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Build for the Big Ones

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With Two Oceans upon us, it’s too late to start introducing strength work into your programme, but if you’re running Comrades or another long race, make sure you get yourself to a gym, because long-distance runners need to prioritise strength training to minimise overuse injuries. – BY RAY ORCHISON

Join me in a quick experiment: Start with a short warm-up – a few star jumps and a couple of walking lunges – then with stop watch in hand, stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, and then slowly slide down the wall into a ‘seated’ position, keeping your knees bent at a ninety degree angle. Now lift and hold your right foot up and start the stopwatch, hold for as long as possible and make a note of the time, then reset and repeat the process by lifting the left leg.

In most cases, the first thing you will notice is that you were able to hold one of your legs up longer than the other. 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 and don’t have one side over-compensating 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. More importantly, however, is looking at the number of seconds that you were able to hold this position. Compare your times with the table below.

Rate Yourself

(seconds)
Excellent >100 >60
Good 76-100 46-60
Average 51-75 36-45
Below Average 25-50 20-35
Poor <25 <20 Most non-elite endurance athletes will find themselves somewhere between Poor and Below Average, which is strange when you consider that this test lasts two minutes, while an ultra lasts anything from five hours and up! TARGETING THE MUSCLES
An ultra is nothing more than 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. To avoid strain, 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 no longer perform their task in moving the body forward, which results in the smaller, less-trained muscles doing more work then they’re designed to do. That’s when niggles turn into full-blown injuries, and most often, this will point back to a weaker bigger muscle, such as the glutes.

Athletes who have not done enough strength training will often start a race with good form and posture, but by the end may find themselves bent over at the hips or leaning toward one side, or struggling to lift their legs. These are all indications that their muscles have not been trained to go the distance. As your form breaks down, your speed decreases and you find that certain muscles go into spasm because they’re being overworked. Strength training enables us to maintain good form for longer.

START SLOW
When introducing strength training, start off using light weights and focus on doing the exercise 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 the initial three to four weeks, you can start increasing the weight slowly over the coming weeks while decreasing the number of repetitions as you increase the weight.

Ray Orchison is a Joburg-based USA Track & Field and NAASFP certified coach. For more info, contact him on raymondo@unibase.co.za.

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