There can be no argument that we at Runphoria are dedicated to our running. We are lucky to be running injury free almost all of the time (save the odd rolled ankle or two from throwing ourselves down a trail), and we attribute this to our strength training.
Our fitness journeys weren’t always so closely aligned so we thought we’d give you both sides to our story of discovering strength training.
Where it began
At the outset, running was simply a case of grabbing any old shorts and t-shirt, lacing up, grabbing the iPod Shuffle (are we that old?) and heading out the door. Once outside, we’d start running at a comfortable pace and do our usual route. And repeat – again and again. In our true form, once we had that routine down, we began to look for a little more.
I had joined a local running club that raced on weekends The obvious progression was wanting to improve my times, but I had zero knowledge on how this might be achieved. It appeared that just going out and running miles at the same pace day after day wasn’t going to do it.
My first 3-4 years of running saw massive swings in my 10k times – mostly longer, the occasional shorter – some were up to 5 minutes’ difference to the year before. I’d finish the race and wonder what on earth was going wrong ?
More disturbingly, I developed a couple of injuries that just wouldn’t go away – an achilles issue, followed by IT band problems that actually stopped me from running for over a month which of course resulted in an overall grouchy me. What was the go here? I was slim, healthy and looked fit enough to be doing this.
I decided to search out answers.
This was back in the times when the internet was not my first port of call for information and Facebook was still about ‘poking’ people and writing what you were feeling, rather than a newsfeed full of fitness articles (wow, we are that old!). So I went out and bought a subscription to a running magazine in the hope it would answer some questions. As it happened, one of the first articles I read was about strength training and how it was complementary to running. It surprised me. Really? How were triceps ever going to be an asset to running performance?
To be honest, I’m not necessarily known for my ‘strength’ – in fact, since I can remember, my forearms have been bigger than my biceps!
However I’m not one to shy away from a self-experiment so, to answer that question, I decided to add some basic strength moves to my weekly schedule that was usually just running. I wrote out a primitive program using some questionable weight equipment from underneath my house – an 8kg bar (no weights, just bare bar), 5kg hot pink hand weights (that looked like they had come straight from a dodgy 80s workout video) and a kitchen chair. My initial workout consisted solely of weighted squats and lunges and step ups. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a start.
As I received more magazines from the subscription, my repertoire of exercises began to grow.
Then I discovered plyometrics and things really started to fall into place.
Plyometrics are exercises that repeatedly utilise maximum power in short intervals – they typically involve jumping and other explosive movements and are renown for increasing power and, in turn, speed and performance. Tendons and stabilising muscles all feel like they benefit from them also. I quickly found, they are able to wreck you in a very short space of time. You definitely get out what you put in with these ones – once I added these to my workouts, I really started to notice improvements.
Star jumps, mountain climbers, squat jumps, jump rope were all challenging cardio intervals thrown in among basic strength moves like push ups, bench dips, squats, planks and lunges. The physical changes were noticeable – there was more of a hint of that all-important muscle tone – and the race times started to decrease ever so slightly. That’s what I was after.
The most important bonus was that with regular massage and foam rolling, I was able to keep running – and increase my mileage, while keeping the niggling injuries at bay.
My fitness journey started a little later than Bec’s and was born in the guts of the gym. Like many women I was keen to get back into shape after my first child was born and I soon became the token “Gym Junkie”, sometimes going twice a day to smash out a kick boxing class.
It wasn’t long before this obsession turned into running and the soon the gym was a distant memory. Over the next few years I went through various stages jumping back on the gym bandwagon and then leaving my membership to suffer for months on end but through all this time running remained my favourite.
In December 2013 I ran my first Ultra Marathon, 64km on the beautiful Bruny Island, Tasmania. While I finished strong in 6:54:43 and with no apparent injuries to report, three weeks and 2 physio appointments later it was discovered I had a tear in my left hip. Running was torturous and I was soon confined to the couch. My physio told me the injury was primarily due to weak glute muscles and sent me home with a list of exercises. In all the excitement of training for the Ultra I had completely let my strength training fall by the wayside and now apparently my glutes were falling too.
I knew exactly what I needed to do.
I was committed to getting my muscles back to where they needed to be and even more determined to avoid it happening again. I returned to the gym for one or two pump classes a week. Urgghhh it took me so long to recover from the first session. The kind of pain where you’re almost crying when you sit down in a chair. I also returned to Barre. This combination of Jane Fonda choreographed workout with high intensity pilates moves, designed to work all the tiny stabiliser muscles left the legs shaking all day.
There’s a reason why you never hear people say “The road to recovery is so fast!” It aint… However I kept at it and within 8 months not only was I running more Ks than ever but I was 100% recovered.
To this day (now everyone touch wood) I attribute my full recovery to the strength training. To stay away from exercise and not do anything would’ve been a serious mistake.
I went on to make it formal.
I decided to take things to the next level and become a qualified Personal Trainer and then a few months later, a Barrecode instructor. I developed a mighty strong core during this time and realised this was the perfect complement to running.
So for me it’s simple, find a balance between strength training and running and I’ll remain injury free. I find the biggest challenge is to keep the number of runs each week to 5 or 6 (far easier than it sounds) so I can keep on top of 2-3 strength sessions.
These days, rather than nutting out our own routines, we are big fans of the Fitstar app. This intuitive program asks you for a mini self-assessment after completing each exercise and then adjusts your workouts accordingly in future.
The workouts are decent balance of plyometric exercises interspersed with strength basics lasting anywhere from 20-40 minutes.
We’ve taken a screenshot of one of our recent workouts from Fitstar app for iPhone – check it out to the right.
The workouts will have you sweating, breathless and probably cursing within minutes. That means they’re working, right?
Our aim is to get 2-3 workouts in each week, but to be honest, it’s not always easy opting for a strength workout over a run. We’ve found an ideal combination is to get your running fix first thing in the morning, then smash out one of these workouts in the evening – the body seems to love this doubling up during the day. Trust us, the endorphins are running rampant after that magic combo!
Since we’ve been doing these strength workouts with plyometrics, we’ve felt increased the stability of key joints such as hips, knees and ankles. We are still a work in progress, but already feel the effects in terms of a more even and controlled stride, the ability to withstand those speed workouts and generally running injury free (still touching wood as we type this…!)