In our four-part training series, we’ll be introducing some of the training methods you can use to help you improve your running and your parkrun PB, while showing how a couple of tweaks to your mid-week training could help you become a more confident parkrunner, whatever your aspirations.
In this instalment, we’re discussing Strength and Conditioning.
To help us to do so, we’ve enlisted the help of Noel Thatcher! Noel is a serial parkrun volunteer, a six-time Paralympic gold medalist, and former world record holder for the 5000m, and a full-time sports physiotherapist.
The suggestions here for runners apply equally to walkers. It’s always a good idea to be strong and balanced.
What is strength and conditioning?
The term strength and conditioning (sometimes shortened to S&C) is a term that refers, in the context of running, to the use of bodyweight and resistance exercises to improve your running performance or to recover from and reduce your chances of developing an injury.
Strength and conditioning might include core stability and balance exercises for your trunk and hips, resistance exercises using weights or bands, or exercises and drills to improve your running technique.
What are the benefits of strength and conditioning?
As runners we all love to get outside and run, so it might seem like an inconvenience to find the time to try and increase the strength of our muscles, or to even replace a run with some exercises in front of the TV.
But, research suggests that improving your basic strength can have a positive effect on making you a more economical runner, and it makes sense that stronger muscles can absorb the mechanical stress of running, sometimes referred to as load, better. This means that you are less likely to break down with an injury.
The two principal benefits of including S&C into your weekly routine are:
Older runners can particularly benefit from regular strength exercises. As we get older, we lose muscle bulk (a process called sarcopenia), and this process can have negative effects on our running performance and injury risk.
Furthermore, if you are one of the many runners suffering from a stubborn long-term injury such as an Achilles tendon problem, it is very likely that progressive specific strength exercises will help resolve the problem and get you back to running.
How should you include it in your training?
Keeping things simple is usually better. Resistance exercises that target the muscle groups most used in running, namely the calf, thigh muscles (quadriceps) and the hip muscles (the gluteals or glutes) will be most effective.
As with running itself, it is important to establish a safe, tolerable baseline level of exercise and build progressively as your tolerance improves. An example of this would be starting with bodyweight exercises (using the weight of your body, rather than dumbells) before adding weight.
You should aim to feel a level of comfortable fatigue in the target muscle group and should recover by the next day with no detrimental effect on your running. Two to three sessions a week is more than enough to see improvements and the key to success, as with your running, is consistency rather than trying to do too much, too soon.
Functional exercises such as step-ups or split squats are good all-around exercises for runners. Or if you have a specific weakness following an injury then exercises that isolate a particular muscle group may be indicated. For example, a seated calf raise for an Achilles problem or knee extensions for a knee issue.
Example strength and conditioning sessions:
1. Single leg calfraise
Stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent. Push up on to your toes slowly to a count of 3 seconds, then lower to the starting position, again, to a count of 3 seconds.
2. Split squats
In a stride stance position squat until your thigh is parallel with the ground. Your rear leg should bend. Keep your stomach pulled in so you don’t arch your back.
3. Side bridge
Lying on your side with your shoulder, hip and ankle in a straight line lift your hip off the floor until your trunk and leg are in a straight line.
Hold this position for up to 10 seconds and perform 10 repetitions as able. This exercise can be made more challenging by lifting the upper leg or by placing your feet on a low stool.
If you are carrying an injury or have previously had pain with exercise, it is probably a good idea to seek the advice of health or exercise professionals before you embark on an S&C program.
But, you do not have to join the local gym to get stronger as both your bodyweight, and dumbbells, can both provide sufficient challenge for your muscles and power you to that parkrun PB!
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