Sports Injury Fix director and and physiotherapist Mike James explains why slowly integrating ballistic exercises into your training routine could have a dramatic effect
For many runners, strength work is something that can easily be forgotten and neglected, even though we all know it should be done. During a busy week, it often falls by the wayside but it really shouldn’t. Not only does strength training play a role in injury prevention, the evidence is clear that it also really benefi ts performance.
Beginner runners are often reluctant to include strength work in their new regime. Once a novice’s body has adapted to the new demands being placed on it through running, the temptation is just to do more and more running – and only running. However, building strength from the start is the ideal way of supporting your body in its running journey and you’ll benefi t from creating good habits early on.
I advise starting your resistance training with bodyweight exercises, and then progressing by adding weight and resistance into the mix. Many runners report great improvements in their performance from regular, home or gym-based strength work.
However, doing your own strength training doesn’t come without its own risks; sometimes both novice and experienced runners make simple errors in the type and amount of training they’re doing to aid performance, and end up doing more harm than good.
Build up to ballistic exercises
Once a grounding and base level of competence has been achieved, you can boost your performance significantly by including ballistic strength exercises.
By nature, running is a ballistic movement and incorporating more of these types of exercises into your regime can help bones attenuate shock, muscles tolerate concentric contractions, and tendons release energy. These types of exercises are also crucial in the latter stages of a runner’s rehabilitation from injury.
But what is ballistic training? Unlike traditional strength training movements which are performed slowly, ballistic exercises aim to reproduce the speed and forces experienced during running. The exercises themselves are similar to ones you’ll be familiar with but they are performed much more quickly and can also involve the use of jumps, throws and Olympic lifting variations.
Improve your rate of force
Ballistic training can be used with light, moderate, and/or heavy loads but the primary objective is for you to move with speed, rather than the load itself. These exercises will help with neural adaptations such as increased motor-unit recruitment, intra- and inter-muscular coordination and the rate of force development.
In fact, the rate of force development is a key outcome in ballistic training for runners. The ability to achieve maximum force production rapidly may actually be of greater importance than the precise levels of force achieved. This is why ballistic training improves running performance by developing the runner’s explosive strength and acceleration capabilities.
Ballistic exercises have also been shown to produce greater force, power output, and motor-unit recruitment when compared to traditional, non-ballistic exercises. Plyometrics are powerful aerobic exercises that increase your power, endurance and strength. They might be familiar to many runners and involve exerting your muscles to their full potential for short periods of time.
Due to the physical demands of ballistic training, it’s advisable to make sure you have a grounding in basic strength training prior to starting, particularly if you’re new to running. Developing your strength levels will result in you developing power, but it’s important to have a certain base level of strength in the first place.
5 ballistic exercises that will improve your running
The important thing about this exercise is that you don’t need to go as deep into the squat as you would when performing a regular squat. Quarter to half range depth is often sufficient. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, head and chest up, looking forward. Squat, pushing back through the heels, and then explode up until the feet leave the floor. Land back softly on your toes and repeat. Great for building strength, speed, and power in the legs. Using the arms can increase your momentum when you jump.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, with your hips back as if you are about to perform a squat. Spring up as high as possible, bringing your knees into your chest. Land softly on your toes in the starting position, immediately repeating the movement, or pause if required. Performing these without a rest is signifi cantly harder and using your arms can increase the momentum when jumping. As you improve, your aim should be to increase both jump height and bring your knees closer to your chest.
Stand with one leg in front of the other in the split squat position, with your weight placed on the front foot. Lower your body until the front leg is parallel to the floor, if holding resistance, hold in a straight arms position by your side. While keeping your knees over your heels, jump in the air vertically, switching legs in the air, to land in the split lunge position, with feet swapping positions. Keep your chest and head upright, and look forward throughout.
A push press is similar to a traditional military press but the movement starts in the legs. From a standing position with any resistance used held at shoulder height, do a quarter squat, and then explode to full hip extension. As you straighten the legs, exhale, and simultaneously press, or push the weight quickly overhead as in a shoulder press. Slowly lower the weight to shoulder level, return to quarter squat and repeat.
This is a great exercise for runners that works the entire posterior chain. Place the kettlebell between feet that are positioned shoulder width apart. Maintain a straight back, push your buttocks out while bending your knees, hinging at your hips. Pick up the kettlebell with two hands, look straight ahead and swing the bell back between your legs before driving the hips forward quickly in a snapping motion, bringing the bell forwards and up to shoulder height, squeezing your bum and keeping your shoulders back. Under control allow the bell to swing back between your legs and repeat. The aim is to maintain a straight back and ensure the movement comes from the hips, and the force from the back of your legs.