The best way to improve your running is to, well, run. That also means that a strength exercise must closely resemble running if you want the exercise to transfer into running performance. Running (and all other human movement) is a three-dimensional or tri-plane activity. The act demands strength, mobility and stability in the sagittal plane (forward/backward), frontal plane (side-to-side), and transverse plane (left/right rotation.) Your ankles, knees, hips, trunk and all the associated tissues must generate and absorb forces in all three planes as you run. Also, running is a series of single-leg hops so all of these tri-plane demands must be met on one leg.
Two Missing Planes Of Motion
If you strength train, then chances are you’re doing a good job of getting stronger in the sagittal plane. Squats, deadlifts, forward lunges and most machine leg exercises address sagittal plane strength. These are all good exercises. Definitely do them. Unfortunately they don’t do much to address the frontal and transverse planes. Further, if you’re only doing bilateral (two-leg) strength work then you may not be addressing the specific unilateral (single-leg) demands of running.
Since running is a single-leg activity you should be doing some unilateral strength work. The single-leg squat targets the running joints and muscles in a running-specific way. The unstable nature of the single-leg squat automatically requires tri-plane strength and stability. By adding resistance from rubber tubing you’ll further diversify the single-leg squat. This exercise and its variations are superb ways to enhance your running and avoid injury.
Start Easy. First learn to master single-leg squat without tubing. This exercise may be difficult initially. If you can’t balance on one leg, then hold on to a chair, railing, wall or doorway—or put your non-working foot against the ground to provide just enough stability so that you can perform the exercise. It should be challenging but doable. Once you can do 20 good reps you may add tubes or bands.
You’ll need either tubing with handles on each end or a large rubber band. Use light to moderate resistance. Attach one end of the tubing to something solid like a fence, squat rack, dumbbell rack or heavy table leg. Attach the other end around your knee. If the tubing is uncomfortable then put a towel between your knee and the tubing. By orienting yourself at different angles to the tubing you’ll be able to target different muscles and emphasize different planes of movement.
Keep your knee aligned straight ahead as you squat. You’ll find it challenging to keep the knee aligned with the tube attached outside or inside the knee. See examples below:
Tie a loop with the tube. Tie a similar loop and put it around your knee.
Keep tubing in line with the knee emphasizes glutes and quads.
Tubing attached inside the knee emphasizes gluteus medius and other hip external rotators.
Tubing attached outside the knee emphasizes hip adductors.
You may progress up to higher tube tension or to thicker tubes. Other ways to load include wearing a weight vest or holding dumbbells or kettlebells. Play around with holding weight in one or the other hand. You’ll find very different stimulation from holding the weight in different positions relative to your working leg and how the band or tube is angled. Experiment with rep speed, too. Start slow but progress to a speed similar to your running cadence.