Enhance your training with strength and flexibility drills
March is the perfect time to incorporate a few strength and flexibility drills to your running program. The power and flexibility gained during these fading days of winter will reap significant benefits when you hit the pavement, trails or track in April. Become stronger and more pliable at home or use the local a health club.
Enhance solo sessions at home by using a quality DVD that focuses on proper technique. If you are investing the time you want results, and a visual model can aid with the process. Correct lifting and stretching technique also reduces the potential for injury.
Strength Programs: My go-to weight training drills involve free weights or dumbbells that can be done at home or the gym. Holding a weight that is not attached to a pulley system requires a different type of body awareness that incorporates balance. I prefer to keep weights light so repetitions of 10 or 12 can be made for three cycles or sets for each exercise. Another school of thought is to do fewer reps and sets – five reps and two sets, for example – and use maximum weight. Either way, the goal is proper technique, using one’s full range of motion for the targeted muscle group. We are going for the toned American Ninja look, not the Hans and Frans “Pump you up” look. The goal is to achieve quick and supple muscles for endurance activities. If you are in a pinch for time, lack equipment or access to a club, do calisthenics – such as the time-tested jumping jack.
Mike’s Fearless Five favorite strength drills:
1. Lunges with or without weights: Back straight, shoulders back, abs engaged, step forward and bend knee parallel to the ground. Start with 10 steps x 3 sets. If using weights start with 5-pound dumbbells and increase after several weeks to 10 pounds. This exercise works the quads and helps with hill climbs and forward drive.
2. Thumbs-up curls: Keep good posture, feet shoulder-width apart, grip dumb bells 2.5 pounds or 5 pounds. Keep thumbs facing forward and curl arms as if running. Use a full range of motion, the same arm drive used in running. 30 reps. This exercise works the biceps and triceps.
3. Half Squats: For this one, I like to use a lifting rack for safety reasons. Technique is very important. Points to keep in mind: good back alignment, feet shoulder-width apart and squat to where your thighs are parallel to the floor to protect your knees. The weight is light, so 20 to 30 repetitions can be done for three sets. This exercise works the quads, hamstrings and bootie. It will help with ascending hills and cycling. No weights? Try a seated wall position. Find a wall you can place your back against and side down it to a sitting position and hold it for 30 seconds. Your hands can rest on your thighs. Engage your core by tightening your abdominal muscle group.
4. Seated Leg Extensions/Curls: Leg Extensions are best done at the gym on a leg curl machine but can performed at home with or without weights. At the gym, set the machine up to allow for good back support. If on a seated bench with a leg curl device, use good posture in the seated position. Start with double leg extensions, raising both legs at once for 10 to 12 repetitions, then work each leg individually. (Or choose the max weight/low rep option). If you have knee issues, consult your healthcare provider or, better yet, a physical therapist first. Leg Curls: Machines work best for this one since you are on your stomach and curling your lower leg toward your butt. You want to reach a 90-degree bend in this exercise. It’s good for the hamstrings.
5. Chest Bench Press with Dumbbells: Lying flat on a bench put feet flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbells so they are at your sides across your chest; the grip is thumbs toward your head and little finger toward the toes. Now press up to the ceiling, using a full extension and return to the start position. This helps with upper-body arm drive while running and pulls chest/shoulders back. It also improves running posture for running and also adjusts us after prolonged computer usage where we tend to constrict and tighten our shoulders.
Core work: If there is time for only one extra exercise during your busy day, choose a core workout. A strong core supports your back and keeps your running form intact especially during your longer running sessions.
The Plank: Like hills, learn to love the plank. Go to the push-up position, now pull in your arms so your weight rests on your forearms, parallel to the floor, engaging and tightening the abdomen. Alternate right and left side single arm for side planks. Maintain a straight and tight alignment. With your right or left side off the floor and abs engaged, the free arm could be at your side or raised. Start with 10 seconds, build to 30 seconds x 3 to 5 repetitions. (Bonus: You can do this every day).
Flexibility: Runners like to skip stretching, to our detriment. Improving your flexibility will reduce injures and improve performance. There are loads of DVDs, YouTube videos and classes to help. Try www. sparkpeople.com for a stretching routine tailored for runners. You can print photos and instructions from the website. Finally, use a mirror for your strength and flexibility routine. It is not vanity, rather a tool to help you maintain the proper position. Besides, you want to see that beautiful smile — this is a fun investment in you.
Keep Striding and Smiling;