For many runners, their training involves running and increasing the mileage and the speed work to see their race performance improve and achieve personal bests for their chosen distance.
For some this training method will work, but for the majority of runners, this will lead to injury, usually from overtraining, injury due to muscle imbalances and poor biomechanics particularly glutes, hips and core.
Which leads the runner into that dreaded time of not being able to run and believe me, I have been there, and it’s not a place we want to be. I have made the mistakes of just running and no core and strength work, and ended up injured, once I started to look into the reasons why and through my training studies and ongoing professional development it becomes evident that it is as essential to include strength and core training into our training plans.
Not only will it help prevent injury by having a stronger body to cope with the demands of running, but it will also help to improve performance, improve bone density, increased energy and metabolism and less body fat. Strength training can help to enhance structural weakness or imbalances in joints, muscles and connective tissue.
You often find where the site of an injury manifest is not the cause of the injury, and many injuries are due to weakness or tightness in the flutes or hips these can be injuries such as:
Inflamed Tibialis posterior or anterior (bone strain shin splints) which can be due to weakness in the glutes and over-striding.
Palletofemoral pain (runners knee) is often due to a dysfunction in the hip, abductors, weak abdominals, weak VMO, increased Q angle from wide hips and over-pronation and overstriding
Piriformis Syndrome can be due to tight abductors, poor biomechanics. Hip Joint injuries and pain can be due to tight hip flexors and spine.
Adductor Tendinopathy is often caused by the tightness of the adductors.
Hamstring Tendinopathy is due to short or weakened hamstrings and weak glutes.
Lower leg injuries have also been known to be caused by weak glutes and core and poor biomechanics.
By introducing and strength and conditioning session into your currently running, you can strengthen the muscles that are often weak or weakened to help prevent injuries and improve running efficiency.
The term core stability may be a familiar term to you or one that you have heard other runners say or your Physio, coach or personal trainer say we need to work on your core stability.
What does core stability means often you will think of your core as the bit in the middle of your body (trunk and pelvic area). Your main core stabilisers consist of the deep, transverse abdominis known as TA these muscles lay deep beneath the six-pack and almost like a corset wrap around your midriff, gluteal in particular the glute medius and the muscles of the lower back.
They all have their role, but work together as a cylinder to stabilise the spine and pelvis If these muscles are weak and don’t activate (switch on) when the need to the phasic muscles have to act, as this is not their usual job to stabilise the additional work can leave them short and tight, this can pull the body out of alignment which in turn leaves it more susceptible to injury.
With a core and strengthening plan that focuses on exercises which will strengthen the core and the muscles used for running, you can begin to enable theses muscles to start to activate and stabilise. Exercise such as glute bridges, clams, planks, side planks, one leg exercises, squats and lunges, specific core exercises and upper body exercises which will help with arm alignment for running, these should be performed on non-running days or light running days and should not be performed on consecutive days.
Another form of strength training is plyometrics and research have shown to be useful for a runner, which helps to train the muscles to fire quicker and recruit more motor units, which enable them to respond more explosively and powerfully. During plyometric exercises like a jump or a hop, a concentric contraction is followed by an eccentric one, the coupling of these contractions will improve your ability to exert at a speed which will make you a more efficient and powerful runner.
A beginner should not perform plyometrics; these should build into your strength program once you have a good base of core stability and strength and start with just one session a week and not as part of your running training.
Including strength and conditioning as part of your weekly training plan, you will start to introduce core stability and specific strength work you will soon see you are running more efficiently and feel stronger. Before you begin to include strength and conditioning into your current training, I would highly recommend working with a coach or a personal trainer who has good knowledge of running.
To help you devise a program which complements your current running training load, for instance, if you are in your competitive season the strength and conditioning would be based more on endurance and lighter weights, so you are not fatigued for your running, but if your on a lower mileage and running intensity the strength work can be increased which will allow you to become stronger when your mileage and intensity increase. Working with a coach or personal trainer will ensure your technique is correct.
Including core stability, strength and conditioning can seem like a strange concept and often neglected, but as you introduce it, you will soon see a benefit and improvement in your running and the role of injury prevention.
Recently, one of my clients who I have been working with has taken 3 minutes of her 10-mile time, and other clients who run 2.50 marathons and used to run in pain are now running pain-free, from introducing core stability and specific strength and conditioning for running.