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Off-Season Training For Runners

Now that autumn has descended upon us, it is up to practicing runners (and those in serious training) to envision what their off-season will look like as winter approaches. Winter is typically the time when runners “hibernate” with a multitude of off-season activities that enhance their training during racing season. It can include not only indoor treadmill running, but also other activities that supplement running and racing endeavors. The training that happens in the off-season can be just as important as the training that happens during in-season. Read more about off-season training.

Off-Season Training

Here are a few options to consider when embarking on exercises that will either strengthen your ability to run faster, or movements to sustain endurance running. This is solely a muscle regimen dedicated towards the runner. It is only a fraction of what can be accomplished during off-season training. These five exercises are based on maintaining strength for the specific muscles used in running, whether speed work or endurance miles:

1. Step Ups
This exercise is basically using one leg at a time to “step up” onto a box or bench that aligns the quadriceps muscle (upper thigh) parallel to the floor surface. The knee to hip ratio has to be in alignment; otherwise you risk potential injury to the knee. You can choose to use lightweights held in each hand, or practice your balance and secure the arms behind your back using no weights at all. Either modality works to strengthen the hip, quadriceps, abdominals, and hamstrings. Each leg should be done a minimum of 10 to 20 repetitions, before switching legs.  Work up to a repetition amount that best suits your level of current training. The idea is to maintain strength of the running muscles.

2. Lunges
Walking lunges are best, as they stretch the psoas muscle (upper front hip), and strengthen the gluteal muscles (buttocks), the hamstrings, and even stretch the calves and ankles-all pertinent for the runner. This is also a balancing exercise as well; therefore abdominals and lower back are used.

3. Squats
Squatting is an open chain exercise that utilizes the entire body. There is no need to even add weight, as the movement itself is using the weight of your own body mass. The key is to go low enough for the quadriceps muscle to be parallel to the floor, while maintaining good posture in the upper torso. 10 to 20 reps of this exercise is sufficient as it works all the main running muscles, bar none.

4. Pushups
There is a correct way to do a pushup, and a very wrong way to perform a pushup. The correct (and most efficient) way is straight leg, arms a bit wider than the shoulders, head level, abdominals tight, and body in descending plank position from head to heels. The key is to lower the body as one unit until the chest lightly grazes the floor, and the triceps muscles (backs of the arms) are parallel to the floor. This works the entire upper body, and the core strength muscles for running (abdominals and lower back). Only 10 to 20 total is sufficient to maintain strength in the off-season, if done on twice per week basis.

off-season-training

Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5. Pull ups
This exercise is probably the most difficult for many, as it involves lifting your body weight from a dead hang up until your chin clears the bar. It usually requires a spotter for the average person, however this is (by far) one of the most effective overall upper body and core exercises that can be performed a few times per week to maintain, or even gain, strength in the off-season. Runners need strong shoulders and arms to propel their bodies more efficiently during races and endurance workouts. Plus, the core muscles used used, and that alone is beneficial to the runner for stability.

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Most of the above exercises don’t necessarily have to be performed at a gym. If you carve out the time each week to dedicate to this strength workout, a park, playground, or some other adequate area that allows for space and movement of this nature will suffice. All can be done using solely your own body weight. This is actually preferable, as your weight alone provides the resistance needed to maintain strength.

Other forms of off-season training can be aerobic or anaerobic in nature. Strength training is anaerobic. Some comparable aerobic activities for runners can be biking, swimming, hiking, cross country skiing, rowing, jumping rope, and any other rigorous activity that involves all the muscle groups firing at the same time. Biking is probably the only exercise that is only devoted to the lower muscle groups however, the upper body and core have to maintain their strength to be positioned in a forward lean for extended periods of time, therefore the above muscular strength activities will help keep your body from becoming too stiff or sore during long bike rides. Jumping rope is an excellent cross-training exercise for runners, as it balances both the hamstring and the quadriceps muscle equally. It also keeps the shoulder and rotator cuffs strong, as well as the calves, feet, and ankles.

Yoga and Pilates have become extremely popular for runners as an alternative to focused strength movements. As both these practices are whole-body and core-based, it is a good idea to incorporate the flexibility and core movements into your off-season training. Runners are flocking to yoga classes these days, as they are finding that the classes directly benefit hardcore training during running season. Pilates is a great way to strengthen the core, lower back, and hips as well, and either the mat classes without equipment are suitable, or signing up for individual sessions with a Pilates’ professional to gain the benefits of using machines to stretch and strengthen.

Off-season training definitely needs to be a time that you look forward to as a runner. Knowing that you will be able to deviate from your training, have fun in other activities either solo or in groups, and continue to keep the running muscles happy, this is what it’s all about. There are other sports to participate in (indoor tennis, skiing, climbing), but the main reason for either aerobic or anaerobic exercises is to consider the weather elements and what activity will be suitable for your training. Don’t be lazy and allow your muscles to atrophy. Keep moving, enjoy the process, and do what speaks to your body.

What do you do during the off-season? Let us know in the comments below.