By Gabe Sanders Ph.D., NSCA-CSCS
Have you recently added running to your workout regimen and you’d like to work on increasing your mileage? Have you been running for a while but now you’ve decided to train for your first race? We’ll walk through some easy, simple steps to help prevent injury and get the most out of your training experience.
Many people believe that increasing the number of miles you run per week is the best way to improve your speed or time when training for a 5k, half, or full marathon. While increasing your mileage is part of the process, there are a few training components that are often overlooked. Incorporating a light strength and flexibility program to your regimen can improve your running and will likely help reduce common injuries that can occur as a result of training.
When you run, you’re primarily working your entire lower body. The muscles that run down the back of your legs (your hamstrings) are an important group of muscles, but they are often prone to injuries. Your hamstrings are often physically weaker than your quadriceps and gluteal (buttocks) muscles.
As a result, over time, you can develop muscular imbalances in which your quadriceps and glutes become significantly stronger or more frequently worked than your hamstrings.
In order to prevent hamstring injuries, adding exercises such as leg curls and straight leg deadlifts should be added to a balanced strength-training program to help decrease and eliminate muscular imbalances.
The list of injuries that can occur as a result of running and training is long. However, the key to preventing an injury from occurring is to add strengthening exercises to your regimen. To maximize your endurance strength training, you should focus on lifting lighter weight and completing more repetitions. Then, after each exercise, cut down on your rest time before starting another weight training exercise.
Be sure to select a weight or resistance that is challenging for you to complete 12-15 repetitions. After you finish one set, rest for 30-45 seconds and complete another set. It’s important to select exercises that will improve your muscular balance. Exercises that isolate your quadriceps and glute muscles, such as lunges or body squats, should be followed by a hamstring exercise, like leg curls or straight leg deadlifts.
Another integral component of proper strength training is core (abdominal and lower back) work. Your core plays a very important role in keeping your body stable while running, so those muscles are just as important!
No-Equipment-Needed Lower Body Exercises
Squats – Using your body weight as resistance, keep your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width and squat down keeping your back straight and heels on the ground. Add light weights if needed.
Lunges – Using your body weight, take a large step forward with your right foot. Keeping your knee in line with your heel, allow your hips to lower to the floor. Your back left knee should be bent and come close to touching the floor (but not actually touching).
Straight leg deadlifts – Keep your legs straight or slightly bent and lean forward like you are going to touch your toes. When you lean forward, stick your rear end out and keep your back straight. If you are doing this exercise properly, you should feel a stretch or slight pull in your hamstrings.
Heel raises – Slowly stand on your tiptoes and then lower your heel back to the floor and repeat. If needed, hold on to a rail or chair to improve your balance, or stand on the edge of a stair step and allow your heel to go below parallel to the step.
*For more examples of other variations/exercises look under Multimedia-VDF Exercise Tips
**Consult with a physician and/or medical healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen
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