Train to be a strong runner

Our strength training programme for the Two Ocean Marathon includes eccentric training on the Grucox bikes.

I know many runners who only run. And I know many yogis who only do yoga; lifters who only lift weights and cardio fans who believe only in the power of getting their hearts racing.

When I started focusing on losing weight, and getting fit and healthy about two years ago, I took a naïve approach to training and tried just about everything that was on offer at the gym, to see what worked for me. I eventually narrowed it down to the things I enjoyed best.

Before I started running in September last year, I was training at least six days a week, incorporating yoga, resistance training, cardio workouts and boxing into my exercise schedule. Every now and then, I would throw in a HIIT (high intensity interval training) session as well.

And so, by the time I decided to try my er, hand at pounding the pavement, I had built a fairly strong body that was accustomed to doing different kinds of exercise.

When I used to play computer games, I suffered repetitive-strain injury a couple of times from repeating the same movements with my fingers over and over.

So I reckoned that if I did the same kind of exercise day in and day out, I might not only injure myself, but also stop seeing the results I wanted to see after many hours in the gym.

Unbeknown to me at the time, this kind of training had had a positive impact on my running and had helped me finish my first OptiFit programme – which prepared us for our first 10km run – practically injury-free.

This time round, I’m training for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM) 21.1km – my first half marathon – and there’s a lot more focus on strength training in this instalment of the OptiFit programme, offered by the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA).

The running website runnersblue defines strength training as “training in which your muscles are worked against resistance, which increases muscular power and endurance”.

When doing this kind of training, you can create resistance with a rubber band, free weights or your own body weight.

While helping to prevent injuries, incorporating strength training in your running programme will also make you a faster, stronger and more efficient runner.

However, writes “Runners need a different strength-training programme than your standard gym rat. Instead of pushing weight away from the body with bicep curls, leg extensions and bench presses, runners should focus on targeting the key muscles that will keep them balanced and moving forward.”

And if you consider that, when you run, two to three times your body weight is borne by one leg at a time, it’s clear why you need to build leg strength to improve your running.

Added to this, OptiFit programme director Kathy McQuaid told me that strength training also has the following benefits for runners:

Increase strength and stability of the support muscles.

Strengthen muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments.

Enable muscles to be trained faster and further.

Increase time to exhaustion.

Decrease fatigue in the upper body and improve posture.

Improved running economy, which is measured to quantify energy use while running.

“We recommend strength-training twice a week. However, some exercises can even be done daily,” says Kathy.

“If you are still considerably sore afterwards and it affects your regular training, go lighter on the next workout, take an extra day to recover, stretch and consider getting a massage.”

And, she adds: “Try to include some core-stability exercises like Pilates, physio-ball work once a week.”

Upper-body exercises which are good for runners include bench press, bent-over rows, shoulder press, lateral raises, bicep curls and tricep kickbacks. These should be done with dumbbells.

Some lower-body exercises runners can include in their workouts are two-legged squats/dumbbell squats; alternating lunges/step-ups/walking forward-lunges; hamstring curls; leg raises; calf/heel-raises and abdominal work.

While you can find demonstration videos of these on the internet, it may be a good idea to ask an instructor to show you how to do these exercises with the correct form.

Our OptiFit programme manager, biokineticist, Nicola Johnstone, advises: “The strength training is super important and it is crucial that you do the movements slowly and with as much control as possible. Think about the muscles that you are working, and make sure that you are not compensating with any other muscles.”

Chantel Erfort is the editor of CCN, which publishes this paper and its 14 sister titles. To track her journey to OMTOM2019, follow
@editedeating or #editedeatingOMTOM on social media.