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?