Is running causing your Achilles to scream or your hips to twinge? Try this simple strength training routine from one of Third Space Moorgate’s top trainers.
We’re forever banging on about the fact that runners need to do strength training. If you want to run a faster 5k or move free from niggles, then you’ve got to get squatting. But what if you’re running just to run? What if your goal isn’t to increase speed, and your injury isn’t something you think will go away with a weekly lift session?
Well, whatever your running goal, the truth is that you still need to strength train. But your sessions don’t have to be overly complicated, long or super frequent to make a difference.
I’ve been spending the past six weeks training at Third Space Moorgate. In a bid to improve my mobility and work on the imbalance between my left and right legs, I’ve been trying a couple of yoga classes a week (one vigorous vinyasa, the other warm yin). And on Friday mornings, I’ve had an hour’s PT session in the gym.
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It’s already made a massive different to the way I run. As someone who normally only goes to strength HIIT classes, doing an hour of slow, methodical strength training has meant really working on weaker muscles and more run-focused movements. As a result, I’m running with distinctly less discomfort and tendon pain than pre-programme, and even though my sessions have finished, I’m empowered with the knowledge of what to do on my own – be that at home or on the gym floor.
With that in mind, here’s how a typical training session went down – and how to replicate it yourself.
Begin with massaging your feet
At the start of each session, PT Chris Stanton got me to take off my shoes so that I could massage the soles of my feet – concentrating especially on the arches and area just before the heel. He explains: “We began each session by using the Hyperice massage gun (other, cheaper models are available) on the bottom of the feet to awaken the nerve endings and sensory components.
“Our feet are the interface between the ground and our human movement – they’re sensitive to texture and vibration.”
The idea is that you feel more grounded and more aware of how you’re placing your feet after a minute or two with the massage gun. You could probably do the same by standing and rolling a spikey hard ball under your feet.
Move onto mobility
Forget long, tedious warm-ups. Mobility is as much part of your workout as a squat or deadlift is, and it’s really important for avoiding strain injuries. And once you’ve mobilised, then think about activating the muscles you’re going to use later. “[Mobility] will increase the range of movement through the major joints, while activation focuses on the recruitment of muscle fibres needed for the main workout,” Stanton explains.
We did low-deep lunges, world’s greatest stretch, inchworms, air squats and single-leg squats using a TRX suspension trainer.
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The 4-block strength workout
“We used the hex bar to build strength in the lower body, which will ultimately influence the power you can generate as a runner,” says Stanton, explaining that the hex deadlift is different from a single bar deadlift. “It changes the position of the load in relation to your body and the position of your hands.”
I found it infinitely more comfortable than standard deadlifts because not only was the bar easier to grip, but the weight left like it was loaded centrally – meaning I was able to stay firmly planted and activated through every rep.
Try: hex-bar deadlifts
Ah, the worst part of the workout. Unilateral work is so important for runners, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll find them the hardest exercises to do. If you tend to get injuries on one side, then it’s likely that you’re working with imbalances and you might find these exercises painful but transformative.
Stanton had me doing step-ups, single-leg squats and lunge variations – all of which are designed to build single-sided leg strength for the quads, glutes and hip flexors.
“These movements can also enhance mobility through the hip as you move in different planes, while single-sided work forces the body to stabilise through decreased contact with the floor. Running is essentially continuous unilateral work over and over again,” he explains. And trust me, even if you run a lot, step-ups will humble you within seconds.
Try: Bulgarian split squat
In yoga, we’re used to twisting while most HIIT classes involve exercises like mountain climbers which really force you to engage to core to fight against rotation. But in running, we need a strong core to avoid accidental twisting or excessively swinging from side to side.
Stanton says: “Anti-rotation provides postural stability and balance, and will aid you in absorbing the impact of the running. Your torso will remain stable even as your arms and legs are moving.”
We did most of this work on the cable machines rather than free weights, and that meant being able to maintain a vertical position rather than being bent over or looking at the floor.
Basically, this is all about building a strong core, which in turn can help improve running form, posture and technique. Better technique = improved efficiency and performance. And we also know that if we’re able to activate the core muscles when running, we can fight fatigue for longer. When you’re tired, your hips start to sink – putting you at risk of injury. A stronger core is going to help you run stronger for longer.
Try: upright cable row, woodchop
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Ankle mobility and calf strength
This last section was probably the most painful and important part of the weekly workout. I’ve been struggling with Achilles tendonitis for months, and nothing seems to have helped. So, Stanton had me fighting for my life with a series of calf raises which started simply enough (lifting the heels off the ground), and progressed to single leg bent-knee progressions and eccentric calf raises (with heels handing off the side of a bench). It was excruciating work. I dreaded and hated every moment.
And, here I am two weeks out, now doing calf raises every time I brush my teeth. I’m trying to do more of them and really working to get up as high as possible on the ball of my feet – and it’s making a difference.
“Your foot influences your ability to run and generate speed,” he explains.
“Our calf raise progressions targeted the gastrocnemius and soleus, to enhance the strength, stability and power. We often performed these in bare feet so as to avoid impeding any sensory input from the ground.”
Try: eccentric calf raises
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