I’m a runner but I’ve never been one of those runners who runs and that’s it. Someone who doesn’t do cycling, yoga, swimming, walking, strength training in addition to running. I love different forms of exercise too much to be a one sport lover. Plus, my body just can’t handle running 6 or 7 days a week. If I do, my body starts to revolt. My muscles scream at me and injury is not too far away. Rather than loving the run, I’m hating it. You won’t catch me doing a run streak ever.
I remember when I took the RRCA Coaching course. Randy, our instructor, was dead set on sticking with the book in saying that running is the only thing that will make you a better runner.
So many of us in the class wanted to argue with him to say that strength training and cross training are important to runners.
He is right. To improve your running you need to run. It’s the law of specificity. To get better at something, you must practice doing that activity. It’s not rocket science to know that the more miles you run and the more speed sessions you do, the faster you will get. And yes, running helps to adapt your running ligaments, tendons, and muscles that you use with each stride.
However, running more doesn’t work for everyone.
But never fear! There are things you can do to help improve your running without running more.
Yoga – When I first was evaluated for my tendon injury, the sports med doctor, my PT and all the other PT’s that did my gait analysis asked if I did yoga. When I said I did, they said good, do more and do it often. Runner’s are a bunch of tight ass’s. Literally. Yoga is good for lengthening and loosening our running muscles as well as working on the smaller muscles of the feet and ankles. Those pesky little muscles get overlooked when we focus on the larger ones – quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Yoga also can help with your breath control and focus.
Toe Yoga is also a good thing for runners. My PT had me start doing it last year and it really does make a difference. And it’s way harder than you would think. When I first started doing it, my brain was telling my toes to move, but nothing happened. Google it and start doing it today.
Foam Roll – While I’d love to get a weekly deep tissue massage from a massage therapist, my pocket book does not. The foam roller is the next best thing. You don’t quite get that relaxing feeling while doing it but regularly rolling helps bring more oxygen and blood flow to your muscles. I know I can feel a huge difference when I slack on it. I’m trying to get back into the regularly nightly habit of rolling. I like to recruit Ron for some calf smashing to really hit the knots in my calves. In exchange, I have to smash his…which turns into payback for the torture he put me through. A win win for everyone!
Balance Training – This gets overlooked a lot. We tend to think that it’s something only the elderly need to help prevent falls. Poor balance can be an indicator of muscle weaknesses in the the hip flexors, feet, ankles, and core. If one area is too weak, your body will compensate by overworking another. I thought I had great balance until I did THIS test. Turns out my right lower abdominal was weaker which was throwing everything off in my running.
I like to use my Bosu for single leg work. I always try to do more single leg exercises to work on proprioception and if I’m at home, I’ll do it barefoot. That way my foot and ankle really has to fire up to stabilize me rather than really on my shoes.
HERE’S some easy balance exercises for runners.
Strengthen Your Core – Research shows most hip, knee, ankle and foot injuries are from a weak core. Popping out planks is great but it’s not getting your whole core. Check out my Core Strength for Runners for exercises on how to work the obliques, rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, hip flexors and erector spinae. Or here’s 6 Core Workouts specifically for runners from runners.
Strength Train – A lot of runners shy away from strength training for fear of DOMS and how it will impact your running. DON’T! A strong runner needs to strength train to fix any imbalances. For the lower body, make sure you are working in all planes – front, back, lateral and rotational. It doesn’t have to be long, drawn out sessions either. Two days a week is all you need!
You may think you only need to hit your lower body but a strong runner has a strong upper body to help propel you through space. Here’s 6 upper body workouts for runners for inspiration.
Take a Rest Day (or two) – At least one complete rest day is needed every week. Rest is needed to gain strength, restock glycogen stores and reduce mental fatigue. Most weeks I make Friday my rest day. It just makes sense to me. I work hard all week and then I get Friday off to lay low before the fun of the weekend.
Make Recovery a Priority – I know I’m guilty of slacking on this one. The first 30 minutes after a hard workout or a workout lasting more than 60 minutes are crucial for refueling your body. This is when you should start re-hydrating, eat something with a 4 to 1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, and stretch/foam roll. In a perfect world that would also include an Epsom salt bath and a nap but let’s be realistic here.
How many days per week do you run?
What do you do to improve your running besides running?