With human evolution, running is no more an activity which bears any significant existential relevance. Nevertheless, running has long been a mode of maintaining optimum cardiovascular fitness and is one of the sought after fitness activities with the urban population. Modern-day runners, recreational or professional, could be broadly classified into two categories :
- Marathon and Ultra Marathon runners.
Unlike common perception, running involves complex biomechanics and precise neurological coordination of various muscle groups. Thus it requires a large amount of strength to cope with the stress it calls for.
As bipeds, the three weight-bearing joints – hips, knees, and ankles- bear a lot of impact each time the foot strikes the surface while running. Also, it is quintessential for a runner to have a fair amount of upper body strength to maintain posture needed to outlast long runs or generate the power needed for short bouts of sprints. Thus strength training is of paramount importance not only to avoid joint injuries over time but also for optimum running performance.
A comprehensive strength training program should address the following training needs and muscle groups that are crucial to runners :
Back and Paraspinal muscles: Running for a long time demands your spine and shoulders be held upright, which corresponds to adding exercises which will strengthen the upper back, lower back and para-spinal group efficiently.
Chest and Abdominal muscles: Anterior part of the upper half of the torso needs to be strong to ensure ample muscle balance between chest and back muscles. Equally important is training the transverse and rectus abdominis and obliques, which contribute significantly towards power generation and help in stabilizing the runner during exhaustive runs.
Hip Flexors: Hip flexion is what initiates the run, breaking into a run calls for raising the knee forward. The flexor group thus needs to be strong enough to last throughout. Including exercises like weighted leg raises will help build strength in these muscles.
Quadriceps, Hamstrings and Gluteal Group: The trio of quads, hams and glutes are the holy grail of lower body strength for any individual, let alone runners. Strength imbalance or tightness in these muscles is quite common and is the reason for a majority of injuries amongst runners. Compound exercises like squats, lunges, step ups, hip thrusts along with leg curls should be a part of every strength training program.
Calf and Tibialis Anterior: While the calf muscles, namely the Gastrocnemius and Soleus are crucial as they aid in efficient venous return to the heart, the Tibialis Anterior, a muscle running parallel to the shins, will help the ankle joint and the shins bear the impact of the foot striking the ground. Often overlooked, these muscles can be targeted by adding exercises such as Toe Raises and Calf Raises to the program.
Strength Training Workouts
Soreness post workout is a commonly experienced phenomenon and will subdue in a couple of days. One should keep in mind that training regularly will help the body adapt and dissipate the pain faster.
Based on the nature of the running program and also the availability of time, one to two days a week of strength training is recommended. If you are working out once a week, follow this chart:
If you are scheduling two days in the week for strength training, then you can distribute upper and lower body workouts for each day:
Pay heed to these precautions before taking on the strength training: