Ah, the fall race season. Often it is a tradition within many runners both old and new and has been worked towards for many months usually starting in the spring. Some runners will be brand new and have braved their first 5k in the spring and 10k in the fall, while some (hopefully) more seasoned runners often have their longest races in the fall. Here around Ontario there are some excellent races to attend in the fall months. Just this past weekend was the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, home to about 30,000 runners from around the GTA.
However, by usually mid-November once the New York City marathon is done in many parts of the world runners head inside for the winter – at least around here, where winter temperatures drop well below zero. So when the winter comes a lot of runners wonder what they should do between November and January (when your running mileage should start ramping up for spring), and I have one simple answer for you: heavy strength training.
As any long term athlete will tell you, the off season gives you at least a couple of months to do things to your body that you wouldn’t normally do when you’re in season. The reason behind this is to always try to improve for next years’ competitions. A lot of you type A personalities already have those set, and just want to know what you should do in order to get better for next year. At this point most of my athletes move into a strength and power phase of training, which to many endurance athletes is a horrible thought because they think they might get injured.
In fact, as many studies have proven over the years heavy strength training is an excellent way to increase running economy and therefore reduce greatly the risk of injury. You can read one such study here, where running economy was increased by an average of 4.6% across 5 studies with an average time strength training of 6-10 weeks. Just to give you some perspective in terms runners will understand, that’s knocking an average of 3 minutes off of your 10k time, or 13 minutes off of a full marathon – which is a heck of an improvement from one year to the next without doing anything else.
This doesn’t mean suddenly jumping into heavy lifting without being coached or knowing what to do, but it really doesn’t take much time. For example, in one study the subjects performed 4 simple sets of ½ squats for a 4RM 3 times per week, which would take the average person about 15 minutes with appropriate rest periods. It is always quality over quantity when it comes to strength training. Finding out what type of load, range and tempo you should be performing means you simply have to find an exercise professional or coach who knows about these things, because it will vary based on simple things like how tall you are, how strong you are to begin with and what type of tolerance you have. You also may need to be coached through a basic lift, which is worth the investment for your safety.
Any good strength program will involve some type of double leg movement (ie a squat), some type of single leg movement (ie step up or lunge) and some type of explosive movement (ie a simple jump or fast moving motion without impact if you can’t do so). Core training is also important, but should be secondary to a good leg strengthening program in terms of priority.
And before you say “I can’t squat because my knees hurt” – you’re doing it wrong. Find a good strength coach and they will get you squatting within the tolerance your body will allow. If your story is that you can’t run because your knees hurt then you need to do the same thing. Your legs have to carry you around for about 75 years, so you might as well get them strong now. It really doesn’t take a ton of time or investment and your body will thank you for it long term. If your knees hurt now, take it as a warning sign that your body wants more strength before you start pounding on it again.
If you need advice in terms of programming or have questions about where to get started feel free to contact me and I can steer you in the right direction. I hope you had a great running season, now it’s time to think about next year!
Till next time,