancing on one leg means that you’re working a load of stabilisation muscles. It also means that you’re helping to correct any imbalances across both legs.
With one foot on the floor, lift the other leg forwards and lower your body, ensuring that your heel stays on the floor for the whole time. If that’s too hard (it probably will be), use a step or a bench and drop to a seated position.
Variation 1 (Advanced):
Variation 2 (Beginner):
6) Air Squats — 20 reps
A fancy name for a jumping squat, but the addition of the plyometric jump means you get a much better (harder) workout that’s a lot more functionally related to running.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your arms facing forward. Squat down whilst keeping your head and back as straight as possible and knees behind the toes. Aim to get your thighs parallel to the ground (or as best as you can). Push up through the heels to launch yourself into the air.
So there you have it. If you want to become a better runner, take some time out of running and head to the gym!
You can view the other posts in our Ultimate Lunchtime Workouts series below: