December 2022 Challenge: Good Ol’ Strength Training!

When it comes to making strides, runners are often laser-focused on mileage which makes sense because we know that more miles make us a better runner. But piling on the miles isn’t the only way to up our running game. Enter: strength training. 🙌

In general, strength training “helps with maintaining or increasing muscle tissue and improving bone density over time, as well as helping to reduce injuries and body fat,” Yusuf Jeffers, a NYC-based strength and conditioning coach, run coach, and fitness instructor explains to Runner’s World. “When specifically applied to a runner, strength training will help with increasing speed, power, and neural adaptations.”

Because running is repetitive pounding on the ground in a certain movement, we need to have support for your joints, power to push us forward efficiently, and greater mass to shock absorb during landing. Strengthening and supporting a pattern that we do over and over will help keep us stronger, healthier injury resistant.

Running demands high repetitions of the same movement in a limited range of motion. But strength training in multiple planes of motion and greater ranges of motion balances the high volume of steps runners take on a weekly basis. Strength training also shores up our connective tissue, tendons and ligaments and having strong, resilient connective tissue can help reduce risk of overuse injuries.

Unfortunately most runners neglect to do any form of strength training until an injury prevents running and rehab is necessary. But a little strength goes a LONG way in helping us address potential muscle imbalances and can help us keep running long and strong.

Before we get into this month’s strength challenge, let’s go over some basic Golden Rules of Strength Training for Runners.

1. Start new moves using bodyweight only – Don’t need to be in hurry to pick heavy things up and put them down. You need to put the emphasis on proper technique FIRST. You also want to allow the body to go through an adjustment period, in which increased fatigue may occur and more recovery is needed—similar to what you experience when you begin a running program.

Once you’ve mastered bodyweight moves, then step you can add light weights and progress from there. Proper technique, balance, and range of motion are all more important than the amount of weight you lift, especially in the beginning.

2. Incorporate holds into your routine – You don’t need to sling around heavy weights to gain fitness but for runners, that’s not quite true. Isometric exercises have lots of benefits runners who need to build strength and stability. Isometric holds require contraction of a specific muscle or a group of muscles and holding that contraction in the same position for a determined period of time.

So, this month, SLOW DOWN and take your time with each exercise. If that means doing less reps, that’s ok. Monster walks, squats, deadlifts, step ups, heel drops, planks, bird dog, tricep dips, superman — all of the exercises are on our calendar this month and each of them have ways for you to slow them down and make them isometric holds instead of quickly pushing through to get all your reps done.

3. Focus on unilateral (single side/single leg) and compound exercises – Running is a unilateral movement, which just means when we are running, we are on one side/one leg at all times. We don’t run with both legs at the same time so we are putting all our weight on one side. Working on exercises that require single leg strength, stability and balance will help us when we’re pounding pavement.

4. Time your strength work with your run schedule – Strength training is meant to compliment and support our running. not make it more challenging or difficult. Adding too much strength as running volume increases can be counter productive. Running is our main sport so running should take up the bulk of the time we have for our exercise. We should also complete our heavier of more complex strength during effort (anaerobic) phases of training (speed, hills, long runs) versus lighter (aerobic) phases such as easy, shorter runs. Matching up these workouts allows us to get the most out of each type of training and also allows our light days to stay light!

5. Get your mind involved in the workout – We need to make sure we are not just going through the motions but paying attention and feeling the muscles as they turn on. For example, you want to focus on driving through your heels to use your glutes in exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges, or keeping your core tight during ab work. Being more mindful and focusing on the muscle you are working while contracting it can result in a greater increase in muscle size and strength. Performing each rep with good form, focusing on quality of movement versus quantity, is the key to getting the most out of your workout.

6. Take rest breaks – The rest we’re talking about here is DURING your strength workout. Remember that your strength is about getting stronger NOT adding more cardio, so resist the temptation to turn your strength session into more cardio. In other words, rest between sets and let your heart rate come down. Proper rest between sets helps keep your strength from adding more cardio and allows intense efforts to elicit the muscle adaptations we’re looking for. With big moves like deadlift, rest for at least a minute in between sets. That rest period will allow you to continue to lift a heavy weight, rather than dropping down or sacrificing form because you’re tired from insufficient recovery time.

7. Track your progress – You track your runs because it gives you a window into not only your progress but your challenges too. You should also record the exercises you do and the weight you lift for those exercises. Progressive overload, or gradually increasing the weight, frequency, or number of repetitions in your strength training routine—is what leads to strength increases and keeps us from hitting a plateau. To make sure you’re continuously moving forward, you have to keep track of where you’re at. Plus, it can build confidence to see the progress you’ve made over time, especially if you started with something like bodyweight squats and now lift 40 or 50 pounds as you go.

Use your watch to track your strength. If you have a Garmin or Apple watch, most likely you can use a strength or “other” setting to track your strength workouts just like you track your runs!

Overpronation — It isn’t just about your shoes…

When your foot strikes the ground, it’s supposed to naturally roll inward to adapt to the surface on which you’re running and allow the ankle to bend as your body passes over your feet. When you continue through your gait cycle, your foot should then roll back outward, or ‘supinate,’ to prepare for push-off.

When we overpronate, though, our arch flattens to an excessive degree, and your foot rolls aggressively inward. Then, when you go to step forward, your foot doesn’t supinate back before takeoff. What results is a weakening of the whole mechanism that allows us to push off the ground and spring off of the big toe.

Runners who have weaknesses in their glutes and external rotators or through the core, pelvis and lower back can end up with overpronation issues and the motion can potentially lead to all kinds of running injuries.

Shin splints, IT Band Syndrome, Plantar Fasciitis, Tendinitis, Runners Knee…these are just a few of the potential injuries that can flare up from overpronation ailments. One small case study published in Clinical Research on Foot & Ankle agrees that preventing overpronation can also help you sidestep IT band syndrome, while a systematic review in the Journal of Athletic Training, solidifies the relationship between shin splints and overpronation.

Before you sprint to your local running shoe store to pick up chunky motion-control aka “stability” shoes or expensive orthotic inserts that just mask the underlying issue, how about tackling the weaknesses that cause these niggles in the first place? Avoiding stability shoes will help you continue to exaggerate the problem. Let’s get to the root — let’s get stronger!

This month we are targeting the areas that affect pronation, core, hips and glutes! While the exercises were doing will work all three of our gluteus muscles, we will primarily focus on our Gluteus Medius.

Even if overprinting isn’t something you currently struggle with, it’s always a good idea to strengthen these areas so you’re not told you need stability shoes in the future… And of course, because strength also makes us faster!

Strength slips away quickly and weaknesses creep up on us. Don’t get caught slipping!

Gluteus Medius — One of the three gluteal muscles, the gluteus medius is located above and to the outside of the gluteus maximus (the largest, roundest part of your butt) and over the gluteus minimus, the trio’s smallest muscle. It’s best known for abduction, or moving the leg away from the body’s midline. But it actually does much more.

It also takes on the functions of hip flexion and extension and internal and external rotation. Every time you decrease or increase the angle between your leg and torso (like when you lift and lower your knees when running), or the thigh moves inward or outward, the gluteus medius is firing. The Gluteus Medius is extremely important for maintaining stability at the hip while running and that stability helps us stand tall when we are running, avoiding the dreaded hip drop that affects our strides all the way down to our feet!

This kind of misalignment can causes pain and leads to injury. Lower back, hips, ankles, IT bands, knees and even our feet. In fact, a systematic review of 13 studies published in 2016 on gluteus medius activity in injured runners, shows a correlation between weakened gluteus medius and runners with Achilles Tendinopathy (pain or swelling in the tendon) and patellofemoral pain syndrome, a.k.a. “runner’s knee.”

If you do manage to avoid a sidelining injury, a weak gluteus medius is bound to take a toll on your speed, power, and endurance. The body’s compensations for a weak gluteus medius is similar to an “energy leak” in our system. When our energy is poorly distributed throughout our kinetic chain, the knee and outer hip take on more of the load. You lose energy to move forward, resulting in decreased running economy and performance.

For our December Challenge we will targets the gluteus medius with exercises mostly from a standing position. We have 26 bones in our foot, and between every bone, we have joint capsules and nerve endings. So, if we’re standing, we’re getting a lot more nervous system input into the muscles that control the hip. The compound movement exercises we will focus on in December will allow us to build strength in the right places while progressively adding more reps and more weight as we go.

Progressively doing more (more reps and eventually more weight) will help us to see those gains we want to see while doing double duty and helping us prevent niggles that can keep us off the road entirely.

Remember that if you are new to strength OR coming back from a strength hiatus, you should start with body weight and build up as you get stronger. Focus on FORM and breathing and remember Golden Rule # — Get Your Mind in the Workout — Slow down and perform the exercises with intention instead of rushing through them. Better to do less repetitions properly than a bunch of reps with bad form.

Take your time. Be intentional. Do the work Crew! 💪

December 2022 Challenge Calendar

Our December Strength Challenge Calendar is below. Pictures for each exercise are shown on the calendar (except for Wednesday) but these are just reminders! Please join us on Wednesday evening, 11/30, at 8pm EST for our Strong to the Core Facebook LIVE to see demonstrations for ALL our exercises for this month!

Get ready for December by printing out your December Calendar (click here for a pdf copy), reaching out to your buddies and reminding them to print out their calendars, join us for the Facebook LIVE Wednesday night and get excited…because consistent strength is going to change your world!