As a dedicated runner, you already know that strength is an important component of keeping your workouts enjoyable and effective. Strength training is a key component of a runner’s regular workout. Regular weight lifting can make your legs and core stronger, keeping you on track to running fast and fancy-free.
But there’s a very specific type of exercise that, when incorporated into your workout, has been proven to prevent injury and strengthen the muscles runners rely on most. If you’re not already doing eccentric exercises, you’re going to want to start.
What is Eccentric Exercise?
Eccentric exercise focuses on the type of muscle contraction it targets. When you put strain on your muscles, there are three different types of contractions your muscle might make: eccentric, concentric, and isometric.
An eccentric contraction occurs when your muscle lengthens during movements like sinking into a squat or lowering a dumbbell after a bicep curl. It also occurs regularly during running, mostly at the point when your foot hits the ground at the end of a stride.
How Can Runners Benefit From Eccentric Exercise?
Aside from the muscle strengthening boost weight training can give you, focusing on eccentric exercise specifically can deliver special benefits for runners. The focus on slow, muscle-lengthening exercises also makes eccentric training perfect for building powerful strength.
Eccentric exercise can be especially helpful in preventing soreness and injury, just like regular weight training. By exposing your muscles and ligaments to stressful movements more regularly builds strength and resilience.
All runners should consider eccentric exercise, but those who find themselves in a downhill run more than infrequently are prime candidates for eccentric training. Most runners already know that a downhill workout really does a number on your legs. Grueling downhill runs are more likely to cause injury and usually leave even the most seasoned runners feeling a bit sore the next day.
The eccentric actions that take place during downhill running act as your braking mechanism. By lengthening your leg muscles on impact, you’re putting on the brakes and keeping your body from catapulting forward. That constant, forceful movement can cause lower limb muscle damage worse than the less significant microtears you experience when running on flat ground.
How to Work It In and Work It Out
To get the most out of eccentric movements, focus on exercises that slow the lengthening of a muscle. For runners, the most beneficial moves tend to be single leg exercises. These movements target the imbalances that occur naturally during running, imitating the stress placed on those same muscles and ligaments.
Even though a downhill run technically counts as eccentric training, it’s not quite enough to provide the strength and stability that’s going to make your running game stronger. Strength training, with a focus on eccentric movements, will.
When you’re working eccentric exercise into your routine, make sure you’re focusing on the areas that need the most support during your run. For most runners, this means their hamstrings will be up for a big day in the weight room. Hamstring strains are one of the most common running injuries, but building strength in posterior chain muscles can help prevent them.
You don’t have to adopt an entirely new routine or join a weightlifting squad to incorporate eccentric exercises into your workout. Making small adjustments to exercises you probably already do will do the trick. By focusing on slowing down the muscle-lengthening movement of many exercises, like squats, you can achieve the effect you’re aiming for.
Just be careful when introducing these adjustments to your routine. Eccentric exercises are notorious for causing delayed onset muscle soreness, so keep that in mind as you’re getting started.
Look Forward to the Long Haul
Integrating eccentric exercise into your workout routine can help make you a stronger, faster runner. Even better, it can help you prevent soreness from running and avoid serious injury. Overall, eccentric exercise has the potential to keep runners in the game for the long run, extending your relationship with an elating workout—or lifestyle—and turning it into a lifelong love affair.