How would you like to improve your running performance by 5%? How about reducing injuries by a whopping 60%?
That’s the power of strength training. Read on to learn how can use kettlebells to avoid injuries and improve your performance, all without having to go to a gym!
Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
In 2014, a large meta-analysis showed that strength training reduces injuries far more effectively than other interventions such as stretching. The difference was a staggering 60% reduction in all injuries (Lauerson 2016). That should be more than enough to make us runners pay attention.
Strength training has also been shown to increase running economy by about 8% (Jung 2003). Improving your running economy means that you can go faster for the same energy expenditure. To put that into context, an 8% improvement on a 4 hour marathon time would be around 19 minutes. So if you’re interested in knocking almost 20 minutes off your marathon time, you might want to consider adding some strength work to your training.
I’ve talked about the research and the benefit of strength training previously in my article Strength Training for Runners in 20 Minutes a Week. In that article, I discuss a ‘bare bones’ routine to get runners who don’t do any strength training going. Today I’m going to share a strength routine using kettlebells. Kettlebells are great for runners as they are portable and cheap and you can get a great workout done without having to join a gym.
The 5 Best Kettlebell Exercises for Runners
I’ve chosen these five exercises to create a whole body workout that would take about 20-30 minutes and could be included 1-2 times a week. We’ll get in some endurance, power and pure strength work. With this routine you could benefit from a 5% improvement in running economy and 60% reduction in injury week. In less than an hour a week!
If runners were only going to do one exercise, it should be the rear lunge. The rear lunge will strengthen the calves, hamstring, glutes, quads, lateral core and shoulder girdle. Not bad for one exercise, right?
Facing a mirror hold the kettlebell in one hand by your side. You want to look symmetrical, like you’re not holding anything. Step back and dip slowly until your back knee gently touches the floor. Be sure to touch the floor, that will make you control the movement so you don’t bang your knee. Keep symmetrical all the way through the exercise.
Single Leg Deadlift
If runners were only going to do two exercises, they should be the rear lunge and the single leg deadlift. This little gem will strengthen your calves, hamstrings, glutes, posterior core and upper back – collectively known as the posterior chain.
Be sure to keep your back straight and bend at the hip, this is known as a hip hinge. You can let the standing knee bend a little. Tip over like a seesaw and keep tipping until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, that’s the bottom of the movement so come back up to stand fully upright to finish.
Half Kneeling Shoulder Press
If you don’t think you need to work on your arm strength for running, just try running with your arms by your side. We want strong runners, not strong parts of runners. So this program includes the whole body. The half kneeling shoulder press is a great way to get maximum back for your buck with an arm strengthening exercise. We’ll be strengthening the upper traps, deltoid and triceps mainly. By using the half kneeling position we’ll also strengthen the core and glutes on the kneeling side.
Hold the kettlebell in the “rack” position with the kettlebell resting on your wrist. Be sure to keep your wrist at 0 degrees. That means the bones of you hand line up with the bones of your forearm. Slowly press the kettlebell up towards the ceiling. Be sure to fully extend your elbow. Also focus on getting your arm all the way to the top, that means your arm is fully vertical when viewed from the side.
Kettlebell swings are a fantastic way to introduce some plyometric type, fast, power building work into your strength routine. The kettlebell swings target the same muscles as the single leg deadlift but have the added benefit of speed. Including this faster strengthening work helps build power in your muscles and increased resilience in your hamstring tendons. This will pay dividends when you need to push hard to conquer some hills. Structured correctly, you can also use the kettlebell swing to sneak in some high intensity interval training. It’s like getting a free hill session added to your training program, without those awful hills.
Hold the kettlebell by the handle just in front of your waist. Do the same hip hinge movement to bend from your hips and not round your back. Imagine you are passing the football to the quarterback, that’s position 1. Position 2 is standing up straight holding the kettlebell out in front of you at 90 degrees. The kettlebell swing exercise is to just swing the kettlebell between these two positions.
Turkish Get Up
By far the most complicated and the most fun, a lifetime spent perfecting only the Turkish Get Up would not be wasted. I love this exercise. In contrast to the speed/power work of the kettlebell swing, the turkish get up is all about slow endurance strength and control. If you have any asymmetry in strength or lack of mobility, the Turkish Get Up will find it. If you come to love the Turkish Get Up and kettlebell swing as much as me, I’d recommend checking out the book Simple & Sinister by Pavel.
To list all of the muscle groups the Turkish Get Up strengthens would take all day. Trying to describe it in text would also make for quite an essay. So I’ll just let you watch the video.
How many reps and sets?
You can adapt this program to suit your preferences. What I’ve provided below is a good example of a well rounded program if done once or twice a week.
- Rear Lunge – 3 sets of 8 repetitions on each side
- Single Leg Deadlift – 3 sets of 8 repetitions on each side
- Half Kneeling Shoulder Press – 3 sets of 15 repetitions on each side
- Kettlebell Swings – 5 sets of 10 repetitions
- Turkish Get Up – 5 on each side
What Size Kettlebell?
For the workout that I have described, I would recommend that you have two kettlebells. This is a bit more of a financial investment but when you consider what you will save on gym membership and physiotherapy – since you will get injured 60% less 🙂 – it’s worth it.
You should have one very heavy kettlebell for rear lunge, single leg deadlift and kettlebell swings. For the average strength female runner this would be about 30 lbs. For the average strength male runner this would be about 50 lbs.
You should also have one less heavy kettlebell for the half kneeling shoulder press and Turkish Get Up. For the average strength female runner this would be about 15 lbs. For the average strength male runner this would be about 25 lbs.
You would expect to graduate to a heavier kettlebell within 3-6 months for both exercises.
Runners Kettlebell Workout
Here’s a summary of the two programs so you can take a screenshot 🙂
Average Strength Female Runner:
Rear Lunge 3 x 8/8 @ 30lbs
Single Leg Deadlift 3 x 8/8 @ 30lbs
Half Kneeling Shoulder Press 3 x 15/15 @ 15lbs
Kettlebell Swings 5 x 10 @ 30lbs
Turkish Get Up – 5 on each side 5/5 @ 15lbs
Average Strength Male Runner:
Rear Lunge 3 x 8/8 @ 50lbs
Single Leg Deadlift 3 x 8/8 @ 50lbs
Half Kneeling Shoulder Press 3 x 15/15 @ 25lbs
Kettlebell Swings 5 x 10 @ 50lbs
Turkish Get Up – 5 on each side 5/5 @ 25lbs
So there you have it. The 5 best kettlebell exercises for runners. A fantastic program to potentially increase your performance by 5% and reduce your injury risk by 60%. What are you waiting for?
If you are having trouble with the technique for the single leg deadlift and the kettlebell swing you are not alone. These are both hip hinge movements. The hip hinge is very tricky to master, these two videos will show you how to work on it.
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