There are huge benefits to strength training for distance runners and it is an integral part of our weekly training programme here at Team New Balance Manchester. I have stolen a great line from International High Jump Coach Fuzz Ahmed, he said ‘try and make your athletes Bullet Proof’! This is something I constantly remind myself of when thinking about training load and injury prevention for my athletes. With distance runners we often see overuse injuries and bone stress injuries that can often be easily avoided if athletes were stronger and more robust. When you take a step back and look from the outside in, you may be thinking ‘why are distance runners often so injury prone? It’s a simple relatively risk free process of predominantly relaxed running!?’ It is however more complicated and the role of the coach is crucial in balancing the training load for particular individuals.
Some athletes are running around with Ferrari engines but the chassis of an old 1980’s Ford Cortina and others are naturally strong and blessed with great biomechanics and stability so can run all day without a worry of injury. There is an abundance of research evidence that strength training can pay a crucial role in injury prevention and addressing individual imbalances and weaknesses in distance runners and also a clear link between functional strength work in the gym, and an athlete’s ability to maintain optimal biomechanics when out training and racing.
The question is where to start? If you go down the google/youtube route you will end up spending hours in the gym every single day with a variety of the latest fad exercises from bikini clad gym guru’s . As a coach I tend to avoid this and in particular ‘Exercise of the week’ and focus on what my athletes need in their gym routine to be a support system for more running. It takes a lot of background reading, research and talking to other coaches to create good basic knowledge and in an ideal world using a qualified Strength and Conditioning coach/expert where possible. My starting point has always been a good physiotherapist. They should be able to screen athletes for weaknesses and imbalances and make initial suggestions. It then also comes down to having a very good eye for weakness and imbalances when watching athletes run.
Each member of the team has an individual programme that works for them depending on their specific needs. However, the overarching principle to each routine is based on three pillars: general core strength, glute activation and strength, and shoulder strength and posture. Team New Balance Manchester athlete’s typically spend an hour in the gym 2 -3 times per week and then have additional home based core circuits for 15mins on another 2 days each week. Some of the athletes can run 100 miles per week and some of them are limited to 50 miles per week. In order to maximise their aerobic support and overall capacity some of them supplement weekly training totals with cross training. I believe consistency is key so we work on what their current limits are in terms of running mileage and build from there. We are very lucky to be supported by ‘Life Leisure’ and their excellent facilities in Stockport which are more than adequate for all our strength training needs.
However on our many travels we often have to improvise with slightly more basic facilities but get the job done all the same…
Finally, power is still a crucial component for a distance running and not something that only belongs in a sprinters, jumper or throwers weekly routine. Stride rate increases through power and stride length through increased strength. Power can be described as the ability to perform a movement with strength at speed and power is also the combination of speed and strength but needs to be trained regularly to get the best coordination between the two attributes. In addition to our strength routines we use hills at a variety of lengths/gradient to develop specific power and speed.
Last but not least…..