Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Strength Training For Marathoners & Half Marathoners

Aspring Marathoner Alana Hadley
 
As I have stated before, I am a firm believer that a static training program is eventually an obsolete program.  So while some basic principles (such as the 4 tenets of my training philosophy outlined on the www.elitemarathoning.com website and disucssed on this blog) are unchanging, our understanding of them, interpretation of them, and experience in using them in various situations continues to grow, and as such our programs need to continually be refined to accommodate this expanded learning and thinking.  By doing this, our training programs stay current and on the leading edge of improvements in the sport. 

So in tune with that belief, I am refining and more clearly defining and explaining my beliefs and practices in regard to strength training for marathoners and half marathoners.  There are not major deviations here from what I have advocated previously, but rather simply some small but beneficial additions and a better explanation of the program and why I recommend this approach to strength training.   

As with all elements of training, we should start by clearly defining what we are trying to accomplish. For marathon and half marathon runners I believe that strength training should have 4 purposes:
1) Reduce the risk of injury while training and racing
2) Enhance or improve our running form
3) Increase our stride power to weight ratio
4) Recruit new muscle fibers to the running motion

I believe that the most effective way to accomplish these objectives is to strengthen the muscles we use in the proper running form in the same ways (motions) we use them in running. By doing this we are sure to strengthen ancillary muscles and opposing muscles in proper proportion to the main muscle groups, specifically for the act of running. 

In order to accomplish this we need to break down the running stride and look at in 3 major sections. The first section is the A – Motion in which the upper lead leg drives up and forward, as the opposite arm swings back in counter balance. The second section is the B – Motion in which the lower portion of the lead leg extends out and reaches (paws) towards the ground. The third section is the C – Motion in which leg contracts (hamstring) as the foot is on the ground, driving the body forward and then continues contracting to raise the lower leg to a tucked position under the body, as the opposite arm swings forward in counterbalance.  


 In order to accomplish our 4 stated purposes of strength training, we need to focus on finding ways to enhance the power and efficiency of these 3 motions of the running stride.  

I seek to do this through a combination of a drill & strength circuit, a core circuit and supplemental exercises. The drill & strength circuit is designed to strengthen the lower body (legs, hips and glutes) components of the running motion. The core circuit is designed to strengthen the torso and upper body components of the running motion and its ability to stabilize and support proper running form. And supplemental exercises to address any areas of excessive weakness or mis-function what needs extra work to correct and/or strengthen.  

Let’s take a more detailed look at each: 

The Drill & Strength Circuit
8 primary exercises + any supplemental exercises needed
The primary exercises utilize the 3 motions of the running stride

Exercise #1: A – Drill (High Knees)
Strengthens the muscles responsible for the first portion of the running motion where the thigh of the lead leg is raised.
Primary Muscles: Hip Flexors, Quadriceps
How Performed: Mimicking but exaggerating the first portion of the running form the thigh is repeatedly and quickly brought up until it is parallel to ground and perpendicular with the body.
Variations: Easy – Walking; Medium – Skipping; Hard – Quick Run
Duration: 20-50 meters
Sets: 2-3 sets

Exercise #2: B – Drill (Paw or B Skips)
Strengthens the muscles responsible for the second portion of the running motion where the lower leg is extended forward and driven down towards the ground.
Primary Muscles: Quadriceps, Hamstrings
How Performed: Mimicking but exaggerating the second portion of the running form the runner extends the lower leg forward (quadriceps) from position A (high knee) and drives the leg back towards the ground and body (hamstring) to propel the body forward.
Variations: Easy – Walking; Medium – Slow Skip; Hard – Quick Skip
Duration: 20-50 meters
Sets: 2-3 sets

Exercise #3: C – Drill (Back Kicks)
Strengthens the muscles responsible for the third portion of the running motion where the hamstring continue to contract to pull the runner forward and pulls the foot/leg back under the buttocks in position to return to motion A.
Primary Muscles: Hamstrings
How Performed: Mimicking but exaggerating the third portion of the running motion the foot and lower leg is quickly brought up from the ground to a tuck position under the buttocks (butt strike is not necessary).
Variations: Easy – Walking; Medium – Slow Run; Hard – Quick Run
Duration: 20-50 meters
Sets: 2-3 sets

Exercise #4: Walking Lunges
Strengthens the muscles used in the second portion (B motion) of the running motion.
Primary Muscles: Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus
How Performed: start from a standing position with feet shoulder width apart, take a step forward, lowering your hips so that your lead thigh is parallel to the ground and your knees are bent at 90 degree angle. (Do not let knee extend forward past the lead foot). Then pull yourself forward until you are standing again at the position of your lead foot. Repeat with opposite leg leading.
Variations: the longer the step forward the greater the glute muscles are worked and the more the iliopsoas and rectus femoris muscles are stretched. Beginners may need to start with shorter strides and less than a 90 degree knee bend (but being careful not to let the lead knee extend past the lead foot).
Duration: 10-25 meters
Sets: 2-3 sets

Exercise #5: Cone Hops
Strengthens the muscles used in the third portion (C motion) of the running motion.
Primary Muscles: Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus, Quadriceps, Gastrocnemius (calves)
How Performed: starting 12-18 inches behind the first of a series of cones, set roughly 1 meter apart (1 large stride), stand with feet parallel with each other about 6 inches apart, pushing off equally from both feel hop over the cone, drawing your heels up towards your buttock while in the air, and landing equally on both feet in your original position and repeat over the series of cones.
Variations: cones are not necessary, any small object may be used, or the exercise can be done without any objects at all. Shorter people should lessen the distance between cones and taller people may need to lengthen the distance between cones. The exercise can be increased in difficulty by adding more cones or increasing the height of the object jumped.
Duration: 10-25 meters (10-25 cones/hops)
Sets: 2-3 sets

Exercise #6: Diagonal Cone Hops
Strengthens the majority of the muscles primarily responsible for the second and third portions of the running motion with an emphasis on the adductors and abductors.
Primary Muscles: Adductors, Abductors, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Gluteus Maximus, Gastrocnemius (calves)
How Performed: Using the cone course from the Cone Hops (Exercise #5), move every other cone out (perpendicular 1 meter). Stand with feet parallel with each other about 4-6 inches apart, and just behind the first cone. Pushing off the outer foot (foot furthest away from the next cone) hop at a 45% degree angle so that you land on the opposite foot just behind the next cone in a semi crouched position, with your full weight transferred over that foot, then push of that foot hop (in 45% degree angle) to the next cone landing on the opposite foot (weight fully transferred) and repeat.
Variations: cones are not necessary, any small object may be used, or the exercise can be done without any objects at all. Shorter people should lessen the distance between cones and taller people may need to lengthen the distance between cones. The exercise can be increased in difficulty by adding to the level of crouch the exercise if performed at (more crouch is harder and more up-right is easier). Additionally the emphasis on the adductors and abductors can be increased by increasing the angle of the leap so that movement if more lateral.
Duration: 10-24 meters (10-24 cones/hops)
Sets: 2-3 sets

Exercise #7: Box Step
Strengthens the majority of the muscles primarily responsible for the first portion (A position) of the running motion.
Primary Muscles: Quadriceps, Glutes, Hamstrings, Gastrocnemius (calves)
How Performed: Using a sturdy wood or metal box, bench or steps (no higher than knee height) stand facing the object about 6-18 inches away with good posture and feet shoulder width apart. Place one foot up onto the object with a roughly 90% angle at the knee and step up onto the object with the lead leg, immediately bring the other leg up in the same fashion until you are standing on the object. Repeat the pattern in reverse starting with the lead leg again. Repeat the desired number of repetitions with one leg leading and then switch and do the same number with the other leg leading.
Variations: You can increase the stress (work) on the hamstrings and glute muscles by increasing the distance you stand away from the object, and increase the stress on the quadriceps by moving closer to the object. Additionally the taller the object the greater the stress on the glute muscles. Reminder: not to use an object higher than knee level to avoid excessive strain on the knees.
Duration: 10-25 repeats (each leg)
Sets: 2-3 sets

Exercise #8: Turn-Over Strides
Strengthens the running muscles by using them in the running motion performed at a high percentage of maximum velocity and at a more rapid turn-over than normal.
Primary Muscles: all muscles used in running
How Performed: from a standing position start running and smoothly accelerate to 95%+ of maximum speed focusing on running tall, getting your knees up, running on the balls of your feet and having a quick stride turnover. We want to try and run at a stride rate of 200 strides per minute or more (normal running stride rate is usually 170-190 strides per minute). Focus on running fast without straining.
Note: This exercise can be incorporated into the end of an easy run if preferred.
Duration: 50 to 100 meters
Sets: 4-6 sets

The Core Circuit
4 primary exercises + any supplemental exercises needed
The primary exercises utilize elements of the running motion.

Exercise #1: Push-ups
Great all-around upper body strengthening exercise.
Primary Muscles: Pectoralis Major, Triceps, Deltoids, Biceps, Latissimus Dorsi, Rectus Abdominis
How Performed: Laying in a prone position. Arms bent with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart (at shoulder level) and your elbows near your sides. Keeping your body straight/stiff, and press up straightening your arms, so that your body is in a straight line with your toes and hands only in contact with the ground. Then bending your elbows down towards your sides, lower your body (still stiff in a straight line until your chest is with-in 1 inch of the ground and then push back up. Emphasis is on a slow controlled motion and keeping your body in a straight plane.
Note: We bend our elbows down towards our side rather than outward away from the body in order to simulate the swing of the arms in the running motion and strengthen them in that plane.
Variations: if unable to do 10 repetitions using proper form, do this exercise from your knees as the lower point of contact with the ground rather than your feet, until strong enough to move to the harder positioning described.
Repetitions: 10-30
Sets: 1-2 sets

Exercise #2: Bicycle Crunches
This is an excellent abdominal exercise done in a position that mimics the running form.
Primary Muscles: Rectus Abdominals, External Oblique’s
How Performed: Starting from a position laying straight on back with your hands loosely interlocked behind your head, contract your abdominal muscles raising your upper body and slightly twisting inward your right elbow and bending and rising your left knee until the two touch above your abdominal region. Slowly return to the original position and repeat the motion this time with the left elbow and right knee.
Note: This motion, raising of one knee and swinging of the opposite arm mimics the running motion, thereby strengthening the abdominals and oblique’s how we use them in running.
Variations: if the runner is not able to perform this exercise with proper form, they may need to begin with a standard sit-up or crunch and work up to this motion.
Repetitions: 20-50
Sets: 1-2 sets

Exercise #3: Prone Alternate Arm-Leg Raises
This is an excellent lower back and glute exercises that mimics the running movement.
Primary Muscles: Erector Spinae, Gluteus Maximus
How Performed: Laying prone on the ground with the arms extended overhead and the legs extended straight down, keep the body in a rigid straight line. Simultaneously slowly raise the right arm and left leg (keeping both straight) up 4-6 inches off the ground and then slowly return them to the ground. Then repeat the motion with the left arm and right leg. Repeat the motion
Note: This motion, movement of one leg and opposite arm mimics the running motion, thereby strengthening the muscles how we use them in running.
Variations: this exercise can also be performed on large Physioball using one leg and one arm (the ones not being elevated) for balance touching the floor lightly.
Repetitions: 10-25
Sets: 1-2 sets

Exercise #4: Dynamic Plank
The plank hold is an excellent stabilizing exercise for the whole core region, to which we add some dynamic leg movement.
Primary Muscles: Abdominals and all the stabilizing muscles of the core
How Performed: Get on all fours (on your hands and knees). Place your forearms flat on the mat (clasp hands together to create an upside down V-shape). Your elbows should be directly below your shoulders. Now straighten your knees and get onto your toes. Only your toes and forearms should be touching the floor. Aim for a straight line between your neck and ankles. Raise one foot slowly (while keeping the leg straight) 4-6 inches off the floor and then back down then raise the other foot and repeat back and forth.
Note: This exercise is an isometric exercise to strengthen the core muscles of the body so they can better keep us in alignment when running, but we add the dynamic element of the leg raises to keep the hip flexors engaged in motion as this is how we will use them in running.
Repetitions: 30-60 seconds
Sets: 1-2 sets


Additional Exercises
These are some of the most common (but clearly not an exhaustive listing) of the additional exercises I use with certain athletes. Any of these exercises can be added to either the Drill & Strength Circuit or the Core Circuit, in order to give any weak or problem areas the extra work they may need.

Exercise A: Barefoot Jog/Strides
This is designed to engage and strengthen the muscles of the feet.
Primary Muscles: all muscles of the feet
How Performed: Easy jog while barefooted (or in socks) on a soft surface (soccer or football field works well).
Variations: walking around during the day with minimalistic shoes that promote flexing and movement of the feet. Also doing moderate speed strides while barefoot can further strengthen the feet.
Duration: 500-1000 meters (on soft surface)
Sets: 1
Note: awakens and engages the muscles of the feet, often this can be added as a cool-down after a drill circuit or at the end of an easy run.

Exercise B: Lateral Lunges
Excellent exercise to strengthen the adductors muscles as well as the glutes.
Primary Muscles: Adductors, abductors, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings.
How Performed. Starting in a standing position with feet should width apart. The runner takes a lateral step sideways (foot pointing forward) with one leg, gradually transferring the weight to that leg in a squatting position until the knee is bent at a 90 degree angle (with the knee over the foot and never ahead of the foot). Then slowly pushes themselves back up to the original position in a controlled manner. All repetition are completed on one side and then the other leg is used to perform the same number of repetitions.
Variations: hold hand weights or a wearing a weight vest can make this exercise harder.
Repetitions: 10-25 each leg
Sets: 1-2 sets

Exercise C: Single/Double Leg Bridges
Excellent exercise to strengthen the upper hamstrings, lower glute muscles and certain adductors.
Primary Muscles: Gluteus Maximus, iliopsoas, sartorius, quadriceps. Your hip adductors, including the pectineus, adductor longus and adductor brevis.
How Performed: Lay flat on your back, arms down by your side, and with your knees bent so your feet are flat on the ground. Raise your lower left leg until your leg is straight out, then pushing up with the right leg bridge your hips/torso upwards and then back down. Repeat until desired number of repetitions with one leg then switch with the other leg.
Variations: If needed to start with, a two leg version can be done to make it easier.
Notes: Do not stop or pause significantly, but continue movement to make this a dynamic exercise.
Repetitions: 10-25
Sets: 1-2 sets

Exercise D: Calf Raises
Excellent exercise to strengthen the calf muscles of the lower leg.
Primary Muscles: Gastrocnemius, Soleus, Tibialis Anterior, Peroneus Brevis
How Performed: Stand with the your feet even with each other several inches apart and with balls of your feet on a sturdy step, block or platform, and the heels of your feet hanging off the edge. Press upward with your calf muscles to raise your heels so only your toes are on the platform, then slowly lower your heels down past the level of the platform until you feel a full stretch of the calf muscles and then repeat the motion. Repeat until desired number of repetitions is reached.

Variations: You can angle your feet slightly inward or outward to work different calf muscles more heavily.
Notes: Do not stop or pause significantly, but continue movement to make this a dynamic exercise.
Repetitions: 10-25
Sets: 1-2 sets

Exercise E: Squats
Excellent exercise to strengthen the quadriceps and glute muscles.
Primary Muscles: Quadriceps, Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus
How Performed: Standing up straight with your feet should width apart and splayed slightly, then begin to bend at hips, lowering push back the rear, until your knees are bent at a 90 degree angle and your knees are directly over (never ahead of) your feet. Then slowly push back up to original position.

Variations: You can add hand weights, medicine ball or a barbell to add weight and make this exercise more difficult.
Notes: Do not stop or pause significantly, but continue movement to make this a dynamic exercise.
Repetitions: 10-20
Sets: 1-2 sets

Exercise F: Karaoke Drill
Excellent high energy footwork drill to work the adductors and abductors as well as improve footwork and coordination.
Primary Muscles: Adductors and Abductors
How Performed: Turn your body so your right shoulder faces the target (or direction you want to run). Your head and chest should be perpendicular or at a 90-degree angle to the direction you wish to run. Moving quickly but under control, cross your left leg over your right and move forward, swiveling your hips as you go. Then, stride with your right leg toward the target but behind the left leg. You should be back to your original position. Then cross your left leg behind the right and continue to move toward the target. All the while, your head, upper body and arms continue to point perpendicular to the target and do not swivel or turn toward the target. Rather, it is the hips and legs that move and do the work. Cross and uncross your legs as fast as you can in an attempt to go at the target

Variations: beginner – walking, intermediate – running, advanced – fast running.
Repetitions: 15-30 meters
Sets: 1-2 sets


Time/Effort Considerations
The amount of time, effort and resources we put into strength training needs to be kept in proportion to its importance. That is to say that it is very important to our success but it is ancillary to our optimal running workouts and schedule. If there is a real time or effort constraint where either a running workout or strength training circuit can be performed but not both, I will always advise the runner to do the running workout. The only exception to that would be in the case of injury rehab or significant weakness is present which would elevate the need of the rehab/prehab strength work.  But under normal circumstances, strength work is ancillary to running workouts in our training programs.

To help satisfy the time and effort constraints we all have, especially when putting in the mileage required for racing these longer distances, I have designed as clean and concise of a strength circuit as I could while still fully satisfying the 4 goals of our strength training.  All of the exercises are relatively simple and easy to learn and master, are able to be done solo or in a group, and are free of the need of any equipment (except common cones and a bench, box or step), which saves the need for travel to or membership in a gym.  Additionally these circuits are relatively short in duration, with the strength & drill circuit usually lasting 20-40 minutes (depending on the number of sets and supplemental exercises done) and the core circuit usually taking just 5 to 10 minutes to perform.


Strength Workout Frequency
How frequently we do the strength & drill circuit and the core circuit in our training program will depend on the length of base unit and type of micro-cycle structure we are using. In a typical 3 day training base unit (Hard-Easy-Easy), I recommend getting 1 strength & drill circuit and 1-2 core circuits. In an average training week, I would suggest averaging 2 strength & drill circuits and 4 core circuits (each with any supplemental exercises as needed). In particularly hard periods of training this frequency can be reduced as needed.

One of the additional benefits of having these strength routines as part of our training program is it gives us another lever on which we can pull to help perk-up our legs or taper when the time is appropriate. For example, if I have a runner you regualry does 2 strength & drill circuits per week in training, when we get to a week of a important race, I can drop the strength & drill circuit and I immediately see a pick-up in their legs from the extra rest, before I even reduce other running workouts or mileage. It becomes another useful tool in my taper toolbox.

Progressions In Strength Training
Within the framework for the exercises I listed above, there is significant room for progressions to be built into our strength training program, in terms of number of reps or length/duration of exercises performed and the number of sets performed.

In general, I recommend a building up of reps/length and/or number of sets during the Fundamental Phase of the training cycle where we are working on all around fitness and progression. And then a maintenance or reduced level of strength work during the Specific Phase of the training cycle were we are focusing our efforts more on sharpening our race specific fitness levels.

Videos
I am in the process of filming and editing demonstration and instructional videos of each exercise listed above, and hope to have these added to the www.EliteMarathoning.com website within the next week or two.

In the mean-time I am leaving some of the older video clips I had on the site originally, for those who are using them as reference tools.

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