I mean how good does Jessica Ennis look? Enough said.
I mean she even looks good after landing in a pile of sand for god's sake!
Okay, so I figure my legs should be pretty damn toned with all this ultra and even non-ultra running malarky...but they are not! So how do runners tone and strengthen their legs? What exercises are good for runners and what are not?
At the gym the other week a personal trainer came over to me, just as I was pulling a puny weight on the lat pull machine, asking me what I was training for. And there was the moment of clarity. What on earth was I doing pulling on a resistance machine for my arms and back, with no idea how many reps or weights I should have it on, and why I was doing it.
I have little time and plenty of other core areas to work on including my POOR, NEGLECTED, UNTONED LEGS! So with a bit of googling, some chat with the other 'alf and some thought about my problematic areas, and what endurance runners should focus on to improve their strength, I came up with my own plan.
1) Quads (particularly VMO - vastus medialus oblique)
The key in this exercise is to keep your pelvis aligned squarely, and your knee aligned over your foot. You do not want your knee shifting left or right during the movement, nor do you want the knee to fall over the toes.
Start with double legged squats and build up to one legged squats, followed with holding a weight. Even better, use a swiss ball against a wall, and roll down. This means you are also challenging your balance and core muscles also, making the exercise even more dynamic. To help target the right muscle, give it some feedback by tapping the muscle, on the inside of your knee.
Once you have this exercise nailed, try a jumping squat, for added weight. Or do squats on a flat balance ball, for an extra challenge.
2) Hip abductors - gluteus medius
Glut med is often neglected, along with the VMO, as other muscles - the glut max and vastus lateralis (the other part of the quadricep muscle) - are usually stronger and more dominant. This can result in poor alignment of the hip and knee joint, which can lead to knee and hip pain in runners.
For glut med, I lie on one side with my knees bent and hips rolled slightly forward. Then, keeping the heels together, lift the top knee upwards. Hold at the top and slowly lower. This exercise is a killer for me too so I know it's a goodun!
A similar approach can be taken by adding weights, jumping, or lunging onto a flat exercise ball.
4) Hip flexors
Lie on your back with your knees and hips bent. If possible try and palpate your deep hip flexors to hep you feel the movement. Slowly lower one leg to an extended position, keeping your lower back as straight as possible. Return to the starting position and change legs. When confident in this, do with both legs at the same time.
Again I generally don't have a problem with my hamstrings (other than they are tight, but that's another blog post!) but it's important to strengthen all key areas of the leg.
Stand on a low platform with your hell hanging off. Lift slowly, keeping your balance, and lower. Start with both legs, progress to one legs, then add weights. Finally do the same on a flat balance ball for extra stability challenge. This exercise is also amazingly good for trail and off road runners who need strong, flexible ankles to run on changing and difficult terrain.
7) A note on resistance machines
Now apparently there is lots of evidence that using these machines are not the best for runners as they are done in a static position, not a dynamic (like running). However I do find them useful for judging how strong your legs are to start with. For example, I found that my adductors are super strong. I can manage 15kg 3x15 fairly easily, yet 15kg on the quads machine is a killer for me.