A very thorough assessment done very professionally. It put my mind at rest – the hard work starts now.
Matt, Maidenhead

Strength Training for Running by Corinne Abraham

Never done strength training before?

Done some core exercises or classes to help build your strength? 

You’re already doing strength training, but you’re not sure if what you are doing is correct or you started because, well, everyone knows you can improve your performance and reduce your chances of injury if you improve your strength, right?

This was pretty much my entry point into strength exercises. I’ve always been active and as a junior I did every sport available to me. I started doing judo aged 6 and ‘strength training’ was always part of every session, even though we didn’t call it that. Push-ups, planks, squat-thrusts, pre-training runs and that was for us, simply part of ‘doing judo’. I suspect that is how many of us start doing strength training, as an integral part of our sport. Move on a few decades, and I think there is now much more awareness of how specific strength training can help us become better at the sport that we want to be good at. My background from an education perspective is in sport science and biomechanics, so when I became a full time triathlete, I was aware of the need for strength training for my sport, and enthusiastically added squats, lunges and planks (amongst other exercises) into my swim-bike-run programme. Eighteen months later and I was a full time professional, despite my diligence to strength training, I’d DNF’d on my last two races and I had persistent trouble with my back. At this point I came to the Drummond Clinic for the first time and was introduced to strength training that specifically addressed imbalances in my body and were a contributing cause of my back pain. 

Similar to James’s article in the previous news letter (link), my entry point into the clinic was from a pain perspective. I wanted and needed to reduce the pain I was in, and in doing so, learnt how I could prevent future relapses into the same injury. From there we worked on other areas of imbalance or weakness to prevent future injuries and help me get the most out of my s-b-r training. My less-than-stable shoulder girdle (slightly ironically, possibly as a result of poorly performed press-ups in my youth!) was an ongoing ‘project’ throughout all of my triathlon career to prevent shoulder pain from swim training and to help improve my swim performances. Additionally, my less-than-stable right hip ‘project’ was a similar labour of love to prevent run related injuries and keep me in sub 3h marathon shape – a humble brag 😉 but information for context of the link between strength-training-run-performance

Prior to starting any strength programme, it is important to evaluate where your imbalances and consequently, your strength needs are. Imbalances may be as a result of certain muscles not firing or activating, in which case we need to assess why we have this seemingly weaker muscle or muscle group. Sometimes this is due to a joint restriction or opposing muscle tightness that actively prevents the ‘weak’ muscle from doing its job effectively. If this is the case, then prior to strengthening this muscle, we need to ensure that the joint is mobile and loosen off any opposing muscle tightnesses and restrictions. This may well be our first phase of our strength programme – to improve the mobility of a specific joint or muscle group. 

Having established that the joint is suitably mobile in the range that we want to use it, we can move to looking at the stability of that joint. Are we able to control the movement at the hip when we’re not putting any weight on it? If we can’t control the movement of a joint when it is unloaded, or lightly loaded (such as walking) however strong we make the muscles around it, it’s going to be much harder to control when we have higher load. In running we have impact forces of up to 4x our body weight, so it is easy to see that if we can’t stabilise our joint when it is unloaded, we’re not going to be able to ‘keep the joint strong’ and functioning optimally when we have 4x the force going through it. Consequently, the second phase of a strength programme is often to learn to stabilise a joint with specific and usually unilateral exercises, working on one side of the body or one joint at a time. 

And finally, once we’ve developed joint mobility and joint stability, we can move onto developing the strength and endurance of that muscle or muscle group. We can do this in a couple of ways. We can increase the load on the joint by adding weight or resistance to our exercises, or adding more repetitions and sets to the workout. It is also important to progress the exercises from isolating a single joint (when we’re at the mobility or stability stage) to a more complex movement where we are using the muscle(s) and joints in a more dynamic movement. Stability and strength of joint in an isolated movement such as practicing ‘clams’ or hip abduction to activate the gluteal muscles, will not necessarily automatically translate into those muscles functioning better in a dynamic situation such as when we start running. We also have to progress the exercises so that we are learning to recruit the muscles when we are using multiple joints and more closely aligned to how we use our body in every day life and sport. To use the previous example of doing ‘clams’ and hip abduction lying down to learn to activate and control the gluteal muscles, we could then progress the exercise to doing variations of single leg squats, and then onto step-ups, hopping and rebounding type activities to help develop the recruitment and coordination of muscle fibres at speed and under load. 

Depending on your starting point, there is often a rapid progression and the start of the mobility – stability – strength sequence when we are learning to recruit and control muscle activation in often simple movements. Transferring this into a more dynamic and sporting context is more complex and takes more time. Learning or re-learning joint control takes focus at all stages. Our bodies will quickly and easily revert to a path of least resistance and while hopping, bounding and plyometric type exercises might be more fun and interesting to do, we must maintain our focus on perfecting the movement control and performing the exercise correctly if we are to translate the earlier stages of learning to recruit muscles into a sporting context. 

It’s a journey without an end point! This is where the phrase ‘enjoy the process’ becomes relevant, it helps to find reward in the satisfaction of performing an exercise correctly, in the precision of movement and in learning and understanding our bodies. No longer is our sport ‘just’ about going out for a run (which obviously should be enjoyable and satisfying in its self!), we can find enjoyment and satisfaction in the process of conditioning our bodies to perform more optimally, without injury or niggles, or running faster or for longer. 

We have a seminar coming up in November (DATE TBC) when I will be discussing my own strength training in the context of running and triathlon as well as talking about the strength training package that we have where I can help you achieve your running and strength goals with a unique training plan!

Interested in our Strength for Runners package?? Call us on 01628639532 to buy now!!!

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