Running strong – what to do and why it matters! by Physio Claire Callaghan.
- Prevents pain and injuries
When you put a force on your body, such as lifting a weight or doing a lunge, you are not only building up muscle strength, but also your body’s ability to take pressure, and maintain balance. Your bones, joints and tendons become more robust too.
- Helps you run faster and more efficiently
Whatever your pace, the less energy and oxygen you use, the better. ‘Running economy’ is a complex measure. It reflects how efficiently you take up energy and use oxygen while running at a set pace. It’s a bit like how much fuel you would use when driving a car at a particular speed. Doing resistance exercises work improves how your heart, lungs, skeleton, muscles, and nerves work together. In doing so, muscles strengthen, coordination improves, your tissues are more resilient, and you learn to use your body more efficiently. This strength work, in turn, improves running economy. These improvements apply whether you’re doing a mix of walking and slow running or an elite athlete.
- Help running be more enjoyable and improve recovery.
Do some runs feel like hard work? It’s all a bit easier and manageable if you have a strong foundation. You will recover more quickly between runs too.
Where and how to strengthen
Strengthening takes many forms and doesn’t have to be in a gym with big weights. Working with your body weight as a resistance, elasticised bands or small weights at home can be really effective too. Instruction online or in person, 1:1 or in a class can be useful and keep you safe, confident and on track. The most important thing is to get started and do it regularly.
- Lower body
Resistance work for the hips and legs will help you transfer the weight evenly when striding forward. Mountain climbers, lunges with weights, calf raises and mini squats (feet apart, only bending the knees to 30 degrees), in your hand are great for runners. If you are a member of a gym, you can ask the instructors which weights they would recommend. Try and do leg exercises where you are taking the weight through your leg too, as that’s what you need to be able to do when you are running.
Having a solid foundation will help you have good running form and protect your spine and hips from impact. It’s not all about sit-ups! Strength work like ‘superman’ exercises, press-ups, bridges, swimming, and pilates will help too.
Don’t forget that learning to contract and relax your pelvic floor well is key for female runners who have had children!
- Upper body
The arms are important to help propel the body forward. Press-ups using your body weight as resistance and arm exercises, even with small weights, target upper body muscles and help maintain good running posture. This keeps you from shuffling or getting round-shouldered at the end of a run too.
How heavy a weight, how many repetitions?
If you are not used to lifting weights, start small – 500g – 1kg – for arm exercises, 3 kg each hand for leg exercises, and build from there. If you are used to using weights, you want the weight to be approximately 60-70% of the maximum you could lift if you were pushing yourself to the limit (referred to by personal trainers as your repetition max). If running for longer periods rather than sprinting, aim for 12 repetitions in a set, 2 or 3 sets.
The latest Chief Medical Officer Guidance on Physical Activity in the UK recommends that all UK adults should do strength work at least twice a week. If you are starting out, you can start with 10 minutes of strengthening and build up to two 30 minute sessions a week. Every little bit helps!
Strengthening through the hip and core will help you transfer the weight evenly when striding forward,
Cross-training with other sports, such as swimming and cycling, can also help you strengthen for running.
These infographics show some of my favourite exercises that can help get you started or keep you running well.