Level up! Add these 5 strength movements to your training program
by Mandie Vossenberg
You’re a runner! Maybe you’ve been lacing up for years and you’d like to build strength and capacity in your legs to improve your time or endurance. Perhaps you’re a new runner and you’re looking to add some running-specific strength to your schedule to prevent injury. Either way, strength is important accessory work for almost any training program, as long as the focus of your training remains on your running (meaning if you’re training for a big race, your running should always come first!)
Strength training is challenging, personal, and should always be performed under the guidance of a professional when you’re starting out.
Here are a few of my favourite movements to use in my own training and programs for my athletes in the months leading up to a race (off-season strength is a whole other ball game):
Glute Bridges are one of the best movements you can do to isolate through the posterior chain (The muscles on the back side of your body. Think your glutes, hamstrings, even your low back). They can be modified to be suitable for beginners, and can be easily enhanced by adding weight, performing them single legged, or holding (good for muscular endurance!)
How to Perform the Basic Glute Bridge:
Lie on the floor with your feet flat on the ground and your heels stacked under your knees. Press your low back into the ground and tip your pelvis forward to create engagement throughout the core/trunk muscles. Once you’re set up and feeling strong, push through the mid-foot/heel to lift your pelvis up, creating a straight line from your knees to your chest. Lower down slowly, maintaining that core engagement so that your low and mid back hit the ground at roughly the same time.
Deadlifts are one of my favourite movements in general, but especially for runners’ strength. Like Glute Bridges, they use the whole posterior chain, but with the deadlift we have the opportunity to include the whole leg, recruiting some of the same muscles that we need when we “toe off”, or push off the ground when we run.
Deadlifts can be performed using barbells, dumbbells or kettlebells. I like to use a kettlebell when I deadlift as I don’t have a barbell at home, but you can use anything you’d like!
How to Perform the Basic Deadlift:
Stand with your feet roughly hip- to shoulder-width apart. Stand upright and grasp your weight in your hands, then slowly begin to move your hips back, hinging forward at the waist as your chest lowers and your knees bend. The handle of your weight (whether it’s a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell) should stop at your mid shin. (For me – my kettlebell handle is about mid-shin height, so I gently tap the ground at the end of my rep, though if you’re using dumbbells, you likely will just need to stop). Then at the bottom of your deadlift, you engage your core, ensure that the weight is close enough to your body to come up in a straight line, and push through the heels to stand upright, being careful not to shrug the shoulders back, or push your hips forward at the top (they should still be strong and inline as they were when you started your rep).
Split Squats/Static Lunges
Split Squats, or static lunges, are great for isolating the muscles in a single leg. They’re especially useful as they mimic the running stance, with one leg staggered behind you. They also require core/trunk effort to perform as you don’t get to switch sides as often.
How to Perform the Basic Split Squat/Static Lunge:
Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Bring one foot behind you in line with that same hip, and raise your heel so that your toes are against the floor (make sure you don’t move your leg out of line with that hip). Tip slightly forward from the hip, and using your front leg to control the movement, slowly lower back knee towards the floor. Your front hamstring should be parallel with the floor, knee tracking just over the mid foot, and your back shin should be parallel with the floor.
Core work is especially important for runners because your core/trunk muscles are what your body relies on to help you stay upright. So you can imagine they get a lot of use while you run!
One thing I always like to mention to my clients is that every lift done with proper form can be considered a “core movement”. Because our abdominal muscles actually wrap around our entire trunk, we use our core in all of those movements to make sure they’re done correctly.
One of the best accessory movements you can do for your core is the plank. There are so many variations of the plank, and you can add in dynamic movement, or modify to make it more or less challenging, but I’m including the basic plank for our purposes today.
There are two main variations: The Short Lever (Low) Plank and The Long Lever (High) Plank.
The Short Lever (Low) Plank:
Place your forearms on the ground with your elbows stacked just underneath your shoulders, and your hands parallel to one another. Then, straighten your legs behind you and curl the toes under to lift your body off the ground so that you are grounded through your forearms and toes and your body is in a straight line, parallel to the ground. Try to keep your neck neutral, your shoulders strong and pulled back, and your hips parallel to the floor. (This will be harder the longer you hold it. If you feel your form start to falter, stop, and move on or take a break)
The Long Lever (High) Plank:
The high plank is similar to the low plank, except your hands are stacked underneath your shoulders, and all 5 fingers are engaged and gripping the floor. Start in the same position as above, but straighten your legs and lift from the ground. You might find this to be the easier variation as you can recruit more strength from different muscles to maintain the hold.
A couple of important notes for both of these variations:
- Don’t forget to breathe! If you’re new to planks, try holding it for 20 seconds at first, that’s roughly 5 big deep breaths, and then let it go. You can build up from there! Do not hold your breath, it won’t make this any easier, it’ll just leave you feeling winded.
- The wider your feet are, the easier this will be to maintain. The same is NOT true for your arms, make sure those stay stacked under your shoulders.
Dynamic Movement and Agility Work
Yes, as runners we generally move along a single plane, in a consistently forward motion. But unless you run only on a treadmill, you’ll likely have to pass other runners, hop on and off curbs, or dodge potholes along your way. Multi-planar training allows us to prepare for these obstacles and prevent injury. Adding this into your strength repertoire can be as simple as short intervals between sets, or at the end of a workout. My favourite is the Speed Skater
The Speed Skater
Ensuring there’s enough space around you, come to stand tall as you brace your core, lift one foot from the floor and push off laterally from the standing leg (if you’ve raised your right foot and your left is the one pushing off the floor, you will be moving to the right). Bringing that original lifted foot back to the ground, the opposite foot will naturally come to land/hover behind your now standing leg, then you’ll push off that leg in the other direction and repeat. Using your arms to help counter balance your weight from side to side, while maintaining the integrity in your core will also help mimic the intensity of movement when you run.
An added benefit of the Speed Skater is that you also work your abductors and adductors, or the muscles on the outside and inside of your legs which can help prevent injury as mentioned above, and also develop all around strength of the legs.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to strength for runners. If you’re new to strength training, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional for guidance. They can provide you with accessible options, supportive mobility accessory work, knowledgeable guidance, and a personal hype crew.
Mandie Vossenberg is a Run Ottawa member and the Manager of Iron North Studio, where she is a Personal Trainer and leads the strength and mobility classes in addition to the Triathlon Club and Run Club.