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02 May, 2018

Get Stronger, Run Longer

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If you’re running a long race in the coming months, make sure you get yourself to a gym, because long-distance runners need to prioritise strength training in order to minimise overuse injuries. – BY RAY ORCHISON, REGISTERED COACH

Let’s do a quick experiment to test your fitness for a long race: Do a short warm-up, then with stopwatch in hand, stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, and slowly slide down the wall into a seated position, keeping your knees bent at 90 degrees. Now lift your right foot just above the ground, start the stopwatch and hold for as long as possible. Make a note of the time, then repeat the process with the left leg.

In most cases, you will be able to hold one of your legs up longer. This indicates a muscles imbalance between your left and right side. Ideally, you want your muscles balanced so that you’re working both sides equally, without one side overcompensating for the weaker side, which often results in an injury or strain on the stronger side, because it’s doing the bulk of the work. Then, look at the number of seconds that you could hold this position, and compare your times with the table below.

Men
Excellent - Over 60 seconds
Good - 45-59 seconds
Average - 35-44 seconds
Below Average - 20-34 seconds
Poor - Under 20 seconds

Women
Excellent - Over 60 seconds
Good - 45-59 seconds
Average - 35-44 seconds
Below Average - 20-34 seconds
Poor - Under 20 seconds

Most non-elite endurance athletes will find themselves somewhere between Poor and Below Average, which is strange when you consider that this test lasts just two minutes, while a marathon or ultra lasts anything from four hours and up!

TARGETING THE MUSCLES
Training for a race is basically conditioning the body to perform a single movement over and over, but using the same muscles in the same way increases the risk of overuse injuries. Therefore, it’s crucial that you strengthen these muscles, and in running, the most important are the calves, hamstrings, glutes, quads and hip flexors. When these muscles are weak, they cannot perform their task efficiently in moving the body forward, which results in smaller, less-trained muscles doing more work than they’re designed to do. That’s when niggles turn into full-blown injuries.

Athletes will often start a race with good form and posture, but by the end may find themselves bent over at the hips, leaning toward one side, or struggling to lift their legs. These are indications that their muscles are not trained to go the distance. And as your form breaks down, so you find that certain muscles go into spasm, because they’re being overworked. The solution is strength training, which enables us to maintain good form for longer.

Start off using light weights and focus on doing exercises correctly, slowly and controlled – that’s far more important than how much you can lift. In the first three to four weeks, use the lightest weight possible and perform two to three sets of 15 repetitions each per exercise. After that you can increase the weight slowly over the coming weeks, while decreasing the number of repetitions as you increase the weight.