Lets clear the air, shall we? So yesterday I was reading some articles yesterday about strength training. I'm helping one of my friends train for the Chicago Marathon this year and she asked me to put a training plan together for her. Now for me, lifting is an important part of training, and I had to learn this the hard way by getting injured. I did my first marathon in 2011 and I trained on my own. In my mind, runners just need to run and body builders lift. Plus I didn't want to get bulky, I needed to drop weight to get faster, right? Well all of that came to a halt when I ran into knee and IT Band problems. I had to go to the doctor for anti-inflammatories and was told to pull back on running. In the midst of my injury depression one of my friends told me that I could prevent injury by doing certain lifts to strengthen my muscles. She explained to me that, while lifting isn't necessary every day, strength training is important to maintain stability and actually help you run stronger. Two years later and I find myself writing in this training plan, "Eat your meals but take your vitamins." Meaning do your runs as scheduled but make sure you lift 2-3 times a week as a supplement. But what lifting moves are going to be the most beneficial?
Whether you are just a runner or a triathlete the BEST strength move you can do for yourself is the squat. I didn't actually start squatting until about a year ago, yikes.--> The reason why squats are so beneficial is because they will work almost every single muscle group in the lower body, giving you the most bang for your buck in terms of strength training. Since actual triathlon training is so time consuming already, the more benefit you can get from each exercise, the better. Any athlete doesn't want to waste valuable energy on exercises that don't provide for maximum delivery, so targeting one highly effective movement that focuses on a high number of movements all at once, you’ll be far better off because of it.
And for my fellow triathletes and/or cyclists: When on the bike: The body needs to be in that powerful aero position where you’re able to generate a lot of power through your hips through the entire range of motion. We don’t just want power through half the pedal stroke but at the top as well when our hips are in that crunched position. A lot of people tend to curve their back and that shuts down the glutes. If you’re pushing with your quads, you’re missing out on your most powerful muscles, the glutes. The squat position is very similar to proper bike position. You want a nice flat back and activate the glutes so you’re able to transfer that power. So when you’re squatting, you’re actually training for more power on the bike.
So how does one start squating? Lightly. Grab two hand weights and simply practice your form. Watch yourself in the mirror (it may seem funny or weird but honestly form is everything with the squat, if you're doing it wrong you're only hurting yourself). Then when you're ready, grab one of the bars (without plates at the end) and practice squating with it behind your head. Once you've got all of that, add a little weight. But I highly recommend either having a spotter or putting a bench down if you're alone. Sit down on the bench but make sure to stand right back up, don't rest!
Finally, it's important to also have balance. For this reason, other leg exercises that focus on your leg strength, like hamstring pulls, leg press & leg lifts are also important. But for now, stop, drop and squat!