Strength training, speed drills, plyometrics and agility, stretching, yoga…..how important are these for runners? All of these are important if you want to gain strength, explosive power, gain faster foot speed, prevent injury, and develop muscular and mechanical efficiency. In other words, these areas can make a big difference in your training and racing.
What kind of runner are you? Even if you are a casual runner and in it just for basic fitness, you’ll want to spend at least a few minutes warming your body up and doing a few basic stretches. Get some strength training (weights, resistance bands) in a minimum of two times a week as well. Strength training is vital in injury prevention but it is also helpful for aiding weight loss or weight management. I find strength training is also a huge mental confidence boost for runners.
If you are a serious runner then you will want to do more than running, stretching, and weight training. A serious runner will do a warm up and cool down before and after all workouts. This usually means light jogging for a few minutes followed by some stretching. As a competitive runner, I find myself in the gym four to five days a week for strength training. I do alternate upper and lower body days but I also work on my core at least three to four times a week.
Serious runners can reap great benefits from plyometric and agility drills. These exercises are meant to focus on your speed and explosiveness as well as running form. Weight training in combination with plyometrics and other drills helps your muscles become more efficient. Efficiency equates to you being a faster runner. When your muscles get tired too quickly and your running form breaks down we are vulnerable to injury. Strength training and plyometrics is key to help prepare your body better for the demands of training and race day. Just think, if your body is stronger, faster, and more explosive, then training session times will improve. As training sessions times go down so do race times.
In high school it seemed like there was more focus on strength training and plyometrics and agility during track season than in cross-country. There is this myth that such exercises are more important for sprinters, throwers, jumpers, and maybe middle distance runners. However, distance runners can greatly benefit from box jumps, hurdle drills, ladder drills, quick feet exercises, and squat jumps just to name a few. High Knees, bounding, skipping, butt kicks, and claw drills help to improve running form by increasing range of motion, freeing up your hips, and working on your coordination and balance.
If you really want to be the best runner you can be then you can’t neglect the things we are talking about in this blog. In fact, I encourage you to read up and look into the exercises and drills you need to do. There are lots of books, videos, and resources out there to help you if you are new to strength training, stretching, running drills, and plyometrics. Sometimes what we need as runners isn’t more miles but a more well rounded training regimen.