• Jo Watkinson

Move: Strength and conditioning for beginners

Every runner should be doing strength and conditioning (S&C) work. Regardless of whether you're a brand new runner or an experienced marathon runner, you should include some S&C in your weekly plan.

S&C involves using some type of resistance to challenge and build your muscles, and can also help to improve your mobility and flexibility. And there are lots of benefits:

- Avoid injuries: Strong muscles mean that you also have strong, well supported bones and connective tissue, which helps your body to withstand more stress.

- Burn more fat: Muscle is metabolically more active than fat, so the more muscle that you have, the more calories you will burn over the course of a day.

- Stay healthier: Studies show that S&C can enhance heart health, bone health, reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, increase bone density, reduce low back pain, improve sleep, and ease symptoms of arthritis and fibromyalgia. And who doesn't want that?

Whether you're on a 0-5k plan, or you're training for a marathon, if you've not includes S&C in your life before it can be difficult to know where to start. So, what counts as S&C? Anything that involves using weight to put your body under stress. This can include Yoga, Pilates, weight training at a gym (ask an instructor for a run-focussed program) or exercises that you can do at home using your own body weight.

These are my favourite S&C exercises for beginners that you can do at home. They target the key muscles that you use for running, but will ease you in gradually. Please check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regime.

Before you start, remember these golden rules:

1. Always warm up. 5 mins of jogging on the spot or brisk walking is fine, but don't work with cold muscles.

2. Focus on technique. It's better to do 5 repeats perfectly than do 10 badly. The whole point of this is to prevent injury, after all!

3. Aim to challenge yourself, but don't overtrain. You can add repeats and weight gradually over time. Give yourself time to build up.

4. Stretch afterwards.

This is one S&C session.

1. Inch Worms

Good for: Posture, Core, Hamstring and calf stretches.

Stand tall with your chest up, core engaged, shoulders back and down. Hinge forward at the hips and place your hands on the floor as close to your feet as possible. Keeping your legs as straight as you can, slowly walk your hands out to press up position, hold for a beat, then walk your hands back to your feet. Hinge from the hip and return to mountain pose, paying particular attention to settling back into the correct posture before repeating the exercise.

Start: 2 x 5 inch worms

Build up to: 2 x 10 inch worms

You can see a video of this here:

2. Cat and Cow pose

Good for: Posture, Core.

Kneel down on all fours, in a table position. Breathe out and arch your back, tucking your head under. Breathe in and lower your belly towards the floor, bending your back and pushing your chest forwards through your shoulders, lifting your head up and back a little. Keep your legs neutral throughout, with the tops of your feet resting on the floor. Don’t engage the legs. repeat.

Start: 20 breaths in, 20 breaths out

Build up to: 2 x 20 breaths in, 20 breaths out

You can see a video of this: here:

3. Squats

Good for: Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads.

Find a foot stance that feels best for you. Pointing your toes slightly outwards helps some, but keeping them parallel is fine, too. Engage your core, look straight ahead and stand tall. To squat, sit back. Make sure to move your bum backward as if you're sitting on a chair - don’t just bend your knees. Keep your knees in line with your toes - don’t let them cave inward or flop outwards, and make sure that your knees don't go forward ahead of your toes. Try to keep your shoulders above your hips, look straight ahead and don’t round your back or lean forward.

Start: 2 x 10 squats

Build up to: 2 x 20 squats

You can see a video of this:

4. Calf raises

Good for: calf muscles, foot strength, correct foot placement when running

Stand up straight, shoulders back and your feet around 6 inches apart. Push through the balls of your feet and raise your heels until you are standing on your toes. Then lower slowly back to the start. If you need to place one hand on a wall of back of a chair to balance yourself to start, please do, but don't hold on too tightly - your body weight needs to be on your calves. This exercise should be performed as slowly as possible.

Start: 2 x 10 calf raises

Build up to: 2 x 20 calf raises

You can see a video of this:

5. Brownlee Balances

Good for: Posture, Core, good running form, hip flexors, glutes, quads, ankle strength.

So called because the Brownlee brothers do it, and if its good enough for them, its good enough for us! This is a simplified version to get you started. Start standing tall, head up, shoulders back. Lift one knee in front of you as high as you can and move the opposite arm into a ‘running’ position, keeping the chest up and shoulder blades dropped down your back. Keep your foot flat on the floor. Looking straight forward, hold this pose for 5 breaths, then look to your left, breathe for 5. Look to your right, breathe for 5, look up and breathe for 5. Swap legs and repeat.

Start: 2 x balance on each leg

Build up to: 4 x balance on each leg

You can see a video of this:

6. Clam shells

Good for: ITB, glutes, core and lower back.

Lie on your side with legs, hips, knees and ankles stacked on top of each other, and knees bent at 45 degree angle. Rest your head on your lower arm, and use your top arm to steady your frame. Be sure that your hipbones are stacked on top of one another, as there is a tendency for the top hip to rock backward. Engage your abdominals by pulling your belly button in, as this will help to stabilize your spine and pelvis. Keeping your feet touching, raise your upper knee as high as you can without shifting your hips or pelvis. Don’t move your lower leg off the floor. Pause, and then return your upper leg to the starting position on the ground.

Start: 2 x 10 clams per leg

Build up to: 2 x 20 clams per leg

You can see a video of this:

Ideally, repeat this session twice a week, or do it once a week and take a yoga or pilates class too.

If you have followed this plan for 4-8 weeks, you've used all of the "build up to" options and you're finding it quite comfortable, you should switch to the S&C for improvers plan.

This plan was written to support the class of 2020 Diabetes UK Virgin London Marathon runners. If you've found this plan helpful, you can donate to my Diabetes UK Just giving page.

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