When I talk to different runners many of them tell me that they don’t like to squat. The runners I talk to feel that squatting isn’t important for running because they already do a lot of leg work work during their runs. While running itself does work the legs this myth may lead to a decrease in performance and injuries. The idea of strength training for runners is a forigen concept and one that has a lot of stigma behind it. Many runners think that people that lift weights are bulky body builders that are carrying too much weight to hit a fast pace while running. These myths get in the way of progress and it’s time to set the record straight on why squats are important for runners.
The benefits of squatting for runners
There are many reasons why runners should be adding the squat into their workout routine.
Range of motion
First let’s define range of motion: “Range of motion is the extent of movement of a joint, measured in degrees of a circle. It is the Joint movement (active, passive, or a combination of both) carried out to assess, preserve, or increase the arc of joint motion.”
The number one reason for runners to do squats is that it improves range of motion through which a joint can move. Doing a full squat below parallel will allow the hips to open up while letting the glutes, hamstrings and quads to go through full range of motion from top to bottom. When you only do exercises with partial range of motion this can impede flexibility of the muscles and range of motion of the joint. This can lead to an overuse injury. Range of motion is important for runners because when you change your pace from slow to fast you need greater range of motion to open up the running stride.
Side note: when doing the squat it’s important to do full range of motion rather than partial range of motion because this negates the benefit of the squat. Remember to start slow and keep the weight light.
Doing heavy barbell squats will improve force production in the leg muscles allowing the runner to use more force every time the leg hits the ground. The heavier you can squat the more force you should be able to apply to the ground while running. There are two ways that force production are improved: one is by increasing the size of the muscle and the other is by increasing motor units used by the muscle. As runners the 2nd one is what we’re more concerned with. Gaining muscle for runners can be a negative and should be avoided if possible. One way we can improve force production while minimizing muscle gain is to keep the calorie count in proper balance. To grow muscle the body will need to eat more than it needs to grow the muscle bigger. It’s important to keep this in mind. The second way to improve force production without gaining muscle is to do low rep and low volume workouts. Doing squats at a heavyweight in the lower rep range will maximize motor units without adding bulk. Try for 2 sets of 5 to improve strength.
Prevent knee injuries
The squat is one of the best ways to keep away knee injuries. As stated before running involves a small range of motion compared to the squat. Because running has such a small range of motion it can cause the tendons and muscles around the knee joint to become tight. Doing squats with full range of motion can help build strength around the knee joint, while taking the knee joint through the proper range of motion and this can help keep knee injuries away. Squats also help the legs be prepared for uneven terrain which is a big contributor of knee injuries. Lastly running downhill causes shearing force on the knee joint which may cause an injury called runners knee. The eccentric contraction of the squat can help prevent knee injuries while running down hill.
Different squats for runners
Body weight squat
Doing a squat with just your body weight is a great place to start for someone that has never done the movement before. The body weight squat is an unloaded squat that is simple to do without the need for any equipment. The body weight squat is easy to do. Place your feet a little wider than hip width with your toes pointed out about 20-30 degrees. Pointing the toes out will allow the hips to open up and prevent restriction in the external rotators. While doing the squat sit back drop the hips and have the weight of the body pushing through the midline of the foot. Make sure you keep the heels of the foot on the ground while doing the movement. At the bottom of the squat try to allow the hips to drop below parallel or a little lower than the knee. When started with bodyweight squats aim for 12-15 repetitions and 3 sets.
After you learn the bodyweight you can start adding weight to the squat. For the weighted squat use all the same tips from above for the bodyweight squat. The only difference is that you will be holding a weight in front of your chest. Many people would call this a goblet squat. When you’re doing a weighted squat your trunk will support the weight with your core. It’s important to pull the belly button towards the spine and flex the core while doing the squat. Keep the weight close to the chest because putting the weight farther out may put extra stress on the lower back. For the weighted squat you can use a kettlebell, dumbbell, weighted plate or medicine ball. Start with 8-10 repetitions for the weighted squat.
The barbell squat
The barbell back squat is the king of the weight room. Doing heavy barbell squats is where you will see the biggest increase in force production as a runner. One other major benefit of the barbell squat is that your core will get a workout balancing the weight on the back. Once you feel comfortable with the bodyweight squat and the weighted squat you can move onto this exercise. The set up for the barbell squat is the same as the bodyweight squat, the only difference is that you will have a bar on your bar. When setting up the barbell on your back the bar should sit below the neck right above the shoulder blades. Make sure the bar is even on both sides and place the hands in a comfortable place. Your eyes should be looking at the ground about 4 feet in front of you and the neck should be neutral. When you get to the bottom of the barbell squat tip forward a little to open up the hips. Once you get to the bottom of the squat you will want to push through the hips while keeping the shoulder moving at the same speed as the hips on the way up. Start with 3 sets of 5 repetitions for the barbell squat.
How often should you do squats
If you’re a runner your biggest goal is to be a better runner not to be the best at doing squats. It’s important to remember that you want the squats to complement your running program. Do your squats on the same day as your track work and only squat up to 2x a week. As you get closer to your event you should do less sets of squats because you will want to keep your legs as fresh as possible. You might think cutting back on your strength training will make you lose strength but this is untrue you can maintain strength doing only one set of heavy squats a week. The best time to do a higher volume of strength training is during the base phase of running and to cut back when you start adding speed work to your program. Doing too much strength training will interfere with your repetitions on the track.
Here is a simple guide to follow
Base phase: 3xweek of strength training.
Speed phase 2xweek of strength training
Strength phase or race specific phase 1xweek of strength training
If you feel like you need some help with your strength training we can help. On the Go Fitness Pro offers a free in-home personal training or virtual personal training session to everyone that wants to try our service. Visit us at www.onthegofitnesspro.com to sign up.
Check out our blog on offseason training for runners here https://www.onthegofitnesspro.com/offseason-training-for-runners/