Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Double your running strength

Becoming a better runner takes more than just jogging around the block. Sure it helps, but to succeed properly you need to focus on two components: physiology and psychology.

Becoming a better runner takes more than just jogging around the block. Sure it helps, but to succeed properly you need to focus on two components: physiology and psychology.
Essentially, you need to be mentally prepared to push your body past its limit, while also being physically fit.
The physiological component can be broken up into two parts: running strength and running economy.

Running strength is a measure of how efficiently your muscles perform at a specific pace, and running economy is a measure of how you use oxygen while running at a specific pace.

1 Start off on the right foot

The correct technique is crucial to achieve the best results possible and prevent injury. Here are a few things to remember while running:

Look forward, not down
Keep your toes forward, not pigeon-toed.
Keep your chest over your hips, hips over knees and knees over toes.

Land softly from heel to toe
Swing arms from the
shoulder and don’t twist
your upper body.
Keep breathing controlled: in through your nose and out through your mouth.

2 Push through the pain

To increase your running strength you’ll need to be able to push past your current
pain threshold.
This means next time you feel out of breath, or your legs feel like jelly, try to keep going, even if it’s just for an extra 10 or 20m. It will eventually get easier.

3 Build a stronger body

To boost your running performance you’ll need to strengthen the muscles your
body uses while pounding
the pavement.
Focus on exercises that duplicate the same joint action as running, therefore working the same muscles and tendons used when you hit the track. Strengthening these muscles will help increase your endurance and pace, and boost your flexibility and posture to prevent injury.
It’s vital not to neglect your upper body and core strength as both are crucial for improving balance and stabilisation, something runners may take for granted, especially since only one foot is on the ground at a time while running.
Core training will strengthen your inner muscles to prevent injury, especially around your hip, knee and ankle joints. Try the following exercises:

Lunge with knee lift
Running movement: beginning or push-off phase
Muscle focus: hip flexor, quads and glutes

In a lunge position, right leg back with knee slightly off the ground, left knee at a 90 degree angle.
Slowly bring right leg forward and lift knee to chest while balancing on your left leg.
Slowly return to starting position. Do 20 x 3 on each leg (use a chair for balance
if needed).

Calf raise with resistance band
Running movement: beginning or push-off phase
Muscle focus: calf, glutes and inner muscles around ankle joint

Stand on the edge of a step or platform about 10cm high. Place middle of band around balls of your feet and hold ends in each hand so you feel some resistance.
Keep legs straight and hands by your sides. Lower heels to the floor until you feel a stretch up your legs. Push up onto toes and hold for two seconds. Repeat 25 x 3.

Leg pushback with resistance band
Running movement: middle phase
Muscle focus: hamstrings (helps to increase stride length)

Tie band to the right leg of a chair and tie the other end around your right ankle so there is only about half a metre of band in between.
Hold back of the chair with one hand and balance on left leg. Lift right knee to hip level.
With a quick but controlled movement, push leg back as far as you can, keeping hips as straight and still as possible, and upper body slightly forward. Return to starting position. Repeat 30 x 3 on each leg.

Dumbbell/barbell shoulder press
Running movement: similar to arm motion used when running
Muscle focus: deltoids (shoulders) and triceps

Stand shoulder width apart, chest and head up, chin tucked in and abs braced. Hold dumbbell or barbell at shoulder level keeping forearms vertical.
Push arms up above head, lower to starting position. Repeat 15 x 3.

Reverse sit-up
Running movement: for increased stability and better posture
Muscle focus: rectus abdominis (lower stomach) and core strength

Lie on floor, lift legs in the air keeping a slight bend in knees. Keep feet and knees together, lower legs as far to the ground as you can, or until you feel resistance in your lower stomach.
Hold for four seconds and slowly return to starting position. Do 10-30 x 3.

4 Don’t forget to stretch

Increased flexibility helps to prevent tight hamstrings, hip flexors (the muscle just under the hips) and calves, which are a common occurrence for those who run.
It is also important to prevent injury and to increase the strength and the length of each stride by promoting longer, leaner muscles.
Here are a few stretches to remember before and after hitting the track. Hold each stretch for about 20-30 seconds and repeat.

Hamstring stretch
Stand hip-width apart, extend right leg pointing toes up. Bend left knee and lower upper body to floor, bending at hips.

Calf stretch


Similar to calf raise: stand on a step or platform with straight legs, lower heel to floor.


Quad stretch
Stand with legs hip-width apart. Hold right foot behind butt pointing knee to floor. Push your right hip down, feeling a stretch down the top of leg.

Hip flexor stretch
Stand straight, step right leg forward one metre, bend both knees and push hips and butt forward. You should feel a stretch down the front of the left leg around the hip area that complements your stretch set.

5 Have a break

It’s easy to feel like a failure if you take a break from training, but it is just as important to schedule in rest days as it is to exercise in order to maximise your sessions.
A day off helps your muscles recover and repair so they are ready to work even harder the day after. It’s also important to rest to prevent injury.
And what’s more, resting your mind will ensure you can maximise your next workout.

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