Winter is fast approaching, and that means the end of racing season and the beginning of a season of less structured running. With more flexibility in your schedule during these cold winter months, it’s the perfect time to focus on strength training.
Strength training — and more importantly, runner-specific strength training — is essential to healthy running and key to your long-term success.
The variety of strength-training options are bewildering, so let’s simplify the process by focusing on two general areas for your off-season. Within each, there are ways to increase the difficulty as you get stronger. Minimal equipment is needed, though there are a few options that are useful and allow for more variety in your routine.
TARGET THE KEY AREAS
For runners, two of the most important areas to focus on are hips and core. Why these two areas? Hips and glutes are often areas that are fundamentally weak in runners. Weakness here can contribute to a whole host of injuries that continue down the kinetic chain.
Core strength may seem a little less obvious, but think about your core in its entirety. “Core work” doesn’t just mean trying to develop a set of six-pack abs to show off once the warm weather returns. It means your entire core region, from your upper abdominals down to your hamstrings. Visualizing this region will help you picture how it helps stabilize the body to maintain good running form, especially in the later stages of a race when you’re fatigued.
EQUIPMENT AND TRAINING
Let’s get to some of the exercises to focus on in both your off-season and the year ahead. Although you don’t need any special equipment to get started, here are a few useful items to consider:
- Dumbbells – Dumbbells that allow you to add and subtract weight as needed are ideal, but an inexpensive set of two different weights will get the job done.
- Resistance band – This is a stretchy elastic band that is available in various levels of resistance. These are especially useful for many hip-strengthening exercises.
- Medicine ball – These are available in a variety of weights. Medicine balls are a great intermediary step to heavier weights, but they can also provide a pretty intense workout on their own.
As you begin to fit these routines into your schedule, remember the concept of keeping your easy days easy and your hard days hard. That means you shouldn’t lift heavy and long on the day of an easy run. While most body-weight exercises are OK to perform after any type of workout, keep in mind the intensity of your routine and don’t overdo it when you should focus on recovery instead.
Some of the best exercises are the simplest. There is no need to overcomplicate your workouts or try to fit in dozens of exercises – it’s far more important that you pick several that work for you and do them regularly. For a routine that incorporates several of the exercises listed below, check out the ITB Rehab Routine (not just for those with iliotibial band syndrome).
- Bodyweight squats
- Single-leg deadlifts
- Pistol (one-legged) squats
Work toward these:
- Add either dumbbells or a resistance band (where appropriate) to the above exercises. Always build up weight gradually to prevent injury.
- For a strength routine using a medicine ball, the Tomahawk Workout incorporates exercises to strengthen both your hips and core.
- If you have access to heavier weights, compound movements with a barbell, like squats and deadlifts, can be a great addition to your routine.
As with the hip-strengthening exercises, often the most effective exercises are the most basic. Make sure you focus on maintaining good form throughout each movement.
- Basic forearm plank
- Side planks
- Pushups (start with a modified version, if needed)
Work toward these:
- A more advanced plank routine to keep you challenged, like the Gauntlet Plank Workout.
- Pushups: add more repetitions and try alternates like pike pushups or diamond pushups.
- Chinups and/or pullups are a challenging but effective way to build core and upper-body strength.
- Add a medicine ball for movements like Russian twists, V-ups and seated or standing rotations.
The best strength exercises are always the ones you actually do on a regular basis. If you get started today, you’ll be stronger with less chance of a running injury when you emerge from winter for a new racing season.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN