Following on from last month’s Winter’s Running Journey #1, this week’s blog will focus on the running muscles. How to warm them up, strengthen them and stretch them appropriately. Be warned, this is not a one size fits all issue and you may have some unique or underlying injuries that would require the attention of a physiotherapist. But what this blog will look at is some of the simple exercises that I have picked up to help prevent injury and to improve my running form.
Agghh, Do I Really Need To Warm Up?
Yes. Warm ups are important all year round, but they are particularly important during these winter months. A good warm up will take us from a 1 on the RPE Scale up to the level that we intend on working at. Do this slowly and gradually by doing some light cardio work – a walk into a light jog is perfect. In doing so, you’ll begin to increase your heart rate, increasing the circulation of blood to your muscles as you do so. This slow and gradual warm up will also help to produce the much needed lubricating fluid (synovial fluid) to our precious joints – like a well oiled engine.
By now, many of us will be ready to go. However if you feel stiff and tight after sitting for most of the day, I would advise on some dynamic stretching exercises. This means taking your body through a range of movements that will gently work and stretch the muscle groups that you’re about to use.
A lot of the exercises that you could use for a dynamic warm up can be taken from the 6 conditioning exercises that I have listed below. Just be careful not to tire the muscle. All you’re looking to do is get some blood pumping in there.
What Exercises Should I do as a Runner?
Middle to long distance running is an aerobic exercise. This means that we breathe in oxygen and it supplies the muscles with fuel (as opposed to an anaerobic exercise like sprinting, where our muscles can not take in enough oxygen to keep moving at a sustained rate).
By training aerobically, we increase the amount of slow-twitch fibres in the muscle. These fibres are not as powerful as their fast-twitch cousins, however they do not tire as easily. Slow twitch muscle fibres have the ability to keep working steadily over a long period of time. This is exactly what we need as distance athletes, and the more we work aerobically, the more we train these slow-twitch muscle fibres.
It is important to consider this when we plan our workouts. As a distance runner, you do not need to lift a lot of weight. Your goal in the gym – or even better, on your bedroom floor – should be to maintain a high amount of repetitions over a 40 to 60 second period. This will tone your muscles and increase their endurability. Whereas lifting heavy weights will only make them bigger and more powerful, but useless when it comes to working for more than a few minutes.
6 Simple Bodyweight Exercises
Here are some body conditioning exercises that are key to building that long lasting lean muscle mass. These exercises can be done at home. All you need is yourself and 10 minutes.
The Shoulder Bridge
This is an essential exercise for strengthening our glutes and hamstrings which carry most of the responsibility when it comes to movement. Doing the two legged bridge from the start of the video is perfect until it starts to become too easy. Then, move into the single leg bridge as seen in the video, but remember to fight to hold that pelvis straight when you do.
We have two main muscles in our calf, our gastrocnemius and our soleus. These two muscles can often cause us a lot of problems when we undertake a new running/walking challenge and therefore it is vital that we spend a bit of time preparing them for their increased workload. This video shows how to work the soleus which is the lower calf and often reveals itself through achilles pain. The same exercise with a straight leg will work the gastrocnemius more. The bottom step of your stairs is all you need for this one.
The Single-Leg Deadlift
So this is a little bit more difficult that it is made to look here. It is a dynamic exercise that requires strength, flexibility and balance of our hamstrings, glutes and lower back. Single-leg exercises are important to use as we are always going to be on just one leg as we run. Try doing this exercise in front of a mirror and be mindful of your standing leg. Keep a slight bend in the knee and work hard not to let it turn in or out.
Another single-leg exercise, but this time we’re working our quadriceps (front of your thigh) as well as our glutes and hamstrings. Unlike this video, I would tend to step all the way up into a high knee, mimicking a running stride by pumping the opposite arm at the same time. Similarly to the deadlift above, this exercise is working our balance and may require you to face a mirror to ensure that your standing knee is strong and straight
Your abductors are located between your glutes and your hips and they are often neglected in exercise programmes. These are particularly important for runners as weak abductors and hip muscles can often expose themselves as very debilitating knee pain. Don’t mind the ankle weights being used in this video. Instead, find a nice rhythm and keep those pulses going for 60 seconds. If you’ve never done these before, get ready to be introduced to your abductor as it screams at you after 40 seconds or so.
The PlankThe plank is a full body workout which works an array of our core muscles including your abdominal muscles, obliques, lower back and your hip muscles. There are many ways to progress this exercise as you master it. You can move to a 3 or 2 point plank, or do plank crunches, or extend its duration while adding in a side plank too. Either way, this is a fantastic exercise to give you the strong core that is needed to run long distances.
Static Stretching After My Run
If you’ve been involved in any sporting team over the past number of years, you’re bound to have come across the static stretch haters. They’ll claim that they read somewhere that static stretching is a thing of the past bla bla bla. But of course this is not the case. They may have an argument that it is not ideal to hold static stretching prior to exercise however, if you want to become more flexible, it is vital that you include some static stretching into
your week, no actually your day every few hours. Static stretching when your muscles are warm – particularly after running – is a great way to make those muscles longer, stronger and less likely to strain or tear.
Kneel on your right knee, with your left foot in front of your body. Lean forward from the hips. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Loop a strap around your right foot. Gently pull your leg toward the ceiling until you feel a light stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Lie on your back. Bend your right leg and place the ankle in front of your left knee. Pull your left thigh toward your torso. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Other static stretches to include are:
Hold these stretches for around 30 seconds at a time, and NEVER stretch into pain. Don’t worry if you’re like me and feel like as bendy as an RSJ. We will get there eventually!!
Well done on your training so far. And if you’re still only considering, well done for giving it some thought. Running is easy, but becoming a runner is hard work. It takes time, dedication and a truck load of patience. But sooner or later, you will start to feel the benefits, be it social, physical or mental. There are too many benefits to running to actually talk about. Although’ I will probably give it a go in my next blog when I explore some of the psychological (mental) health benefits to starting your running journey. Like always, please feel free to share, comment or message me with any feedback, hints or tips.
Keep on Running