Strength Training For Cross Country Athletes
High school cross country consists of hill runs, fartlek runs, long runs, and 800-meter repeats on grass. What many coaches and athletes don’t consider to be a part of cross country is strength training.
As a former personal trainer and CrossFit enthusiast, I knew what it took to get a strong and powerful core through strength work. As a runner and as a coach, I wanted to use these same principles with my cross-country athletes.
Core Lifts For Core Muscles
Starting this year, I encouraged my cross-country runners to sign-up for my weight training class, where we used PLT4M and its programs to increase the strength of our student body.
Running requires strong core muscles. By ‘core muscles’ I mean glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. These core muscles are used for the punishing uphills and downhills that a cross country runner may encounter.
Basic or ‘core lifts’, such as the back squat, bench, and clean, all provided the student-athletes with an opportunity to strengthen the powerhouse of the body: the core muscles. Our workouts consisted of the basic lifts along with auxiliary lifts, such as the dumbbell step-up, the weighted lunge, and inverted row.
In completing our workouts two to three times a week we had a massive improvement in our times and our ability to attack our races. I’ll explain more in a bit!
As an added bonus to the PLT4M workouts, I added in an 8-minute core workout during each class to further enhance athlete’s balance and stability. Arched body holds, hollow body holds, and super dogs were consistently used to supplement lifts.
In addition to our runners taking my class during school hours, I wanted to incorporate elements of strength training for all my runners during practice. I went out and purchased a great tool called the Hip Halo and trained our runners on how to strengthen their posterior chain and many of the deep muscles and stabilizers in the core. We have utilized this tool during most practices throughout the fall.
Core Principle – Strength Train
As it turns out, all this strength training and a new-found love for hills (OK, maybe that’s just me talking), has given us the results we haven’t seen in years. The girls team consistently finished on the podium at meets and ended up making it to the Virginia Cross Country State Championship meet. The boys also had a successful season and reached the podium in a race for the first time since 2012.
As a first-year head coach of our cross-country team (having also been part of the program for three years as an assistant), I know that strength training was the missing link to our success.