Strong Legs=Fast Legs

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday break.  I enjoyed a really nice long vacation with my friends and family.  There was a lot of fun family time, lots of naps, and a ton of food.  Thus begins my trek back into healthy eating (aka no more Christmas cookies) and back into the fitness routine.

For most of us the winter is a hiatus from racing.  This is the perfect time to take a rest from training and scale back the miles.  It is also the perfect time to strengthen your legs in different ways to improve your speed.  We often spend a lot of time on the road or trails putting in plenty of mileage.  Hopefully if you are trying to get faster you are also adding in your weekly speed work sessions.


But there is another, and just as important way to improve your overall running and speed.  Strength training is a great way to become both a stronger and faster runner.  It can also help you avoid injuries during your training season by not only strengthening your running muscles but also building up any muscular weaknesses that might sideline you later in the season.

Strength training will of course make your legs feel tired and heavy for the first week or so but you will soon notice the results.  In fact, over the past month and a half I have put in a really strong effort to add strength training to my weekly workouts.  A week ago I went out for a nice long run on a beautiful Saturday and came back 10 miles later feeling absolutely fantastic.  Because it was a nice and easy 10 miler I didn’t look at my GPS and was using my perceived effort to keep my pace and heart rate at a nice easy level.  But when I got back and looked at my times I was floored.  My pace had markedly improved (almost 30 seconds per mile).  I wasn’t trying to push myself to run fast.  In fact I was trying to keep my heart rate down and just enjoy the run.  I attribute most of this to my strength training.

During the off season it is a great time to lower your mileage and just keep a nice steady base.  I personally prefer to run around 50-60 miles per week during the training season.  However, in the winter months I tend to keep my mileage around 30-40 miles per week.  Instead I use that extra time to work on muscles that will help with my running later on in the year.

So where should you focus?

Pay attention to your major muscle groups, especially in your legs.  Your quads, hamstrings and calves will give you the biggest bang for your buck. You also want to focus on your glutes because despite the fact that we don’t use them too much during our running, weak glutes tend to be the biggest culprit of bummer sideliners such as IT Band Syndrome and many other overuse injuries.

Focus on exercises that work major muscle groups and multiple groups at the same time.  Squats, lunges, and plies will really help your legs in a big way.

Don’t forget your abs!

I love working my abdominals.  First of all, it pays off come Spring Break or summer vacation.  But you will also notice a huge difference with your running.  Working your abdominals will help keep your running form, especially as you tire and form tends to go kaput.  Strong abdominals also help propel your body forward.  Give it a try and you will notice a difference.

The good news is that you don’t have to do hours of crunches.  In fact, skip those crunches.  Spend 10 minutes doing planks and you will get way more of a benefit.  Planks focus on all areas of your abdominals unlike crunches that really only hone in on one area, and minimally at that.  Planks can also be done in all sorts of variations to mix it up a bit.  Try doing forearm planks or side planks or alternate between the two.  A few minutes a day will make a huge difference.

Take advantage of these cold months when you might not feel like heading outside for a run.  Grab some weights and strengthen those legs and abs.  You will be so glad you did when spring rolls around.

What are your favorite ways to strength train?

28 thoughts on “Strong Legs=Fast Legs

  1. YES. I have noticed such a huge difference since I started taking Body Pump classes. I guess with all the running I never thought it necessary to strength train my legs and I’m so glad I started!

  2. i love strength training! i just ran for years, and then about 5 years ago i started adding some strength training, and the past 2 years i’ve really picked it up and do it at least twice a week and put myself through some grueling workouts where it hurts so good to walk the next few days….and it’s really helped my running and strengthened my legs and core so much. i look forward to strength days, now.

  3. I’m not the biggest fan of strength training, but it’s definitely necessary! I always notice how much stronger I feel when I add a few days of strength training to my schedule. And you’re so right on the necessity of strengthening your core: planks are evil but they work wonders!

  4. I will preach it everyday–get your glutes to activate, and half the battle is won. The other half of the battle is getting the glutes and thus the legs strong.
    And then not running too much and pissing off your soleus. Which apparently I did this weekend. Rats.

  5. Ooooh yeah! Sundays are my Bun Days! Lol! I’ve been doing a lot more leg exercises this training because I knew it was an area I needed to work on. I’ve already seen improvement 🙂 and I always try to be consistent with ab/core stuff. As usual, great post with great advice! 🙂

  6. Yes! So true! My physiotherapist gave me a bunch of exercises (leg raises, squats, bridges) and some resistance bands way back at the start of the year. Now I have a little 25 minute routine that I do a couple of times a week and it has made such a difference. Even skiing this week didn’t burn up my quads they way it usually does. And it doesn’t even have to a crazy gym session – a few short workouts during the week will definitely help.

    • I would imagine that with everything that you are doing this would make a huge difference. It will definitely exhaust your legs for the first few weeks but then you will find (as I am sure you have) that you can sustain those miles so much stronger and for longer periods of time.

  7. Since May when I got injures I have focused heavily on strength training. I am going to take that focus into 2015 🙂 My main area of focus is my glutes and core because I know that impacts my piriformis and hamstring. I know there are more improvements to be had on my strength training. I look forward to learning new running strength exercises. Oh and more yoga! I need to be way better about stretching

    • I too had some horrible piriformis pain and the strength training did wonders. My husband messed up his hip flexor at mile 18 of the Chicago Marathon and he has just now accepted that this is what he needs. He actually loves it now.

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