What is strength training and why should you care?
Strength training is a type of exercise that improves muscular fitness through isolation of either a specific muscle or a muscle group by adding resistance through the use of equipment such as: free weights, resistance bands, machines, body weight and more. There are many different ways to strength train and a ton of benefits that can be obtained when done properly and consistently.
What does strength training have to do with running?
Strength training offers a ton of benefits to runners such as: more body control, core strength, stability, injury prevention, and an increase in overall speed. In addition, strength training can also help athletes with what is known as the mind-body connection. When athletes are actively thinking about the exercises they are performing, it has a direct effect on the difficulty of the program and the results. For example, if I tell two athletes to perform 10 squats and one goes through them as fast as possible while the other focuses on their breath, core engagement, foot placement, and where they feel the tension, one athlete is going to get much more out of those squats than the other. This is a great example of how the mind-body connection requires more overall body control and awareness. Furthermore, as an athlete progresses through a structured program they will see strength gains over time which has a direct relationship to an increase in speed. This is because strength training the lower body allows a person to push something (like their body) faster. Not only does it make a person faster at their sport, it helps with core stability and core strength especially when we train in different planes of movement. Having a strong core is especially important when running because it allows us to control our body as it moves through space at different speeds and directions.
The single leg squat and why it matters
The single leg squat offers a great deal of benefits because it requires the athlete to control the knee bending aspect of the movement. If we train an athlete’s single leg squat, then we will see an improvement in the stride because of the carry-over from the movement to the stride of the run. If we look at the bend of the knee in terms of running you will see that we land, the knee bends, then the knee extends. Thus when we work on the control in the single leg squat then we get better running mechanics during our stride as stated by Dr. Victoria Sekely. In addition to the single leg squat, there are other forms of squatting that can and should be incorporated into an athlete's strength training program such as back squats. Back squats are good for adding heavier loads and can be used to add variation to any program. For example, the back squat can also be performed as a tempo thus increasing the time under tension, and they can also be performed (at lighter weight) as a plyometric exercise to help with explosiveness. These slight changes in the squat pattern can help add variation to any strength training program.
The deadlift is a very important movement to incorporate into a strength training program especially if an athlete is trying to improve their running. This movement loads the posterior chain which includes all of the powerhouse muscles such as: the back muscles, glutes, and hamstrings. Dr. Sekely states that the posterior chain muscles allow you to sprint and push forward into your stride which is why it is so important to train different hinging movements. She even ranks it as one of the top five must have movements in a runners strength program. Equally important to the deadlift is the single leg RDL. The single leg RDL offers a different variation of the hinging movement pattern, in order to increase the difficulty by adding stability, balance, and control. Both the traditional deadlift and single leg RDL should be incorporated into every athlete's strength training program not only for improvements in their sport, but for injury prevention too.
Where do I start?
It can be tricky getting into a new program especially if you don’t know how to properly perform certain movements or how they should feel. Body weight exercises are a great starting point for any athlete that is new to strength training. Start by learning how to perform different movement patterns by doing bodyweight only. This means you don’t need any equipment because you are just learning the basics and it keeps it very low risk. As you get comfortable in the movements, you can start by adding resistance through the use of bands, household items, or light weights. For examples on how to perform different movements you can go to the Olympus Movement Youtube page where there is a library of videos that show how to perform different movements including the ones mentioned in this blog: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfPpYLgbPGKU49h1FuiX0Mw/videos.
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