Is Running Enough For A Leg Workout Routine? By David Bohmiller
I've heard that runners don't have to do leg workouts because they get enough exercise from all the mileage, is this true?
It's true that running is a great workout, but we want to keep in mind that the greatest benefit of running is not for the legs, but for the heart and lungs. Those who run consistently within their target heart rate zones often display the following:
Lower resting heart rates - A signal that the heart is more proficient at its job of pumping oxygen rich blood throughout the body
Lower resting & exercise blood pressure - A signal of decreased stress on the cardiovascular system and an ability to perform at higher intensities
Running does recruit mostly Type 1 muscle fibers throughout the legs, so there is some muscular endurance benefit. However, in many runners, especially those who do not engage in weight training, we find many imbalances that can lead to injury.
There are several checkpoints that we use as Personal Trainers in evaluating both postural distortions and movement distortions. When we think about the lower body, the most important of these checkpoints are the hips, the knees, and the ankles. When a person stands with imbalance, they often move inefficiently. Many times these imbalances are caused by tight muscles that increase the compression and decrease the stability around a joint. It is this combination that may lead to a runner's knee, hip, and ankle injuries.
If you have ever complained about knee pain, shin splints, ankle discomfort, or even hip and lower back pain, then two important factors for you in combating any existing imbalances and helping to ease these pains are:
1. Your Flexibility Program
2. Your Weight Training Program
Your Flexibility Program
After examining a client or athlete's posture and movement, one of the first items that we address is called corrective flexibility. This is where we bring the joints away from the above-mentioned increased compression and decreased stability, back to a neutral position.
One example of this is a runner who has his or her feet pointed out. This type of imbalance usually leads to inefficient movement in squatting and inefficient movement in running form. Often, when external rotation is present, there is more pressure at the knee increasing the chances of injury, especially at the knee and hip joints.
Your Personal Trainer or Strength Coach will be able to isolate specific muscles and recommend stretching techniques for these muscles. As we improve your posture and movement, we decrease the pressures on joints that may have been at risk allowing you to run more efficiently, with less pain, and often with improved stride mechanics.
Your Weight Training Program
In most cases, runners are not looking to bulk up or increase the size of their muscles. Our runners weight train so that they can continue to do what they love which is to run without pain.
In the example above, we talked about a runner whose feet tend to point out. Let's say this runner also had flat feet. Every single time this person's foot hits the ground, he or she experiences an increase in pressure at the ankle and the knee because of their positioning and lack of stability in these important joints. We're not talking about 10 repetitions in a set of squats either (although the imbalance would be present there); we're talking about the thousands and thousands of repetitions one takes while running.
One of the most important benefits of weight training for runners is increased stability around the joints of the lower body. Having stronger joints will provide better durability to handle the impact of running. This increased stability can be obtained through band exercises, bodyweight exercises, and balance exercises.
Here you'll find an example of exercises we've found to be useful for our runners:
Mini Band Ankle Walks
Wrap the mini band around your ankles with your feet side by side.
Keeping your hips level and a soft bend in the knees, take a large side step with one leg, then a step back together with the other leg.
Limit the amount of "hip hike" by keeping the feet close to the ground during your steps.
This band exercise will help to strengthen the muscles outside the hips. The increased stability at the hip will allow for better landing and push off during each ground strike of your run. It will also help to take pressure off the knees and ankles.
Single Leg Anterior Reach
Balance on one leg with your other foot off of the ground.
Lean forward from the hips keeping a slight bend in the knee of your standing leg.
Reach as far as you can with your arms while keeping your back flat.
This bodyweight exercise uses the muscles of your core, stabilizers at your hips, knees, and ankles, and gives you a great stretch through the hamstrings.
Single Leg Balance on Wobble Board
Place one foot in the center of the wobble board with your knee slightly bent.
Aim to balance while keeping the edges of the board off of the ground.
Times may vary between 5 seconds to 1-minute.
Aim to achieve the same time on each leg.
This balance exercise will increase your ankle mobility and prepare you for lots of different terrains. If you've been training indoors on the treadmill for the winter and are planning on taking your training outside, it will be important to have strong ankles for additional stresses of uneven ground.
Add these suggested exercises to your workouts and we're sure you'll start to notice a difference not only in the strength of your running, but your recovery time, and your lack of pain and decreased incidence of injury.
Great luck and great running!
About the Author:
David "Boh" Bohmiller holds a Bachelor's degree in Physical Education-Exercise Science from Bridgewater State College and is NSCA-CSCS certified. He is the owner of "My Personal Trainer School" headquartered near Boston, MA.
Boh spends his days writing, performing health seminars, Personal & Group Training, consulting with athletic teams, and mentoring those new to the fitness profession. To find out more about how Boh may be able to help you, visit him at "My Personal Trainer School" or if you are interested in Personal Training in the Boston area, schedule your FREE consultation.