Trail runners have a lot of work to put in already, with tough running schedules thats often require a great deal of time and commitment. Is it worth to add in strength training on top of all of this work? In most cases it does, it will help not only improve your physical performance, but help you build a more sustainable, healthy training regime.
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Running economy is a crucial component of success when it comes to both road running and trail running. Running economy can be improved through progression of lower body strength, the ability to propel ourselves forward in the running motion can be made less fatiguing through increases in strength. This is especially true for trail running, where the elevation is a major factor in performance, increased strength in the hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps will be very advantageous for trail runners.
Preventing injury is impossible, especially in trail running where injuries from falls can occur often. That being said, strength training can help mitigate some forms of injuries through building stability in the ankles, knees and hips. This mitigation of injury can lead to a more consistent, sustainable training programme, which we all know is the key to long term success.
Balance plays a key role in trail running, when facing challenging descents or difficult terrain, sometimes at the same time, we can exposure ourselves to situations that are not only dangerous but also require high levels of balance and concentration for successful performance. Making balance a physical characteristic that you attempt to progress over time is a great decision for any serious trail runner.
As we age, even as we pass 30 years old, we start to experience age related muscle loss, which get much more aggressive as we pass 50 years old. This makes resistance training for muscle mass maintenance very important, as we saw above, muscle mass is an important underlying factor to performance so maintaining the muscle you have will be crucial if you want your running training plans to be effective.
Resistance training is one of the most effective interventions you can take on for you physical health. If you’re reading this article it is likely that you already take trail running seriously meaning you have the cardiovascular aspect of health dialled in, getting the strength aspect can be just as beneficial. Have a read through the multitude of benefits resistance training can have on your health if you’re not already motivated enough about the performance benefits.
As previously noted, trail runners can already have intense schedules. So the aim should be to perform 1-2 strength training sessions per week, making sure are targeting the key physiological attributes for trail runners which will be discussed below.
Strength training frequency and intensity should be built around your racing schedule. The closer you get to a race, the lower the frequency and intensity of strength training should be with an emphasis on maintenance while you peak for your race. Then when farther out from the race or event, an increase in frequency and intensity will allow you to see progress.
When we think about training for a specific sport, we need to outline the characteristics that are required for the sport, here are what I would consider important physiological characteristics for a trail runner. This is an important exercise, when we pick movements for athletes or performance, we need to pick them based on what characteristics they are going to progress. So in this example, we could design two sessions around these movement categories.
In our exercise list, we provide one variation of each of these exercise categories, it is important to understand that the important aspect is the movement pattern, not the actual exercise targeting the movement pattern.
Mobility can be an issue with trail runners, myself being a keen runner and having coached numerous keen runners I have seen the difficulties with knee and ankle mobility. I tackle mobility as I would any other physical characteristic, I apply stress to it in order to create adaptation. This stress can be applied through both “mobility exercises” and strength training. Mobility exercises, like the duck walk in our exercise list are very effective in warm ups for strength training, with the strength training allowing us to add strength to the range of motion opened up in the warm up. As runners can struggle with a lot of overuse injuries, we need to be careful not to be in a rush here, its the slow drops of increased intensity over a long period of time which will lead to long term success, not drastic measures to see big shifts in mobility.
The rear foot elevated DB squat in lunge exercise is a progression of a typical lunge and will put a great deal of pressure on the knee, making it very effective for trail runners. This should only be performed once you have achieved competency in the standard lunge movement. This lunge variation will also require a lot of activation and therefore create great stimulus for growth of the glute muscles.
The back squat is the most effective bi-lateral squat variation as it is so easy to loading. This loading allows us to see drastic increases in lower body strength, including the muscles of the glute. This movement when progressed over time in an appropriate manner will allow you to transfer your lower body strength and see huge benefits in performance.
The landmine deadlift is a great hinge variation to both learn the deadlift movement pattern for beginners to strength training while building strength in the glutes and hamstrings. This is very effective for those taking their first steps in the gym but will eventually run out of loading space and require a progression to either the hex bar deadlift or the conventional deadlift.
The single arm KB farmers march will allow you to transfer your weight from one foot to the other whilst under load. This is brilliant for both lower back and hip stability. When performing this exercise we can feel the erector spinae firing to stabilise the lower back. These muscles play a crucial role as we jump and land on uneven terrain.
The half kneeling cross chop will allow you to work on your rotation and core muscles in general. Building a robust core musculature will be important for trail runners as these are the muscles which tie the upper and lower body together, allowing the body to move as one fluid system.
Finally, the duck walk is an example of a mobility exercise, it is an animal walk that is a flow and locomotion exercise that will aim to open up the joints of the knee, ankle and hip. I use this in warm ups for squatting movements especially with my clients who have limited mobility for the squat movement pattern.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.