By Ian Nurse, DC
In the last issue of Level Renner we explored the debate surrounding stretching and its role in long distance running. While some cling to their regular stretching routines, recent research has spurred the questions of how to stretch and exactly how much. In this issue of Level Renner, I want to address a concept with which everyone seems to agree: the necessity of strength training for long distance runners.
Like many of us, when I first started running I assumed that all the hard work of pounding the pavement would make me stronger. While initially this is the case for anyone who starts running on a more regular basis, after time this strength gain changes. Despite what you probably think, as you run hundreds of miles in training for a marathon, your legs actually lose strength. As opposed to the power that sprinters gain, the more one runs, the more muscle mass is lost. One’s legs actually get weaker with endurance training and inevitable muscle imbalances start to crop up.
To combat the many injuries that are caused by muscle imbalance, one must perform supplemental strength exercises in addition to running. Thankfully, we only need a few efficient exercises to maintain balance. Here is a description of the four most important exercises for runners. As you will see, fancy equipment is unnecessary; your own body weight will do.
1. Hip Lifts: Hamstring Strength
Lie on back with back of heels resting on a chair or bed.
There should be a 90 degree angle at both hips and knees.
Relax everything except hamstrings.
Slowly raise hips 4 inches off the floor just using ham-strings.
Repetition should take 5 seconds total (2 up, 1 hold, 2 down).
Repeat until fatigue or start recruiting other muscles (max of 30).
Perform 2 sets, 3 times/week.
2. Single Leg Squats: Knee Stability
Stand with one foot forward and the other back.
Feet should be about one shin-length apart (they should be hip-width apart from side to side).
Most of your weight should be directed through the heel of your foot on the ground.
Bend your knee, lowering your body until your knee reaches an angle of 90 degrees between the thigh and lower leg.
Return to the starting position, maintaining upright posture with your trunk and holding your hands at your sides.
If you feel wobbly, stabilize yourself by holding onto the wall.
Repeat 2 sets until fatigue (up to 15), 2-3 times/week.
3. Side Bridge
Lie on your side and support your whole body with only your forearm and the outside of that same foot.
Your body should be a straight line and off the ground. Your left foot should simply be lying on the right foot. Don’t let your hips sag.
Hold this position until you fatigue, begin cheating (if your hips sag or rotate forward), or are shaking badly.
Flip over and repeat on the other side.
Hold each side the same amount of time, even if one side is stronger than the other.
Each day try to hold a little longer and progress to 90 sec-onds per side.
Hold up to 90 seconds per side, 4-5 times/week.
Lie face down on the floor.
Lift up your body so that you are balanced only on your forearms and toes.
Your elbows are on the ground and should be directly below your shoulders.
Your forearms and hands are pointed straight ahead, rest-ing on the ground.
Your feet are about shoulder-width apart, and your toes are the only part of your lower body that are touching the ground.
As long distance runners, I think we have all given up the hope of looking like powerhouses Usain Bolt and Justin Gaitlin. All that extra bulk would just slow us down. However, as we train more and more, we need to combat the muscle loss that is inevitable. Thankfully, all we need is a just a few exercises performed a few times a week. Even I can do that!
Ian Nurse was recently named team chiropractor for Terrence Mahon’s elite adidas BAA team. This article originally appeared in the Mar/Apr 2014 issue of Level Renner. Get your free subscription today (box in upper right portion of screen).