STRENGTH

What sort of exercises and muscle groups you should be targeting?

Let’s start with the basics:

Glutes

If you’ve ever had a running session with me, you’ll know I talk about glutes A LOT! This is because our bodies are meant to use them ALL THE TIME, but most peoples’ glutes are so unused they’re practically ASS-LEEP! (see what I did there!).

Your glutes are the largest muscles in your body BUT they’re lazy. They’re what we call slow-twitch muscles, which effectively means they need a bit of time to get going. Fast-twitch muscles leap into action straight away, and slow twitch need a long run up. Because of this YOU MUST activate (or engage) the glute muscles before you actually start to work them out. Over time they will engage quicker and quicker, but the chances are that when you currently go out for a run, you’re probably not even switching these powerful muscles on!

Glute activation exercises:

  • Side-lying Clams
  • Rear Leg lifts
  • X-walk with band

 

Top Glute exercises:

  • Squats
  • High step ups
  • Glute bridges
  • Glute raises
  • Fire Hydrants
  • Bird Dog

Hips

Most people have weak (or inactive) glutes but also, they generally have weak hips. There are a bunch of muscles that surround the hips, which is why you can achieve all kind of movements through the hips. It’s not important to list them all but the biggies to watch out for would be the piriformis, the TFL (tensor Fasciae Latae) also known as your hip abductor and the gluteus medius (yes part of the glutes but it’s ALL connected)

The chances are high that if you are experiencing knee pain and/or you flick your feet out at the back when you run that your hips/glutes just aren’t strong enough! If this is the case, strengthening these muscles will help to correct your form and align your legs and it should stop the pain! Please note I am NOT A DOCTOR, and this is just advice on what I’ve observed through runners’ behaviour and my own experiences. If you have any kind of pain, you should consult a medical professional.

Top Hip exercises:

  • Side Lying Hip Extensions
  • Side Lying under leg lifts
  • Four-point kneeling leg circles
  • Hip dips (in glute bridge position)

 

Core

This is the muscle group(s) that surround your middle (yes all the way around) like a corset. They include your front abs (abdominal) and back muscles such as lats (Latissimus dorsi) side muscles (obliques) and ones that surround your spine (erector spinae) steady Julie! I said “erecTOR” ha ha. Not forgetting the muscles at the bottom – your pelvic floor!

Believe it or not EVERYONE has a six pack. You HAVE to have one otherwise every time you sneezed your organs would fly out of your belly button!!

Imagine your body like a barrel, the front and back of the body makes up the body of the barrel, and your pelvic floor is the bottom. The barrel can be full of water – but have a weak (or even holy) bottom and the water is going to leak out.

CORE STRENGTH

A strong core is vital

Can you see how vital the core is for fitness?

Everything you do should involve your core muscles in one way or another. Your core helps to keep you upright and a strong core will help to maintain your good posture even as you tire. The first ever 10k I ran I could FEEL my body moving forwards towards the floor. I FORCED myself to stay upright with good posture and squeezed my bum because I KNEW that even though my body was trying to help by moving away from discomfort, it was wrong as the leaning forward position would be massively energy depleting. Had I not known this I may not have finished that race.

Top Core Exercises:

  • Crunches NOT sit-ups
  • Russian (or Oblique) Twists or bicycles
  • Hip Tilts
  • Dorsal Raises
  • Hollow Body Hold

Additional (important) Muscles:

Legs

As well as working your hip muscles and glutes, you need to strengthen your other leg muscles. These are your quads, hamstrings and calves. We tend to focus more on the quad muscles as we can see them (at the front) and we think we need to work them extra to keep our knees in place. BUT (particularly if you have niggling knees) you MUST work your hamstrings as BOTH your quads and hams help to stabilise the knee joints. Your calves help to absorb the impact in the feet and maintain your ankle joints. All of these muscles, strengthened and working together help to keep your leg joints in place and can prevent pain in the knees, shin splint and foot pain.

Top Leg exercises:

  • Hopping – forwards, backwards, and sideways
  • Hamstring curls (use a swiss ball or a tea towel if you don’t have access to the machine at the gym)
  • Calf raises (alternate foot placement to challenge)
  • Squats
  • Goblet squats
  • Backwards lunge to high hop

 

Arms

You might think I have gone mad putting arms in here BUT the muscles in your body don’t work in isolation. Your arms help to propel you through the space by working with your legs. As you walk or run you swing the opposite arm. This helps with your balance, but also strong arms can improve your speed! Have you ever powered up a hill as fast as you can and the next day you feel DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) in your arms? GREAT! That means you were doing it right!

Top Arm Exercises:

  • Press-ups
  • Tricep Dips
  • Mountain Press ups
  • Tricep Kick Backs (if you have hand weights)

Ideally, you’ll want to work all of these exercises into your weekly routine. And you can do this in a variety of ways. You could have an upper body day (core and arms), a lower body day (legs, hips and glutes) this is what we call a two-day split. Or you could do core, arms, core, hips & glutes, core, legs, rest day – this is your little and often option. Or a three-day split; core & arms, core, hips & glutes, Legs. You could even do core EVERY DAY as I cannot stress how important a strong core is for running.

In reality though, you’ll need to work out how many runs you can commit to. What is most important in your strengthening routine – do you have a weak core? Work on that! Glutes? Do those. Your routine has to be realistic or you just won’t stick to it.

More on incorporating strength into your routines in the next article!