No.1 Strength Exercise for Runners
At RaceFit gym, our main focus is strength training to improve endurance athletes’ performance. If you are a runner or cyclist or participate in any form of endurance exercise, strength training needs to be part of your training schedule. It builds body strength, prevents injuries and builds mental strength for when the going gets tough. A stronger athlete is a better performing athlete.
The problem with strength training is that there is a large selection of exercises that a person can choose from, which as great as that may seem, often too much choice makes the decision not easy. As it is, a public gym can be intimidating to many and when you add in the generous amount of machines and accessories available, strength training can be pushed down the priority list and we resort to a spinning class or the dreaded hamster wheel.
In comes the plyometric box. This simple piece of six-sided wood is where many of the runners should be looking as their key to building their strength and ultimately improving their performance. The simple knee drive exercise will ensure the necessary strength, stability and co-ordination that is needed for running athletes. The carry over to running is why I place this exercise above any other leg exercise as the number 1 strength exercise for runners.
Majority of your favourite leg exercises like the squat and deadlift have both your feet in contact with the ground during execution. Running requires alternating single leg movements that carry the full weight of the body in each stride. Thus the need to try strengthen the legs individually, in order to make them handle the demand of running faster or for longer periods of time.
I must interject and comment that I’m a big fan of deadlifting and squats plus their variations and in no way discredit them as poor exercises BUT the technique and time to master these exercises are demanding and require a skilled professional to assist. Many individuals lack range of motion in the ankles that is needed for correct squatting technique and, with deadlifting, the load that is placed on the spine when performed incorrectly can put an athlete out of action for ages and ultimately discourage them from ever going back. When looking for the quickest and easiest exercises that WILL benefit a runner that requires very minimal skill and technique, knee drive is the answer.
I mentioned earlier that the knee drive challenges your stability and co-ordination on top of building lower body strength. The need for stability and co-ordination is very apparent in trail running. The constant changing terrain of rocks, roots and single tracks is what makes trail running so enjoyable and a big reason why its popularity has risen over the last few years. While some enjoy the road runs and pushing to beat their PBs, the rock rabbits and klipspringers of the trail world love a good scramble whether up or down. This changing environment places huge strain on your ability to stay upright while moving forward. Thus the need for stability and co-ordination training which is what the step up and more specifically the knee drive offers. Single leg stability is challenged while standing on a box that perches you 50cm off the floor. As basic science has it, the taller and therefore higher centre of gravity a person, the more unstable they are and more likely to fall over. By training this aspect and allowing an individual to improve their stability, they will be more co-ordinated in their movement which means more efficiency which is what any endurance athlete wants – to be efficient and prevent any energy wasting.
So, if you are a runner and looking at strength training to take your performance to the next level, I’d suggest the knee drive exercise. It’s a sports specific exercise requiring little equipment and very little technique training, with many variations for when you are ready to up the anti. Below shows the before and after of what a technically sound knee drive should look like.
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