Me and my wife love your website! We read “Butt it Out” in Canadian Running that you wrote and wanted to start adding in strength training to our running program. We run with the local running store running group but don’t feel that’s enough to help us finish a half marathon we are training for. We went to the gym a few times this year (also it’s our new year’s resolution) and used machines like the one where you straighten your legs with the pad on your shins and the one where you curl your legs with the pad on your calves. Are we making use of our time in the gym?
Thanks and keep up the good work!
Danny and Amanda
Thanks for your question.
The exercises you described sound like the leg extension machine and hamstring curl machine. I’ll give you an A for effort but I wouldn’t recommend those exercises to runners. Actually, I wouldn’t recommend those exercises for any athletes – the only sport that I would attribute those machines to is body building.
Machines in general have traditionally been deemed as safe and beneficial to people who don’t have much exercise experience. In my humble opinion, machines can sometimes be dangerous because the range of motion, even though usually linear, can be awkward or too extreme for someone depending on the machine’s set-up or his/her limb length. Studies have shown excess and unwanted knee joint stress from the leg extension machine – just an example of how a machine can be harmful.
It will be far more effective and beneficial for you to stand on stable ground and perform double and single leg exercises. Exercises such as split squats or reverse lunges are great for beginners. Not only will you develop functional leg strength but you will also challenge your balance and develop single leg hip stability => this will help prevent lateral knee pain and ITB syndrome.
Also, you don’t run sitting down, so why would you strength train sitting down? Other machines like the hip adductor/abductor machine or the standing hamstring curl machine should also be avoided.
Some people ask me if they can use the leg press machine or incline leg press machine and my response is always the same => learn how to double leg squat below parallel without lifting your heels off the ground while keeping a neutral lumbar spine. If you can’t, dynamic mobility drills will be an important part of your program. Once you can achieve that, develop strength through that full range of motion. Here’s a version called the Goblet Squat that I will be featuring in my next Canadian Running magazine article.
So the bottom line: No lower body machines for runners.
Thanks for reading and continue to RUN STRONG.