By Caroline Varriale
Let’s be honest, it’s easy to do what we love. The things that come most naturally to us and are rewarding are the ones that we inevitably turn to over and over again.
For those of us who enjoy running, we know it’s something we stubbornly keep coming back to—despite injury, training setbacks, terrible races and doctors telling us we shouldn’t run. There is just something about being out there—when it’s just you and earth and sky—that is clarifying and exhilarating.
We also know, however, that if you want to be a healthy runner, one of the worst things you can do is just run. What we’re doing when we’re not running is equally as important as the run itself—perhaps even more-so).
In addition to flexibility and mobility work, sleep and nutrition/hydration management, cross and strength training are essential aspects of a well-rounded program. Strength is often the most difficult part to commit to. We feel like we don’t have enough time (especially during peak training times), don’t know what to do and frankly would rather just be out counting miles.
From a physiological perspective, strength training for runners is crucial because it gets the body out of the repetitive movement of running and challenges it in different ways. All of our tissues function in three dimensions: the sagittal (forwards/backwards), frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotation) planes. Therefore healthy tissue is maintained when it is moved through all three dimensions on a regular basis.
Here are five simple and manageable tips for running-specific strengthening:
1) Simple can be better. Don’t worry about getting fancy with your strength routine! Sticking to the basics—squats, lunges, planks, step-ups, jumping—can be as good as anything. Remember, if you’re moving in all three planes of motion, you’re getting the most benefit, which makes it easy to build off of very simple movements.
2) Use your body weight. Running is essentially a test of how efficiently you can move your body weight over a given distance. When it comes to strengthening, you don’t necessarily have to add resistance to get a good workout. The better you become at controlling and moving your own mass, the stronger you will be as a runner. A short, body weight strength routine is easy to incorporate right after a run, and it teaches your muscles to perform even when fatigued.
3) Variety is the spice of strength. We know that “muscle confusion” is a great way to stimulate our tissues. When you train with different exercises, at different intensities and even at different times of day, you challenge the body to adapt to the ever-changing stimuli of our natural environment. And your biology likes this! It maximizes strength gains and minimizes fatigue, so keep changing it up.
4) Do what you love. As we talked about earlier, we won’t stick with something that we don’t enjoy, so find a way to strengthen that you actually like. This may mean coming up with a routine that you do in your living room with your kids, going to a barre or power yoga class with your girlfriends, finding a good personal trainer or joining a free outdoor bootcamp. Try a few different things and see what you naturally go back to! Having fun with strengthening is what will make it effective.
5) Consistency is key. We all know from running that the only way to get better at something is to do it over and over again. Strengthening is no different! Stay consistent with your strength training, particularly during this time of year. Whether you’re in winter off-season mode or getting started with a spring training program, now is the best time to build your strength base. When your mileage gets high in a few months, it will be much harder! Aim for 2-3x per week, 20-30 minutes, and keep it there.
Sample 3D exercise:
NOW during the winter off-season (or the beginning of a spring training season) is the best time to get strong!
At Finish Line, we want our athletes to be as strong as possible. To start off the year right, come in for a session, and we can help you build an individualized strength routine that fits your schedule. We also love to learn new ideas for strengthening, so share your creative routines with us, and we’ll pass them on to our awesome community. Stay warm and see you soon!
Caroline Varriale received her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Duke University and has been with Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City since 2013. She is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is recognized as a Fellow of Applied Functional Science (FAFS) through the internationally acclaimed Gray Institute. A long-time runner, Caroline also enjoys varying her workouts with biking, resistance & strength training, plyometrics and yoga. She ran the 2013 New York City Marathon as part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training and completed the 2014 New York City Triathlon.