The strength to last the distance

by Richard Blagrove, Course Leader and Senior Lecturer for BSc Sport and Exercise Science.

In October, our engineering lecturer Laura will be taking part in her first marathon, the Birmingham Marathon, which finishes outside our Faculty home Millennium Point. In her last post, Laura explained what made her decide to take on this challenge. Today we have a guest post from Richard, from the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences here at Birmingham City University. Richard has been helping Laura train for the big day.

Most distance runners I meet are understandably quite apprehensive and sceptical when I tell them that strength training exercises are a must for distance runners. Why on earth would lifting weights and performing exercises that look nothing like running help their performance?!

laura marathon training

Runners usually associate strength training with muscle-bound men pumping iron in a busy gym. Lifting weights can also bring with it an excessive amount of muscle soreness, which makes walking downstairs uncomfortable, let alone heading out for a hard run! It is no wonder therefore that runners approach strength and conditioning (S&C) with a high level of anxiety. A carefully planned S&C programme designed by a qualified coach should certainly avoid these sorts of issues and ultimately provide runners with a range of benefits which will help them achieve their goal.

I met with Laura at the end of May, during the start of her preparations for the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon, to take her through a basic S&C programme, which will support her through the rigours of marathon training. Runners will typically be motivated to perform S&C exercises to reduce risk of injury and improve performance, and this was no different for Laura.

Like most runners, Laura doesn’t have access to an S&C facility, and it would be unreasonable for me to expect her to fork out for a monthly gym membership! Therefore the routine I suggested was home-based (we actually did it outside in the sunshine!) and requires only minimal equipment to perform. The goals of the programme were to introduce Laura to some fundamental movement skills designed to improve her mobility and specifically strengthen the muscles around her hips and ankles.

laura marathon fitness training

The programme was organised into three short sections (five to 10 minutes each), which can be completed together, or if time is tight (as it usually is for distance runners), each can be completed separately before or after her runs; two to three times per week. The movement preparation routine involves a couple of basic running technique drills and exercises to help get those all-important buttock muscles working!

The strength routine included a floor based bridging exercise and two types of squats. Unsurprisingly, the press-ups were probably the toughest exercise but Laura coped well with the challenge! A conditioning circuit was also included that targeted the muscles around Laura’s trunk, and her calf strength.

Laura approached this new and novel aspect of her training with enthusiasm and seemed to enjoy the session. By including this S&C routine consistently over the next five months, hopefully it will help Laura to avoid injury and achieve her goal at the Birmingham International Marathon in October.

Richard Blagrove is Course Leader for the BSc Sport and Exercise Science at BCU. He is an Accredited Strength and Conditioning Coach with over 10 years of experience of providing support to distance runners. His book ‘Strength and Conditioning for Endurance Runners‘ is available through The Crowood Press.

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