Strength training and stretching has been a long forgotten art throughout my running career – until recently. These areas of exercise and fitness were two pages I would gloss over when working on my running program. The thought of going to the gym and lifting weights created a rise in my anxiety levels, to the point where I would just convince myself running was all I needed.
Youth, the springtime of life, where running alone is all you need to stay in shape. When I was 16 years old I started to come out of my shell and wanted to do more than just ride my bike – so I took an interest in surfing. I was never any good at it, but would faithfully tag along with a bunch of kids from school and eventually got connected with a local surfboard maker. I actually took the time and shaped my own surfboard, bought a wetsuit, and just like all my other hobbies found something else – running.
I would run 5-6 miles a night, averaging around 8-minute miles on a treadmill in my parent’s unfinished and dark basement. It was 45-50 mins where I would shut off my mind and just run. I had managed to drop weight and started to look somewhat athletic. I could rinse and repeat this practice daily. In fact, I kept this practice up until the treadmill eventually couldn’t handle the use and died. It’s a sad story, it became a hanger for old clothes and “stuff” laying around the basement. It remained in that tomb for years, until my parents decided to finish their basement and eventually put the treadmill to the curb. Anyway, I digress:
Around 10 years years ago when I started to have issues with my weight. I recalled how much I enjoyed running and also, how much weight I was able to lose – that was enough motivation for me to start running again. I quickly found that running with all that extra weight came with an added cost. I wasn’t as nimble as before, and the added weight really put a strain on my lower back. It was like my body was punishing me for trying to get healthy. In addition to the weight it didn’t help that a) I wore the wrong shoes and b) my form was horrible. I ended up pulling a muscle or tendon in my foot (Peroneal Tendonitis) that put me out of service for months.
I learned, Adulthood was not the springtime of youth, and that I needed to improve all areas of my body in order to become physically fit enough to just run. Once I had found success in weight loss through a proper diet, I started running again. This time, I invested in running shoes and paid closer attention to my form. I found that regularly running 3-4 miles a night was enough to keep me in shape, and also was just enough to avoid injury. The occasional 6-8 miler was doable, but I would feel tightness in my lower back that would persist if I didn’t take a day or two to rest. It was right after my first half-marathon that I discovered there was still a lot of work to do.
Fast forward to today, I’m able to pause in reflection of my errors and now include a slew of post running exercises to help improve my running form. Now, the debate is out whether or not Pre or Post running workouts help, I prefer post running since cardio is my first love. What works for you is between you and your doctor (insert seek health professionals approval before beginning a running program disclaimer here). This isn’t a definitive list, but here are the exercises that have found help lower my chances of injury and have made running enjoyable once again.
Lower back extensions are a must, I’ve added these to my regiment to help strengthen my lower back muscles.
Situps and planking to help improve my core, I have found that this practice has helped reduce hunching over while running and keeps me upright throughout my running session.
Push-ups for good measure, because upper body strength helps pump me up those hills!
I don’t know the formalities on stretching, so here is what I do – I focus on my main muscle groups: hips, hamstrings, thighs, glutes, and calves. Then stretch out my plantar fascia and work on focusing on my foot muscles by stretching them out with weird drunken yoga ballerina-type moves. There are plenty of focused stretching videos on the Runner’s World YouTube Channel.