August 14, 2019

Your Muscles Matter

If you wish to improve your running, run training is not enough. You need to run hills and do sport-specific strength exercises.

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This post was originally written for The Straits Times as part of a 16-week column preparing runners for The Straits Times Run 2019.

I’ve been a fan of the quote “hills are speedwork in disguise” since I first heard it many years ago.

Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic Marathon Champion, spoke these wise words, and they should be considered carefully by every runner.

While it sounds logical that you must run fast in training to race fast (and occasionally you do), it’s not quite that simple.

As Frank knows, and I shared in a previous post, you are not limited by speed; you are limited by your ability to maintain a high percentage of your maximum speed for the duration of your race.

What Frank is hinting at here is the importance of developing strength.

Strength helps to delay the rate at which you fatigue so that you slow down less and maintain a higher percentage of your maximum speed.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

Hit The Hills

Hills provide resistance, so the simple act of carrying your body weight up and down the hills over time makes you stronger. The outcome of an increase in strength is your ability to transfer more power through the ground, which leads to an increase in stride length.

If your cadence remains the same, but your stride length is longer, you are faster. It’s for this reason; I included hill runs in the training plan I created for the Sept 29 The Straits Times Run.

Aside from running over hills to develop strength, it’s also essential for runners to do running-specific strength exercises as part of their weekly regime. Strength training helps to minimise the structural and biomechanical imbalances that are a primary cause of running injuries.

With up to 80% of runners getting injured every year, strength training is critical. Unfortunately, few runners are dedicating any time to this discipline and as a result, are underperforming or getting hurt.

No Gym Required

A simple search of “strength exercises for runners” in Google or YouTube, will show up an abundance of exercises you can do to strengthen your muscles.

Some of my favourites are simple and can be done anywhere – no gym necessary.

  • Plank.
  • Squats.
  • Walking lunges.
  • Push-ups.
  • Donkey kicks.

Complete these exercises at the end of a run or after a short dynamic warm-up. Aim for 2 – 3 sessions a week for a total of 15 – 20 minutes each time.

By focusing on aerobic training and the development of strength, you optimise for consistency while laying down a framework that supports high performance.

Over time, your pace at the same heart rate (effort) will improve and the rate at which you fatigue will slow. In short, you’ll develop the capacity to run at a higher percentage of your maximum pace and achieve a better result when race day next rolls around.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.