Step Progression: Strength for Runners
4 Max Strength/Power
3 General Strength
2 Core Stability
From Maslow to performance pyramids there are hierarchies within structures and systems. The pyramid is a good visual representation emphasizing the importance of each level. Within running there are subsets of this model focusing on certain areas such as training and nutrition. As a runner you must balance run training, proper nutrition, recovery, as well as strength and flexibility. Each has its own unique hierarchy and I’m going to look at the strength and flexibility and their hierarchal order.
The secret is out, proper strength and flexibility training are an integral part of a successful running lifestyle. Now the question is how do we apply the concepts? We know flexibility, mobility, stability, core function, and strength training should be included but what’s most important? Let’s change our pyramid in to a stair case and consider each step a prerequisite for the next. People frequently skip steps yet when an injury occurs we all go back to step 1!
Step 1 you must be able to move. If you have tight muscles and poor range of motion the rest of your fitness will balance on a poor foundation. By able to move I simply mean enough functional range of motion to participate in life and in your sport. There is a huge distinction between functional range of motion and contortionism but we’ll save that for next month. Once you can move freely go to step 2 and learn to stabilize that movement. Stability training involves core exercises exerting forces across the body using your arms, legs, and gravity while maintaining stability about the core. There are a wide variety of exercises for this but a simple approach is front, side, back, inner thigh, and shoulder stability included in each workout. Step 3 includes traditional strength training using the 3 x 10 – 12 repetition scheme. Step 4 takes your general strength gains and focuses on higher loads in the 4 – 6 repetition range. You may also integrate explosive or plyometric training at this point.
It’s important to follow a hierarchy of needs when it comes to implementing strength elements with your run program. All too often people skip steps 1 and 2 which greatly increases their risk of injury. Short-term improvements are made but the ability to generate more force will eventually override the ability of soft-tissue to handle that force. As Grey Cook puts it “don’t put strength on top of dysfunction” otherwise you are an injury waiting to happen. To bring it back to a runner’s mentality would it make sense to skip weeks 1 – 5 and start with week 6 in a half marathon program?