by Tanis Smith, Road-racer, B.H.K., B.Ed., CanFit Pro PTS
We’ve all heard it before, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” yet somehow the message gets lost in translation. We become obsessed with running mileage and forget about doing the little things your running coach told you about all those years ago. Now, I’m not saying I haven’t fallen into this trap myself trying to fit in 120km weeks into a busy schedule, everyone has, but, what if running faster and staying injury free is as simple as doing a few simple exercises? Why overlook it? As it turns out, those “little things” are really BIG when it comes to the big picture in terms of long term progression and since every runner cringes at the thought of being injured, what can 30 minutes a few times a week hurt?
One of the easiest times to focus on weaker areas and building strength is during these cold winter months, when you really don’t want to go outside anyways. The next step is to determine what areas to focus on. On average, most runners have one main issue: core weakness. For our purposes, core refers to all of the muscles of the lower trunk and pelvis: abs, back, hip flexors, glutes, abductors, and adductors. Many running injuries can stem from weakness in any of these areas including IT band pain, patella tendonitis (runner’s knee), piriformis issues, and sciatica.
Below are some of my favourite exercises to strengthen the entire core that I use as part of my own running routine and for my own personal training clients. Ideally, perform these exercises 2-3 times per week post-workouts in order to achieve maximum muscle recovery. Do each exercise 12-15 repetitions, 3 sets with progressing each week to make them harder (add more reps or sets). I personally enjoy doing timed sets e.g. each exercise 30 seconds to start then adding 15 seconds each time after that, still 2-3 sets; this is always an option as well. They can be performed on recovery days as well but, it is important to remember that a recovery day is designed to allow your muscles to recover from the intensity of workout and long run days; which is why it is ideal to perform resistance training on your effort days.
The “glutes” (gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius) are one of the most important components to focus on. The gluteus medius is the main hip abductor and external rotator, and is implicated in hip abduction weakness. This will be our main focus to strengthen.