Tis the season for road races and marathons. And I am dedicating this post to the runners of the 2014 Boston Marathon. (See link below for an inspirational video for this year’s participants.)
Distance running is a popular competitive sport but the combination of high mileage and repetitive high-shock footfalls puts most participants at high-risk for joint, ligament and tendon problems. Add to that the tendency of participants toward a one-note exercise regimen – namely, workouts by distance runners tend to only include running – and you have a recipe for being forced to watch races from the sidelines.
No one can offer a workout regimen that will guarantee to protect a distance runner against injury. But you can put the odds in your favor. Strengthen the muscles involved in running and you lessen the load on ligaments and tendons. Run-centric workouts create muscle imbalances where some muscles become chronically weak and others chronically tight. This puts undue stress on the ankle, knee and hip joints. Regular workouts that strength train the weak muscles and flexibility train the tight muscles will make the adjacent joints stronger and perform more efficiently. Strengthening the core helps in two ways. It improves posture which will improve your overall running form and movement efficiency. And a strong core can work as a shock absorber relieving some of the shearing force on lower extremity joints.
Activity-Specific Workout of the Month Defined: A 30 minute strength and stretch training workout tailored to benefit those who engage in a particular recreational sport or activity. The workouts will be challenging and safe for the novice but will also offer progressions for the experienced. If your children participate in these activities, know that strength and flexibility training is not only safe for kids but beneficial as well. The workouts will have minimal equipment requirements so they can be done anywhere. The goal is to properly strengthen and stretch the key muscle groups involved in the activity so the participant can achieve performance improvements and reduce the risk of injury. Click on the exercise to link to examples and step-by-step descriptions provided by www.acefitness.org.
Strength and Flexibility Training for Distance Running
Concept: Primary strengthening targets are the leg and hip muscles with emphasis on the glutes, quads and calves. Secondary strengthening targets are the abductors (outer thigh), adductors (inner thigh) and core. Flexibility training focuses on the typically chronically tight muscles for runners: hip flexors, hamstrings, IT band (outer thigh) and dorsiflexors (shins). The base exercises are for those new to strength training. Progressions are offered for those more experienced in these strength training exercises. Whether novice or experienced, be sure you can perform the base exercise at the recommended repetitions with excellent form before incorporating the next progression. Perform this workout 1-3 times per week, allowing a minimum of 48 hours rest between workout sessions. When in training mode for the 2 weeks leading up to a race, perform this program on your day off or on your lighter mileage/slower pace days.
Warm-Up: 2-5 minutes of high knee marching in place, moderate pace on stationary cycle or elliptical or brisk walking on a treadmill. The purpose of the warm-up is to increase the heart rate slightly and warm up the muscles.
Strength Workout: Perform the following exercise circuit in succession with no rest between exercises
Squats: 10-20 repetitions. Works quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings. Progression: *add weight by holding free weights, medicine ball or containers filled with water while performing. Start with lighter weights, 1-5 lbs, until you can easily perform 20+ squats in a set before progressing to heavier weights.
- Front Plank: Hold for 10-30 seconds. Strengthens entire core. Progression 1: hold plank for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, return to plank for 10-30 seconds. Progression 2: Plank with Knee Drag.
- Forward Lunge: 10-20 repetitions each side. Works quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings. Progression 1: add weight according to the protocol for squats above* Progression 2: Walking Lunge with a Twist
- Side Lying Leg Abduction: 10-20 repetitions each side. Works outer and inner thighs. Progression 1: Side Lunges Progression 2: add weight to side lunges according to the protocol for squats above*
- Standing Calf Raises: 10-20 repetitions. Works calves and shins. Progression 1: Calf Raises with front of feet on step – on the downward phase, allow heels to drop below step level for greater strengthening in the shins. Progression 2: single leg calf raises (10-20 repetitions each side) or add weight to calf raises on step according to the protocol for squats above*
- After performing each exercise once, rest for 1-2 minutes and repeat the circuit (squats through calf raises) for a second set of each exercise. After performing the circuit twice, perform the flexibility workout.
Flexibility Workout: Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds
- Side-Lying Quad Stretch: Stretches hip flexors & quads. This stretch may also be done while standing (runner’s stretch); grasp top of foot with hand to point toes toward ceiling to stretch the shins as well.
- Seated Toe Touch: Stretches entire back of leg: glutes, hamstrings and calves.
- Supine Hamstring Stretch: Also stretches the shins and calves.
- Supine IT Band Stretch: The iliotibial band runs along the outside thigh from the hip to the knee. Runners commonly experience tightness in the IT band.
- Childs Pose: targets core and provides instant relaxation to end your workout
The keys to safe and effective strength training are the same regardless of gender or age – proper warm-up, form, breathing, load, progressions and stretching. The cues for these exercises provided by ACE Fitness (via my links) are excellent and, if followed, anyone can perform this workout safely, even a novice. It’s important to focus on your own body’s feedback and listen to the cues your body is providing you. Adults are much better at reading those cues than children. For this reason, if any of these exercises are new to your child, I recommend having a professional (such as your child’s coach, gym teacher or sports trainer) review the proper form for each of these exercises with your student athlete.
This post is dedicated to the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and to the racers who will run in their honor at this year’s Boston Marathon on April 21st. Good luck, be safe! #WeWillRun
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
Click on the link to view previous Activity-Specific Workouts of the Month: Hockey & Cross-Country Skiing, Snowboarding & Figure Skating, Golf & Softball, Distance Running, Racquet Sports, Swimming, Waterskiing & Surfing, Cycling, Rowing & Desk Jockeys, Track, Field & Court Sports, Throwing & Pitching, Dancing, Downhill Skiing