Do you ever see “strength and conditioning” on your training plan, sigh, and opt for a blast round the block instead? Or convince yourself that such training is too ‘advanced’ for you – beginners don’t need to worry about things like that? If either sounds familiar, you’re about to get a very stern talking to…
“Strength work is just as important as running itself and should not be seen as optional,” says PT and run leader, Marie Droniou-Bordry of M’powered Fitness. Strength work is simply the use of weight- bearing exercises to boost strength in specific muscles. The aim is to boost performance within a particular discipline (in our case, running), while reducing risk of injury.
When we run, we create an impact force of two-and-a-half to five times our body weight with every step. We therefore need our body to be able to withstand that repetitive force, without it doing us any damage – and that’s where strength work comes in.
“Running alone will not provide your body with the strong muscles it needs to limit impact [and] keep good form during long runs,” says Droniou-Bordry. Good running form is a key component to staying injury free. “Lack of strong legs and core will lead to fatigue, poor posture and inconsistent stride, so you could, for example, end up with a bad knee, hip or back.”
In addition to contributing to poor form, weakness in key muscle groups can induce injury in other ways. “If some of the muscles you need to run are weak (quadriceps, hamstrings, calf or shin muscles), it can translate into muscle imbalance, tightness and injury. Weak hamstrings, glutes and/or calves can also cause low back, hip or knee pain.”
As soon as you start to work on those areas of weakness, you won’t just be reducing your risks of injury but helping boost your performance, too. “A strong body will contribute to good running form, energy economy, running efficiency, and less fatigue when you run,” says Droniou-Bordry. “Strength training will make you a better and faster runner.”
Droniou-Bordry recommends a minimum of three strength sessions a week. These don’t have to be long, though. She advises sessions as little as 10 to 15 minutes long, which will be easy to fit into your day. “An easy way to integrate it into your routine is to do them at the end of your run when you are warm and before you cool down,” she says.
Droniou-Bordry advises those who are new to strength work to start out with purely body-weight exercises, focusing on the legs, core and back. These can be done at home, so you needn’t worry if you’re not a member of a gym.
“Standard exercises should cover both strength and mobility and will include squats, single-leg squats, lunges, deadlifts, glute bridges, plank (prone, supine and side) and push-ups. I like to add leg raises and clamshells for hip strength, donkey kicks and whips for hip mobility, and ‘superman’ for my back. It’s important to do them with good form though, so always seek advice if you are unsure [how to do them].”
Once you are more comfortable with these exercises, Droniou-Bordry recommends using weights to make these more challenging. “And also for strengthening your upper body – to power the body through the miles.”