Recently I completed my first Spartan race, now these races are the real deal!
Not only are they set on a pretty tough trail course, but they also have a series of military-style obstacles throughout the course.
Now, most people would start out with one of the 5 or 10km races, possibly the 21km race.
Not this guy…
I was booked in to do the 5 and 10 km races but covid ensured that the event was canceled.
I can’t use the word fortunately here so I’ll go with the opposite.
Unfortunately, I had also signed up to do the ultra spartan, 50km of trail running and 60 obstacles.
Now admittedly I was given the option to change the race, but my stubborn ass decided I had to commit to what I signed up for.
That race was hard, It took everything I had to finish.
Battling the Queensland heat, cramps, and knee pain.
And while I didn’t do nearly enough running in the build-up, the work I’ve been putting into my core this year played a huge part in my survival.
Good core strength is of huge value to any runner, and by core, I don’t mean just your six-pack.
Chest, back, abs and obliques are what’s keeping you upright and straight.
And when you start moving your arms and legs it’s these muscles that keep you balanced.
Should I do core before or after running?
A strong core is important to any sport and training your core should be something you devote time to, separate from your other training.
But I know that this is easier said than done.
We all live busy lives and fitting in exercise can be hard let alone trying to fit in multiple sessions.
In a perfect world, you would have time for your run, recovery, and workout spread throughout the day.
But I know for most of us we need to get strength and cardio in the same session.
So depending on what your goals are to determine whether we do strength or cardio first.
But as this article is about running I’m going to assume that running is your main objective.
That being said whatever you choose to do first is going to leave you fatigued for your next session.
So if improving your core strength to benefit your running is the goal, it would be wise to get your core work done first.
Trying to do core work when you are fatigued can lead to doing difficult movements with poor form.
When you’re training your core with the poor form you end up doing the movement with a round back putting too much pressure in the wrong places.
That being said, getting a core workout in before is going to leave you feeling heavy on the run, as a lot of our typical ‘core’ training overworks our hip flexors, which help lift your leg when you run.
Another great approach would be to bring some core workouts into your run. Pulling over every few miles to get a plank and some push-ups in while your body is warm.
So really, I think mixing it up between the 3 options is a fair approach.
It’s going to keep your body guessing, just always be aware of the fatigue in muscles and maintaining good form.
Strength training for runners
Just like your core being important to running, so is being strong. But strength is not to be mistaken for size.
Big muscles don’t always mean strong muscles.
Being lightweight and slim is a big plus for running, so we have to be smart about how we train.
I’m not talking about doing different movements or special exercises either.
The exercises we do to get strong are more or less the same exercises we do to get big. The key difference is weight and repetitions.
A typical strength workout would be working with 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 repetitions.
And as running is the main focus of your training, you would only need to do 2 to 3 strength sessions a week.
Doing full-body workouts would be best as you will be able to hit all your muscle groups a few times during the week.
Your workouts could be as simple as squats, deadlifts, overhead press, and pull ups.
What you also want to do is track your progress each session.
Keep note of how many reps you did at which weight.
And every week you want to be increasing weight slightly.
This is one form of progressive overload.
Progressive overload is simply adding to your workload over time. Whether that be reps, sets of weight lifted.
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Weight training for runners
Squats are a staple leg movement and we should all be doing them regularly. Starting with your feet at shoulder-width apart, slowly lower your body so that your torso remains straight and upright, bending at the knee and hip.
Lower yourself down until your crease is lower than your knee, keeping your knees angled slightly outwards, they should never buckle inwards or pass your big toe.
Pushing back through your heels until you’re standing upright again to finish.
The most common way to do this movement with weight is a back squat. I would suggest using a smith machine if you are new to this movement.
It’s a lot safer as it keeps the bar and weight attached to the rack as you go through the movement and you can also set safety bars so you don’t go too low and get stuck at the bottom.
Lunges are another common leg movement and holding the weight on the front while performing a lunge gives you great core activation.
For a lunge, you start off with your feet shoulder-width apart. You then step one leg out in front of you while the back leg lowers down so that your knee touches the floor.
Both legs want to finish up at 90-degree angles. Your front knee should not pass in front of your toe. So now to make this movement more beneficial to your core we want to hold a weight across the front of your shoulders.
Now as you alternate lunges on each leg your stabilizing muscles in your core go into overdrive to keep you upright! Do sets of 10-16 alternating your legs.
This is an exercise that I rate very highly, but it must be done with caution. Too often ego gets in the way and people can really hurt themselves with this movement.
Starting with the barbell in front of your shins, and your feet hip-width apart. Grip the bar with your hands at shoulder-width, bending at the knees keeping your back straight and as upright as possible.
It’s very important to keep your shoulders squeezed back through this movement. And understand that your arms are just hooks, you do not need to pull the bar up.
Hold on to the bar with your arms straight, drive your weight through your heels as you stand up. Keeping your core braced through the whole movement.
It’s a very simple movement in theory but people get it very wrong by rounding their backs and trying to lift too heavy. Build that weight up slowly and only when you’re ready.
Another staple movement that everyone should be doing regularly.
Push-ups are just as much a core movement as they are an arm and chest movement.
Start in a prone hold position on the floor, with your hands underneath your shoulders. Back straight, shoulders back, and your toes on the floor. Lower your body weight down as you drive your elbows back, not out.
Keep lowering until your chest touches the floor. Now push back keeping your body stiff and straight. Keep your core engaged and don’t let yourself sag through the middle.
When done correctly with a strong stiff core it’s not hard to see why these should be viewed as a beneficial core movement also
One of my absolute favorite exercises, but admittedly not super accessible. Not every gym has a sled push, but if yours does then you definitely should be using it. Sled push is an amazing tool for improving your strength on a hill climb.
Hill climbs is where it can all come unstuck on a run so having a good base of strength is ideal. This is another movement where we need to be aware of our form. Always keep your back straight and your core engaged. And drive forward with your legs.