Exercise, fitness, Progress, wellness

Strength Training For Runners

One of the concepts that I repeat over and over is that resistance training will improve (almost) every aspect of your life. Heavy resistance training will increase your overall strength, body composition, bone density, and metabolic rate. But what if you are an endurance athlete? Even if you are a marathon runner, and nothing else (yet), don’t count my teachings out just yet. Supplementing your distance running, or cycling, with heavy resistance training will do nothing but improve your performance in your sport.

Heavy strength training and endurance training could not be more opposite. They are both physical activity that contribute to your overall activity level, but that’s about it. Endurance training and strength training tax two completely different energy systems and muscle types. Endurance training taxes your aerobic energy system, while strength training taxes the anaerobic energy system, either the creatine phosphate (CP) system or the glycolytic energy system. The aerobic energy system kicks in after you have been exercising consistently for over 90 seconds, and allows you to continuously produce energy to be able to fuel the duration of your workout without rest. Anaerobic systems produce powerful energy in short bursts, up to 15 seconds for CP and 15 seconds up to 90 seconds for glycolytic, and require rest to be able to replenish energy sources. As well, endurance training exercises mainly type I muscle fibers. These muscle fibers are full of mitochondria, meaning they are able to continuously supply energy and oxygen, allowing for longer periods of work without fatigue. Strength training mainly works type II muscle fibers. Type II muscle fibers are those most associated with strength and power, and are beneficial for quick bursts of energy before needing to recover. To be a well rounded athlete, whether you are a distance runner or a strength athlete, both energy sources and muscle types should be trained. Sprinters can absolutely benefit from heavy strength training, as both types of training require heavy use of the anaerobic energy systems and type II muscle fibers.

Specifically for endurance athletes, strength training can have many benefits. Heavy resistance training, specifically for the lower body, can help to improve overall running mechanics, as well as muscular balance and strength. Unilateral training, which means training one limb at a time, is one of the best things that you can incorporate into your routine. Training one leg a time can help to improve any muscular imbalances that you have between legs, which helps to improve proper movement patterns. The better you move in general, the less likely you are to encounter an injury during a run. As well, training single legs will improve tendon and ligament strength. This strength will translate into more stable joints, continuing to improve muscular balance, while also helping to reduce your risk of sprains and strains. As well, heavy strength training incorporating both limbs, such as a barbell back or front squat, will help to build up muscle strength, tendon and ligament strength, and bone density. Your bones build up against resistance, so movements where your body is working against gravity, will help to build up the vertical bone density. This newfound muscular strength and bone density, combined with regular endurance training, will help to improve leg strength and elasticity, which will reduce the energy you expend to take a step. You will also be a much lower risk of multiple injuries, include strains and sprains, and shin splints.

Distance running and strength training are not mutually exclusive. When combined for a distance runner, these two forms of training can keep you running longer with a lower risk of injury. Strength training can also help to decrease muscular imbalances that can be exasperated by running. Running can cause overactive quads and hip flexors, while decreasing activation of hamstrings and glutes. Strength training can actively help to even out these imbalances. Though you’re a distance runner, and probably pretty tied to it, don’t count out strength training. It can help improve your running from good to great.

Sample workout for runners:

-Glute activation 2 sets 10 reps

(Lateral walks, Glute kickbacks, donkey kicks)

-Barbell Back Squat (or heavy goblet squat) 4 sets 6 reps

-Weighted Stationary Lunge 4 sets 6 reps

-Single Leg RDL (DB in opposite hand) 3 sets 8 reps/leg

-Single leg calf raises 3 sets 8 reps/leg

Exercise

Big Lifts = Big Results

There’s no wrong way to fitness. I obviously have my opinions of what will be effective and efficient to getting most people to their goals, but that doesn’t mean other ways of programming and nutrition aren’t correct. Today’s discussion is about movements that everybody, no matter the goal, should incorporate into their training. Today, the discussion is all about compound movements.

A compound movement is defined as a closed chain, multi joint movement. What does this mean? It means that a compound movement is one with either feet or hands planted firmly on a surface (either the floor or a structure, such as with pull ups), and that it works multiple joints and muscle groups at once. Compound movements include exercises such as squats, lunges, pushups, and pull ups.

Why do we compound? Since compound movements work multiple joints and muscle groups, the caloric expenditure is much larger as compared to a single joint movement. For example, a squat will burn more calories than a leg extension, and a bench press will burn more calories than a biceps curl, simply because you’re activating more muscle groups, and working harder. Compound movements also tend to be more functional movements than single joint actions. A squat or a deadlift helps to teach proper heavy lifting mechanics, translating over to proper movement during every day life. As well, a push up or pull up can help to increase pushing and pull strength more than single joint movements, which will help increase the likeliness of recovering from a fall. Heavy lifting will help to increase muscular strength, while also increasing core strength and stability. Since there are multiple joints moving at once, the core must be activated and engaged to help stabilize the spine during compound lifts, helping to increase the strength of your core muscles.

Compound lifts directly translate to life outside of the gym. Where a bicep curl just increases the strength and size of the biceps muscle, a pull up or a row increases the strength of the overall movement. Training movements, rather than muscles, will help to increase overall strength and stability in life outside of the gym. No matter what your goal is in fitness, whether to increase strength and muscle size, to decrease body fat, or even to increase endurance, compound movements can help efficiently and effectively get you to your goal. Single joint movements are important too, to help train muscles to assist the primary movers in those big movements, but they should be treated as accessories to the compound lifts.

As with every new movement, start with the basics before attempting anything fancy. The movement itself is the focus, not the weight you can lift during the movement, so proper form should be prioritized above all else. Below are my favorite compound lifts for each movement, try and incorporate them into your workout routine!

Knee Dominant: Squat

Hip Dominant: Hip Thrust

Pull: Pull Up, Bent Over Row

Push: Bench Press, Overhead Press

Exercise

Squats on Squats on Squats

(True true, Molly. So true)

I know, you’re like Molly. Come on. We’ve already discussed squats like a lot. And yeah, that’s true, but did you know there’s approximately 400 different ways to squat? Alright, maybe not 400, but there is definitely more way to squat than just one, and they all work the legs and body in different ways. We’re going to tackle a mere six squat variations today, so squat down and take a seat, and get ready to learn. (And just wait until we get to the deadlift post, then I get really excited).

Bodyweight Squat

The basic, the one that needs to be mastered before all other versions, the bodyweight squat.

The bodyweight squat works all of your leg muscles, with an emphasis on your glutes if we’re doing it right. Since many people are quad dominant from sitting all day, an emphasis on the glutes is important. To really achieve this, we need to shift our weight backwards. For a proper squat, we should start the motion by pushing our hips back and then lowering down, keeping weight in our heels as we descend. As we push up through the movement, the weight should still be in our heels, focusing on squeezing the booty on the way up.

Goblet squat

The next progression from the bodyweight squat is the goblet squat. This entails holding a dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest right in the center. The goblet squat can actually make the motion easier, as it gives you a counterbalance to the sitting back motion of the squat. A lightly loaded goblet squat (5-10lbs) can be a helpful counterweight while learning the proper mechanics of a squat, but any load higher than 10lbs shouldn’t be used until the basics of the squat are mastered.

Sumo squat

The sumo squat is a progression that can be learned with the bodyweight squat. It is a more glute and hamstring dominant movement than the basic squat, and can take some getting used to. The wide stance with the toes pointing out allow for a deeper squat, engaging the glutes more. Just be sure you’re still sitting back like in a normal squat, and be sure your knees follow your toes!

Back squat

This progression shouldn’t be attempted until the goblet squat has been mastered. As well, upper back mobility needs to be progressed enough to allow for the bar to be on your back (across your traps for high bar squat or your rear delts for low bar squats) while keeping a neutral spine. The back squat is the same mechanically as the basic squat and should be approached the same. However, there are a few extras in the back squat. It is essential that you brace your core (keep it tight!) since your spine is now loaded and needs to be supported. As well, be sure to breathe and progress in weight only as you see fit.

Front squat

The front squat is different in that the bar is in front of your body. The barbell is racked across your shoulders. Moving the barbell from your back to the front of your body changes where the weight is placed on the body. The front squat causes your quads (the front of your legs) to take more of the weight, rather than your glutes and hamstrings. As well, the front squat is more spine friendly, as it doesn’t directly load the spine like the back squat does. The main issue we run in to with the front squat is that you actually need enough shoulder and lat mobility to keep your elbows up and the weight stable. As long as you have the ability to keep those elbows pointed forward the whole time, the front squat is a great strength move to hit all parts of the leg.

Split squat

Guaranteed this is the best exercise you aren’t doing. I love split squats. The basic split squat almost looks like a stationary lunge but instead of placing the weight evenly on both legs, you sit back into the front leg more, creating more of a squat motion than lunge. Regular squats (all variations) allow for one leg to take more of the weight than the other, which can lead to imbalances if not corrected. The split squat forces both legs to work the same during their sets, helping to lessen the strength differences between the legs and helping with muscular balance. The progression to a split squat is a Bulgarian split squat, which elevates the rear foot rather than keeping it on the floor.

This allows for much more weight on the front leg, placing a much higher demand for single leg strength and stability on that leg. Until you get the hang of it, feel free to hold on to something stable for balance, but make sure it’s only for balance and you aren’t helping to pull yourself up. As well, since one leg is balanced on a higher surface, you can sit back much further into that front leg, which recruits the glutes more. Add in split squats to your routine and watch your squats improve!

Exercise

The Basics of Legs

We’ve already gone over the foundations of fitness in two posts, now were going to go in a bit deeper and go over the basic movement patterns. There are six movements that everyone should be able to do, in order to be able to move effectively and efficiently. Today, we’re going over the main leg movements (luckily there’s only two of them), so here we go.

The first movement is a “knee dominant” movement.

These are movements that utilize knee flexion and extension more than any other joint, and include exercises such as squats, lunges, and step ups. For this example, we’re going to focus on the squat. Over my years of training, the squat is the movement we have to work on the most, as it is the foundation of your movement patterns and, with increased sitting in daily life, the motion that shows the most imbalances. A good squat varies from person to person, as each individual has different bone lengths, joint angles, etc, but all have a few characteristics in common. The first being that, though this is a knee dominant exercise, we are going to break from the hips first. This ensures your weight is going backwards, as it should. The next characteristic is keeping a tight core. This ensures that our lower back is protected and we stay nice and upright in our squat. As well, since it is a knee movement, we need to keep an eye on the knees. They should stay in line with your toes during the whole movement. This means no knee caving in, no bowing out, and, that if your toes turn out a bit, your knees should also track out. Keeping the knees in line with the toes makes sure that the knee doesn’t get put in a vulnerable position and reduces the risk of injury (always a good thing). Don’t worry if you can’t get the weight distribution right or the depth of the squat down right away, keep practicing good form and the necessary strength will come!

The next lower body fundamental movement is a “hip dominant” movement.

These are movements that use hip flexion and extension, and include exercises such as a hip hinge, deadlifts, and all of the deadlift variations. Today, we’re just going to focus on the basic hip hinge, as this is the basis for all other hip dominant movements. Strengthening the hip hinge will help with core stability, hip strength and stability, and correcting the imbalances that come from sitting all day. Increased sitting translates to quad (front of leg) and hip flexor (front of hip) tightness, while the hamstrings (back of leg) and glutes (back of hip/booty) are underactive. The hip hinge teaches how to activate glutes and hamstrings and re balance the body. The main misunderstanding of the hip hinge is that it is a movement that just involves bending forward and standing up. That is not correct, and can lead to lower back pain. The hinge really involves pushing hips back, while keeping a neutral (flat) back, until you reach your maximum range of motion. Once your range of motion is reached, squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward until you are back to standing. Many clients have very tight hamstrings, which limit their range of motion. Ensure you are doing the movement properly, no matter the range, and we can work on the mobility part separately. So remember:

The more efficiently and effectively that your legs move, the better your entire body will move. Practicing proper form of the fundamental movements will translate into all aspects of your life, not just fitness!

Exercise

LewdaGlutes

It seems that you can’t scroll through instagram for even a second without seeing a girl, or guy, showing off an exercise that is supposed to grow, activate, or burn your glutes (ya booty aka the gluteus Maximus, medius, and minimus muscles). It’s the trendy topic and cements your spot in insta-fitness fame. So when did full, round glutes become the marker of a fit person? When did glutes become the new abs? But more importantly, why?

Well, not only do fully developed glutes look great, but they are also vital to muscular balance as well as proper movement. Let’s start by dissecting what the glutes actually do as a muscular group, and we’ll see how they translate to moving effectively and efficiently. The glutes all together move your hip. That is their function, they aren’t just there for visually pleasing cushion. The gluteus maximus, or the biggest muscle in your booty, is in charge of extending your hip and externally rotating it (so think, straight leg kicking back and kicking out). The gluteus medius is mainly in charge of external rotation, and the minimus assists with both movements. Below is a quick anatomy lesson and then a video showing two examples of hip extension powered by the glutes.

So now that we know what movements the glutes actually perform, why are they important? 99% of people spend their days sitting at their job or on the couch or driving to and from work. That means that, for a majority of the time, your hip is in constant flexion. This tightens your hip flexors and your quads, allowing them to be your primary movers in your legs. Not only are tight muscles not pleasant, but they also throw off the way you move, whether you feel it or not. Unless you’ve been taught otherwise, if I asked you to show me a squat, the majority of you would shift your weight onto your toes and your upper body would shift forward as well. This puts strain on your knees, lower back, and just feels uncomfortable. The reason your body moves this way, even if it’s not comfortable, is because your body goes with the path of least resistance (aka your hips and quads are tighter and stronger than your glutes, so give them the strain). Over time, without correction, this leads to knee and lower back pain.

So how do we change the tightness? Tight muscles don’t always just mean tightness, they also mean. one muscle is overactive (the “tight” one), while its counterpart (the muscle opposite) is under active. We can do one of two things here. We can either stretch the tight muscle or we can strengthen the underactive muscle. I go with strengthen always because stretching a muscle without fixing the cause of the tightness does nothing but waste your time. Strengthening your glutes will allow the back half of your leg to accept some of the pressure of daily movement, giving your knees a break. As well, strengthening the back half of your hip will relieve some of the tightness of your hip flexors, actually alleviating lower back pain. Now glutes are not the magic cure to all pain, but making sure they are at least balanced with the front half of your leg will allow for better movement over time.

Since you read this far, and hopefully learned a lot, you get my favorite glute exercises (besides my fave, the squat, but we’ll have a whooole post of squats later)! Try throwing them into your routine!

Glute bridge

Either 3 sets of 10-12 reps or a hold for 30 seconds at the end of Glute day

RDL (hip hinge)

3 sets of 8-12 reps

Split squat

3 sets of 8-10 reps/leg