As I sit at my computer this morning, thinking about what to write, I notice a runner jogging up the road.
My eyes first noticed that she was all hunched over. I could see out of the corner of my eyes that her upper back was rounded. Her legs weren’t pumping hard enough and her stride was really short like the hill was winning the battle.
And it made me think about how many people are running to get in shape and doing more damage than good.
So let’s talk about running, what it’s good for, and how strength can make you a lot safer.
I’ve trained a lot of runners. For good reason, most of them come to me and say “I have no core,” or “ I have no upper body.”
And that matters. If you want to be fit and healthy, that matters a lot.
Because years of running with crappy posture, a weak core and poor arm strength will make all those pounding miles do some serious damage to your spine and joints.
I absolutely think running can be a healthy part of your routine. For many, I actually think brisk walks and kettlebell training is just as good for a great looking/performing body. But I know many of you love running and just want to do it safely.
So let’s talk about how to train for healthy running.
Your core is your spine’s best friend. This runner that just passed my office either lacks core muscle, or doesn’t know how to engage it. My guess is the former.
Your core (and entire back) should support your spine and keep you upright. When you run, just like the kettlebell swing, your spine MUST be vertical or even in what we call extension.
Doing any exercise in flexion (think sloppy posture at a desk) means that the brunt of your force is pounding your spine!!!
When you workout with proper spine alignment, that stress goes to your hips and shoulders…the big joints that are much more able to deal with that force. Especially if you’ve trained them (with kettlebell squats, swings and over-head presses for instance).
So having a strong core is imperative. Address this first with simple moves like planks, or my favorite, the bosu crunch, and you’ll be protecting that spine a lot better.
Then there are two prime movers that I already discussed. Your hips and shoulders.
Most people think you run with your legs. Of course you do! But your arms should act as pistons. Runners who have good arm/shoulder strength use them to keep up their cadence. That means your legs don’t tire out as fast.
You can address arms with just 3 exercises- the military press, push-up or bench press (or kettlebell floor press), and any good rowing motion. I personally like 1-arm rows bent over a bench or using your own knee for support.
Lastly, although running obviously conditions your legs, it tends to use the quads too much. Those who train some sprints or fast pick-up runs with friends might use the glutes and hamstrings, but most barely do.
That’s why addressing the hips through kettlebell swings and the goblet squat will train all of your leg’s big motions.
This will help you prevent injuries (because the body hates lack of balance- ie. Using too much quad and not enough ham). It will also help you with power up hills, kick for your finish, and endurance.
If running is your first love and you want to workout ONLY to get better, just 2-3 days a week of kettlebells would be enough to build and maintain exceptional strength. And that could be as little as 15-39 minutes of training.
You could vary this based on the season and how much running you plan to do. But I would be careful never to exceed 5 days of hard training.
So for anyone who wants to be a stronger, safer runner, make sure you address the 3 areas. Hips, core and shoulders!!!
Train smart, and you’ll get to enjoy your sport for years to come.