Chris Morland, MS, CSCS
Track and Field Strength Coach
NC State University
Kick! Go! Finish! There are many shouts of intensity from teammates and coaches from the side of a Cross Country course this time of year. The physical demands on the body are numerous for the runner but what business does resistance training have in the weekly routine for a Cross Country runner? This article will attempt to answer how a strength coach supports the weekly training routine of an endurance runner.
Beginning to measure the sport specific demands on running should start with the core variables in a typical race (the start, running posture, running economy, and the finish). An effectively designed program should stick to the components that will make the athlete more competitive from a physiological standpoint. One of these components includes "resistance training that is believed to result in a stronger endurance runner" (Dolezal, 1996). Other important components to focus on for an effective resistance weight program include: core strength, injury prevention, flexibility, sprint power, and running posture. Resistance training is not reserved just for the weight room but should include activities that increase flexibility such as hurdle drills and strength such as body weight exercises. These will supplement an effective running routine and can be performed anywhere. When evaluating an endurance resistance program for Cross Country it is important to provide a variety of exercises that address the demands of endurance training.
SAID (Specific Adaptations to Increase Demands)
A starting point for the Cross Country coach and strength coach is to establish some common goals toward favorable adaptation. Some examples of these could include:
Where Cross Country Runners Make Strong Strides
A good body weight program is necessary for cross-country. The frequency should be one-two times per week and can be performed before or after a running workout. Some common exercises should include: prisoner squats, push ups, rocket jumps, medicine ball sit-ups, crunches, medicine ball sitting twists, lunge good mornings, lunge walks, and push up toe walks.
A general flexibility program for the hips should include dynamic stretching such as hurdle drills. The increased range of motion in the hips can produce a smoother and stronger running stride for the athlete. Some common exercises should include: straight ahead single leg walk, lateral over and under individual hurdles, alternate leg walk over straight ahead, and straight leg marches over the sides of the hurdle.
A general weight circuit program can be used for higher intensity weight training. It should be done twice a week to develop muscular strength. This type training is designed to help increase tolerance of LT (lactate threshold) levels that rise to high levels during a race competition. Weight circuits will increase local muscular endurance during the later phases in peak performance. This method should include work and rest ratios to around one:one. Decreasing the rest intervals will increase the training effect.
One strategic method for the weight circuit is to arrange the order of exercises for the athlete so the correct technique and proper recovery can be maximized for each exercise. Rotating the order of movements from lower body movement, core strength movement, and upper body movement will help provide a smooth transition and optimize recovery for the team doing circuit training sessions. It can also be beneficial to pair athletes up according to their strength levels to challenge each other. Some common exercises in a weight circuit should include: lateral leg raises, assisted dips, side-to-side jumps, back hypers with a medicine ball, pull-ups, step-ups, advanced crunch, and rocket jumps.
Core strength and stability program should be done four-five times per week. An effective core program should include a volume of 200-400 reps per session. Floor exercises (crunches, sit-ups, etc.) should be interchanged with physioball exercises (bridge ups, alternating sit-ups, leg curls, etc.) You should hold these exercises to increase muscle recruitment patterns. These types of exercises are isometric and can help postural strength and increase running economy and correct postural running technique throughout a race.
One component that could easily be overlooked is the upper body strength needed to fight for good positioning in a race. "The increased upper body strength can help delay fatigue in the arms and postural muscles during the race." (Dolezal, 1996) I have heard runners explain to me that during the race their arms begin to drop and this affected their running. This tendency can be fought with increased upper body strength endurance.
A valuable component that should be considered is the need for sport specific leg power. The start and the finish are two times during a race competition that increased sprinting power is needed. This can be focused on with a variety of hops and jumps worked into body weight or weight training routines.
This article has outlined the various needs and demands placed on the Cross Country athlete during a typical running competition. Attention to the areas of: core strength, injury prevention, flexibility, sprint power, and running posture can be enhanced or prevented with an effectively designed training program.
Sample body weight program:
(15-20 repetitions per exercise)
- 1. Prisoner squats
2. Toe touches push ups
3. Medicine ball sit-ups
4. Rocket jumps
5. Back hypers
6. Leg toss
7. Side ups
8. Leg toss
9. Lunge good morning
10. Wrestlers bridge
11. Medicine ball twist (sitting)
12. Push up toe walk
13. Prone single leg hip ext.
Sample weight training program:
(20-25 seconds work and 15-20 seconds rest) Decrease rest time for a greater challenge and increase number to cycles you go through
- 1. Lateral leg lift
2. Dips (can be bench dips)
3. Side-to-side jump
4. Back hypers with medicine ball
5. Pull-ups (can be assisted by a coach)
6. Hurdle flexion with medicine ball
7. Step-ups with dumbbells
8. Medicine ball super crunch with medicine ball
Resistance Training for Endurance Runners During the Off-Season
Brett A. Dolezal, MS, CSCS, and Jeffrey A. Potteiger, PhD, CSCS
Department of Health, and Physical Education
University of Kansas
June 1996, Strength and Conditioning Journal
The Relationship of Training Methods in NCAA Division I Cross -Country Runners and 10,000-Meter Performance
Max J. Kurz, Dris Berg, Richard Latin, and William Degraw
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 200, 14(2) 196-201