Do you run long distance regularly? Or do you go for a short run to the end of your road every now and then? Or somewhere in between? No matter what type of runner you are or how long or frequently you run for, you can improve your running experience by prepping your body in several ways. The work you do outside of run-time is really important.
Why? Well, if you run with weak joints and muscles and poor form, you’re going to get injured.
We spoke with Dan Akenhead, Senior Strength and Conditioning Coach for Cardiff Blues, a regional Welsh rugby team, for expert advice on how to avoid injury, and run with power. He's the man who designs the workouts to get the Blues running on the pitch as strongly as possible, so who better to ask for tips.
The good news is that you don't need equipment: you can do these really beneficial body-weight exercises at home.
Lots of Dan's favourite exercises fire up your glutes. Strong glute muscles will better the strength of your stride: you will drive forward, and won't waste energy rocking side to side. Weak glutes? Other muscles like hamstrings and hip flexors will bear the brunt, and you may well feel pain in areas like your knee and hip.
It’s really important to do exercises that stabilise the hip, knee and ankle, “not only for injury prevention but for improved running economy and better performance”. Studies have shown that each heel strike produces a force that is equal to 3 - 6 times your body-weight, so supporting these joints is crucial.
“There are a handful of exercises that can target all three”, explains Dan:
1. Single leg squat
Dan recommends doing 3 sets of 5 repetitions each time.
2. Split squat - 3 sets of 10 repetitions
3. Lunges - 3 sets of 10 repetitions
These exercises all help you develop quad strength, stabilise your knee, build glute strength, stabilise the hip and improve ankle stability too.
“One of the most injured muscle groups during running is the hamstring because of the high stretch and force it’s under.” To strengthen and activate this area, Dan recommends:
1. Single leg hip thrust
2. Single leg glute bridge
Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions of each.
Core stabilisation and strengthening
A strong core is vital, so that “each side of your body doesn’t collapse when those large forces are going through each leg”.
Dan recommends the McGill “Big Three” exercises:
1. Curl up
Do 3 sets of 5 repetitions, holding for 6 seconds each time.
2. Side bridge
Do these 3 times holding for 20 seconds, says Dan.
3. Bird dog
10 repetitions on each leg is Dan's advice.
And a Pallof Press.
Doing these exercises frequently when you're not running will make a difference to your overall running experience.