Need for Speed: Seven Rules for Ultimate Strength

Hey there speedsters. This is the Second instalment of The Need for Speed Runner’s Clinic on Sparrow in the Tree Top. I’m on a mission to pick apart the art of digging deep and finishing strong. The first post in this series was about using your mind to get  faster. Today's post is all about physical Strength training. Join me!  Need-for-speed-running-clinic

And just like that, the Need for SPEED is BACK.

If you'll recall, it's the series I started (ahem over a month ago now) to get to the bottom of speeding up your running pace. It's been a bit of a lapse in time and I'll come clean about why; I've been dreading this post. Mostly because I'm a big believer in "practice what you blog" (or blog what you practice, whatever way you want to put it) and strength is not something that I feel I practice enough.

Needforspeed2And when it comes to blogging I feel like there are so many other qualified experts you could look to to tell you about strength training. (Like is it just me or is Jen a total superstar?)

This isn't to say I don't understand the value of strength training. I understand full well, that if I want to get faster, I should be doing more of it. I think I've known this for awhile, but it was even further grilled into my running brain when I interviewed Brian Mckenzie, who is the guy behind Crossfit Endurance, last year for iRun. Anyway. I'm on board. Just someone tell me how to like, embrace the buffet. (Talk about mental blocks for running, who knew they existed when you weren't, you know... running.)

So where I've got a lack lustre track record, I make-up for in knowledge. And in terms of strength training (including with weights) here are some rules and lessons I've learned along the way:

1. Strong back, strong legs: In my opinion, a strong back is the most underrated muscle group for runners. Strong backs keep it all in line; as in, your hamstrings stabilized and your core muscles in place. If you've got tight or pulled hamstrings, it's more then often related to the strength of your back.

2. Dead-lifts are a runner's best friend: Closely related to #1, the deadlift is a great weight-lifting exercise for runners. I'm not going to go into the mechanics here (since I'm anything but qualified from walking you through one), but if you work out at a gym or have a go-to trusted source for instructional exercises, I'd recommend you learn how to do a deadlift properly, and do it often. Deadlifts work muscles that are a runner's best friend: including the lower back, the glutes and hamstrings. When you strengthen this group, you can drive it home when you tell yourself to turn it on; I'm serious, when my mind says "Kick-it" at the end of a race, this is the part of the body I'm speaking to.

3. Strong core, strong mind: If you read my first post in this series, you'll know how big of a part I feel the mind plays in becoming a faster runner. I can't say it loudly enough, but guts are more or less tied to your frame of mind. And literal guts are likewise related. One winter I did the Ab-Ripper X work-out about 3x a week and I'm not exaggerating, it's the only time in my running life that I can say I actually felt stronger. Like sometimes I'm aware I'm building muscle, but this time, I could feel it when I turned a sharp corner or when I bent over to pick things up, and I stood taller, literally. Strong core muscles make you feel strong and when you feel strong, you act strong. As in, you tell yourself to run faster and you do.

4. Don't Overkill it: This one might be contested among the more hard-core cross fitters out there, but I would argue, there's a time for strength-training, and I don't think it's all the time. I think weight training is a good thing throughout the year, but when you are taking it to the next level in a lead up to a race, I wouldn't say it's a bad thing to back-off on the weights while you focus on a strict regime.

5. Don't be afraid of Weight: Is it common knowledge now that heavier weights won't make you bulky? I remember that's what I thought until recently. I was a bit under-educated in the gym (I usually stuck to the treadmill or elliptical) and when I went to use the weight machines, I'd barely put enough on. I'd get done 20 reps and think "That was easy." More weight is good (once you've worked up to it of course, gradually) and it won't make you bulky. Make your effort worth it!

6. Move with intention: If you're doing strength exercises, they need to be controlled but at the same time involve ballistic intent. The purpose behind the burst of strength within the movement is to really foster the fast-twitch muscles. That's what I learned from x-fit anyway :) I'm still working on this one but I have to admit it's my most favourite part of the weight regime. I love the idea of pushing it like I own it with a hercules-type of movement.

7. If you can't do the Weights, put in the fab four: I had to put this in because let's be honest, the gym still intimidates me and my attendance is patchy. If I'm trying to make myself feel better, I know that there are four things I can do from the house that will help (not to the same degree as a proper weight program but it's a pacifier): Abs, arms, squats and prone. Oh and the often over-looked runner's calf lift.

Well. I made it through this post. I have to admit, I'm kind of reinvigorated about the whole thing. It's a pretty busy summer so I found it hard to stick to a gym routine (it's way easier to just take 45 minutes for a run when I get home and not have to drive anywhere) but hopefully in the Fall I can come back to the basics again. I'd love to see if it could help me shave some time off of some of the Fall races I have planned!

Need for Speed

What about you? Is strength training something you've found to help you get faster?