Strength Training for Ultrarunners

As ultrarunners we push ourselves to reach beyond the standard goal of marathon. Ultramarathons take a toll on our bodies from the constant movement on all types of terrain. This makes it vital to develop a strength-training program that can be incorporated into our current training schedule. To develop a detailed strength-training program one must as much as possible information about the individual. Since that is impossible from where I stand I will highlight some important aspects that need to be integrated into a strength training program.

Point to Remember When Strength Training

• Avoid fixed weight machines
• Use exercises that are similar to the functional pattern of running
• Include core strength and stability exercises
• Focus program to improve overall joint strength and power with minimal hypertrophy

When strength training, ultrarunners need to avoid any fixed weight machines. Linear exercise equipment, which only allows uni-axial movement patterns from stable starting positions, discourages the recruitment of synergists and stabilizers. Fixed weight equipment is best used for the initial specific strengthening of an injured muscle but it is important that any strength training performed needs to be designed in a functional pattern. Distance running uses more thigh muscles than the hip girdle muscles: doing resistive quadriceps and hamstring exercises while sitting on a machine only adds to imbalance that sport produces.

Think of your body has a functional unit, with muscles working together to coordinate athletic actions. Ultrarunners need to choose exercises that follow the functional pattern of running as best as possible. New advances in functional strength training equipment include ground base technology plate-loaded machines. This equipment from Hammer Strength allows exercisers to train with both feet on the ground, simulating the total body coordination, core stability training and muscular involvement of many movements for maximum transfer to sports performance while providing a stable environment for overloading muscles. Cable and bands exercises can also simulate the functional pattern of running.

Core strength and stability is vital part of ultrarunner strength training program. The ‘core’ foundation is needed for later dynamic muscular development and to maximize the propulsive forces generated by the leg. All force produced by the upper and lower truck muscles either begins or is transferred through the truck and lower torso, so if the ultrarunner can maintain a solid and efficient core most of the force produced by the legs will move them forward. Without core strength there is a greater risk of injury and, when running, energy is lost through the twisting of the truck region which absorbs and wastes energy. Swiss and medicine ball strength training are good examples of tools that can be used to improve core strength and stability.

As distance runners the enlargement of muscle fibers or hypertrophy should not be the goal of strength training. The goal of the program should be to improvement in muscular endurance or ability of a muscle to avoid fatigue. This is achieve be keeping the repetitions twelve and fifteen with sets of three. Plyometric exercises may also be added to enable the muscle to reach maximal force in the shortest possible time.

The value of strength training on a person’s performance in ultramarathons is significant. Incorporating the ideas presented this article will increase performance and decrease injuries associated with ultra running.

About Paul Stofko

Paul "Crazy Legs" Stofko is a Fitness Specialist, RRCA Certified Running Coach, and Ultra Marathoner. Read Paul's full bio here and learn more from him on his website.

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