As runners, we all know that building strength training into our schedules help make our bodies stronger, to prevent injury. But what form should that strength training take, and how can it help you become a better runner?
Over the past two months, since the beginning of the year, I have scheduled four strength training sessions into my week. As somebody who historically has struggled to motivate themselves to want to do anything but run, this has come as quite a surprise to me, so I wanted to share with you some thoughts about what I’ve been up to, and how it’s helped me.
My desire to build a proper strength training routine into my regular exercise schedule has stemmed largely from my age, with the knowledge that now I am in my 40s, as I get closer to menopause, my bone strength needs to become more of a priority; I know that building a stronger body will help me to combat the risk of osteoporosis as I age. I also realised that with the return to home schooling after Christmas, I would have less time to run. This provided me with the perfect opportunity – and motivation – to try something new instead of running. I made a promise to myself that every day I didn’t run, I would do another form of exercise instead.
I began with some old exercise DVDs I have at home, which I put on the TV on the garage. They’re 25 minutes long and I managed 3 of these during the first week of January. I soon got bored of these however, and I enrolled on some live online classes with Fitamin C and a Pilates for Runners course with Studio44Pilates. I booked two kettlebells classes and a resistance bands session each week, and the 6 week Pilates course involved a one hour session every week with Louise.
How is Pilates helping me?
Louise’s Pilates for Runners course is designed to help runners improve their posture, which has an impact on their running form, which therefore leads to better running efficiency. The first hour class left me exhausted, but in a good way. I felt like I had experienced a thorough stretch (which I confess I rarely do after a run) and spending an hour focuing on my pelvic alignment and my core muscles took such intense concentration. I remember feeling incredibly calm and relaxed afterwards, and I had a brilliant night’s sleep too! Each week of the course, Louise has taken us through a set of exercises, differing each week, and gradually increasing in difficulty, which remind me a little of running drills that I take my athletes through before a session, but with an additional focus on our posture and core muscles. Pilates focuses a lot on core strength and balance, which are both crucial to efficient running when you consider that running is essentially a series of one legged movements. Committing to the course in advance meant that I had made that mental appointment with myself to spend an hour focusing on my body every week. I also love the fact that the classess are live, so Louise can closely monitor my technique to ensure I’m getting the most out of the movements (although she does also send a recorded copy of the class afterwards in case you have to miss it for any reason, or want to repeat it).
Since finishing the 6 week course, I have found my posture is much better and I have a better awareness while I am running if I am beginning to tense up, or hunch my shoulders. I have now signed up to a membership with Louise, to continue putting into practice what we have learned on the course, which involves 3 x 30 minutes Pilates sessions each week. I’m really happy that Pilates is now part of my regular routine, and I feel much stronger for it.
How is resistance and weight training helping me?
I have never really worked with resistance bands before, so I was excited to try this class. Cat at Fitamin C takes us through 2 sets of simple exercises using bands, alternating lower and upper body, followed by a core section (without bands). The idea is that you make a powerful movement to stretch the band, and then use your muscles to resist the band shrinking back to its normal size, and it’s highly effective. I love Cat’s energy, and her classes are fantastic. I’m especially enjoying the kettlercise classes. I have had a couple of kettlebells in the garage for years, but have never really known what to do with them apart from swings – I love the variety of exercises, and the full body workout I get from a kettlercise class. I started using a 2.5kg kettlebell, as Cat advised, because it’s a very intensive one hour class with no rest breaks. In the last 8 weeks, I have progressed to using an 8kg and a 10kg in the classes – I’m honestly amazed with my progress. Again, I chose to register with Cat’s classes because they’re live, and she provides a brilliant, fun class, and carefully watches your technique to ensure you’re not going to injure yourself – she’s also eager to point out when you need to move to a heavier weight as well. Booking these in advance also means I am committed to attending them at a particular time.
I can already feel how my body is much stronger, and I’m sure once I start to build my running mileage back up again, I know I will reap the benefits of regular strength training. As a runner, doing lots of repetitive movements, it has been fascinating to see where the weaknesses are in my body, and I have been making real progress in balancing myself out. I feel as though I have a really good mix in the variety of cross training that I now do.
I’d love to hear your favourite strength training activities, let me know in the comments.