I consider strength to be the second most important aspect of fundamental movement. The reason for this is because of Newton’s second law: Force = Mass x acceleration. In order to move, you must produce force. The greater the force, the more strength the body needs to handle it and use it.
Focus of Strength
When training the body for strength I focus on three things:
- Strengthen the trunk.
- Strengthen the alignment.
- Strengthen the movement.
These three things work in coordination. I strengthen the trunk by strengthening alignment by strengthening the movement. You can not separate them.
I always start with the trunk. Why? The number one cause of poor running movement is weakness in the trunk that causes it to collapse ever time the foot strikes the ground. If you can strengthen your trunk so it stays in proper alignment, you will improve as a runner.
Strengthening the Trunk (Frame)
If you ride a bike or drive a car, what one thing will put them totally out of commission? Bend the frame. Once the frame is bent, a bike or car is totally ruined. Your trunk is your frame. The stronger it is, the faster you will move. Energy from the ground transfers through the frame. The stronger the frame is, the more energy that moves through it. The weaker the frame is, the more energy is absorbed by it.
So how do I strengthen the frame? I strengthen the muscles that support the frame while maintaining proper alignment. Remember chin up, chest up, hips up? That is what I am trying to do during all my strength exercises.
I focus on three specific exercises for strengthening the trunk:
- Foam roller crunches
- Foam roller twists
- Planks in the pushup position
I do foam roller crunches because I can move from a slightly hyper-extended alignment to a straight alignment. Regular crunches cause me to roll into a hunched, broken frame position I don’t want. Foam roller twists allow me to hold the same correct position while working the obliques and transverse abs that are so important in the transfer of energy.
Planks in the pushup position really strengthen the link between trunk and pelvic and shoulder girdles. Once you are strong enough to hold the position correctly you can start adding movement. The important thing is that the hips are as high as the shoulder. I look for two lines. A straight parallel line of the shoulder and hips to the floor and a straight diagonal line of the legs from the hips to the ankles.
Strengthening the Alignment and the Movement
The most important aspect of strength training is maintaining your alignment throughout the movement. You can not separate one from the other. I follow three rules for proper strengthen of alignment and movement:
- Strengthen daily
- Strengthen the whole body
- Strengthen the whole movement
Yes, I said strengthen daily. You use strength every day, you need to develop it every day. Just remember that it does not have to be high intensity every day. It can be very low intensity, just make sure you strengthen the whole body through the whole movement.
I focus on just a few exercise that everything else builds off of:
- Seated twists
- Reverse lunges.
Pushups focus on the transition from the trunk to the shoulder girdle to the upper extremities. Once you can maintain proper position through a regular pushup you can add leg movements
Seated twists focus on strengthening the key trunk muscles while maintaining proper upper body alignment. It is very easy to collapse forward during this exercise. Keep the chin and the chest up throughout.
Reverse lunges strengthen the low extremities while teaching you to maintain proper alignment throughout the running motion. The key to this exercise is to not let the shoulder move backward. I do mine standing in a doorway or next to a pole. The movement is initiated by moving the hips back. The shoulders should stay at the door way and move straight down, not back. As your hips drop back, the pressure on your foot should stay on the push point (ball of foot). If you feel the pressure move back on the foot, then you have moved out of alignment.
How much should you do? How ever many you can do with proper alignment. I would rather see you do 1 right then 10 wrong. The body trains itself to do what you allow it to do. Always train right. It will quickly build if you do.