To be a better runner and improve your form, you need to exercise holistically. Anna from Anna the Apple explains how Women’s Health magazine helped her discover how important glute exercises were to her running form and performance.
When I first started running I was like so many others: buy some trainers and get out there. You just ran, nothing more complicated than that, right?
In my first couple of years of running I was plagued with injury after injury… my IT Band being one of the most consistent injuries; but also groin strains and hip niggles. It wasn’t until seeing a really good physiotherapist and reading lots of running-related articles (like the ones in Women’s Health magazine, for example) that I learned that most of injuries were invariably caused by weak glutes.
In the running world this is commonly referred to as ‘Lazy Ass Syndrome’! Your glutes are such a fundamental and important muscle for running (and lots of other sports in fact) that when they’re weak this means that other muscles have to over-compensating to take on the unnecessary strain. This can cause your running form to be inefficient at best, and problematic and injury-causing at worst.
Running is just like every other sport. You need to refine it as a skill: work on your form, strengthen certain muscle and practice, practice, practice. Not just ‘boshing’ out the miles, but making concentrated efforts in the gym and road running.
After too many injuries, I took time off from running and hit the gym with the aim to improve my glute strength and my running form. By using exercises specifically focused on increasing my glute strength and hip stability that I found from reliable sources on the Internet and magazines such as Women's Health I made sure I was strong enough before I returned to running.
I focused on three important strategies:
- Working on my overall lower body strength with compound moves such as single leg variation squats (great for addressing imbalances), Romanian deadlifts, and regular deadlifts.
- Specifically targeting the glute areas with accessory moves like glute kickbacks, bridges, lateral leg raises and clams.
- Core work like planks, Russian twists, leg raises and mountain climbers.
You can also add in plyometric workouts to increase explosive power, but to begin with I focused on the basics of increasing my strength in general.
I spent a good month solely doing gym work and a bit of spinning on the side for cardio. When I got back into running the difference was dramatic. My glutes were suddenly firing and I felt myself striding tall and strong in my form. Obviously I'm still not immune to injuries (hello 6.5 weeks of not running because I make stupid choices and do too much!), but I can say wholehearted that the gym has made me a stronger runner. The telling point for me was after my first marathon (before all the strength training) my quads were on fire. But after all my strength training, the aches were more general. My quad dominance had hugely decreased as my glutes were taking on more work.
Getting my PB (3:24:06) at the Liverpool Marathon in 2015
Importantly though it’s not a one-off thing. Strength training goes hand-in-hand with running in my opinion. Running is a unilateral exercise and there are so many muscles that need to be maintained in order to help keep you running strong but actually won’t be improved by running alone. And aside from PBs and running strong, there’s nothing better than lifting heavy weights at the gym and feeling like a superwoman!
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