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The 10 best proven ways to improve leg strength

by Ross Edgley
Monday 13th January 2014
Tags  Ross Edgly   |   The Protein Works   |   Protein   |   strength training   |   cross training
 
 

Training feature: Stronger legs will make you a better runner, regardless of the distance - Run247 columnist Ross Edgly shows us how

After much research and debate, it's now widely accepted within the world of Strength & Conditioning that stronger legs will make you a better runner, regardless of the distance. But what are the best ways to build strength in the lower body and what are the many benefits associated with it? Here Co-Founder of www.theproteinworks.com Ross Edgley explains as he breaks down the 10 best proven ways to improve your leg strength.

# 1. Incorporate heavy deadlifts   

According to researchers from the Biomedical Sciences Department at the University of Ohio, heavy compound movements such as the deadlift are best for not only strengthening the legs but also improving 'joint integrity' therefore reducing the risk of injury. It's believed the force and effort exerted during a deadlift causes increased bone formation (a process known as 'osteoblastic activity') and a strengthening of the ligaments and tendons. Ultimately this means joints are more robust and less prone to injury.

# 2. Squat for stronger bones

Sports Scientists have also found that heavy exercises such as the squat can strengthen the bones of the legs as well as the muscles. This is because under a heavy weight the long bones of the legs 'bow' ever so slightly. This results in adaptation where the bones thicken across the entire length to prevent muscle damage occurring in the future. Obviously hugely important for endurance athletes who are prone to stress fractures.

# 3. Eat enough protein

It's well known that strength athletes require a lot of protein to ensure they recover sufficiently after training. So much so The International Olympic Committee Consensus on Sports Nutrition states 'strength or speed athletes were recommended to consume 1.7grams of protein per kg of bodyweight per day.' For a 100kg rugby player this equates to 170 grams of protein per day (usually broken down into six meals spaced roughly two hours apart throughout the day, each containing 28.33 grams of protein each.) But interestingly some experts are claiming endurance athletes (including runners) need more. In a study conducted at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada it was suggested 'that endurance athletes require a greater intake of protein than either strength athletes or sedentary individuals to meet the needs of protein catabolism during exercise.' (M. A. Tarnopolsky et al, 1999.)

Put simply, this means because running training itself is so hard the body requires more protein to prevent it from entering into a catabolic state i.e. muscles begin to breakdown, the immune system is badly affected and injuries are more likely to occur. However having an adequate supply of protein and amino acids in your body to act as protein building blocks means that your muscles are able to fully recover, ready for your next session.

500g of Whey Protein is available from THE PROTEIN WORKS™ for as little as £9.99!

# 4. Weighted box jumps

Interestingly ligaments themselves are only really called into action when there's an 'unpredictable' force on the joint, such as a stumble or fall. This is where ligament damage is caused if the muscles and tendons aren't able to stabilise the joint. For this reason stronger muscles will prevent any ligament damage. One way of training this is to perform weighted Box jumps to exert a quick force on the muscles with a sharp impact.

This exercise will improve the musculature surrounding the joints in the legs and provide increased stabilization (through stronger tissue and faster response) and therefore improved control when facing uneven ground. Ultimately this is the difference between a slightly embarrassing stumble mid-race or pretty brutal ligament damage that could see you out of action for weeks.

# 5. Buffer lactic acid 

Another often overlooked method of increasing the 'strength' of your legs during training or a race is supplementation to buffer lactic acid to therefore improve your strength endurance during the latter stages of the race. One supplement shown to do this is the amino acid beta alanine. Studies show adding as little as 2 grams to your water bottle can increase the levels of a compound known as carnosine in the muscles which in turn buffers lactic acid and delays the onset of fatigue meaning it vastly improves the strength of your sprint finish. In a study published in the Journal of Japanese physiology it stated "It has been shown that people whose muscle carnosine was high could exhibit high power during the latter half of the 30 second maximal cycle ergometer sprinting.

These results suggested that the muscle carnosine concentration could be one of the important factors determining high-intensity exercise performance." (Y Suzuki et al 2002.) 100g of Beta Alanine is available from THE PROTEIN WORKS™ for as little as £5.99!

# 6. Lunge & correct imbalances 

The repetitive nature and motion of running means certain muscular and structural imbalances can be amplified, especially in the legs and lower body. This is why building stronger legs through strength training can 'iron' out these imbalances, prevent injury and also improve the biomechanics of your running. One of the best ways to do this is to perform weighted lunges. This exercise will help to correct any imbalances and vastly improve leg strength.

# 7. Lift to highlight weaknesses  

Strength training for your legs is also a great way to highlight any weaknesses you may have. Let's consider the simple deadlift as an exercise and the motion of picking a weight up off the floor. A runner with weak hamstrings will find it difficult to get the bar off the ground, essentially the first phase of the lift. A runner with a weak lower back will experience some difficulty in 'locking out' the final phase of the lift. This is very important to identify since any weakness will be amplified significantly given the repetitive motion of endurance training. So if you have weak hamstrings for example, try to perform heavy hamstring curls.

# 8. Weighted step ups & core engagement   

A strong core is absolutely essential to maintaining the correct posture and running biomechanics throughout a race. A weak core means weak technique and an even worse Personal Best. One way to effectively train all the muscles of the core is to perform a large, compound movement that requires a lot of muscle fibre engagement whilst at the same time requiring some balance to stabilise the entire movement. One way to do this is to perform weighted step-ups, this is where you have a weight on your back or holding barbells in your hands as you step up on an elevated platform. As well as most obviously training the leg muscles in a range of motion similar to a run, you also engage the muscles of the core which include the rectus abdominis as well as the harder to train transverse abdominis.

# 9. Lower back & quad development   

A common issue among endurance runners is a weak back which can lead to both injury and impaired technique. One way to improve this is to perform front squats, since having the weight distributed on your front forces you to engage the muscles of the core and lower back far more.

# 10. Get strong legs, not big legs  

This final point is more of a summary of the above points and it serves to remind you that strong legs do not mean big, bulky bodybuilder-esque legs that hinder running performance. By performing between 3-5 repetitions (lower rep range) you ensure you don't build muscle but rather build strength. This form of training is less 'hypertrophy' based (to build muscle) and more 'neurological' based and ultimately means you begin to learn how to contract the muscle groups with greater force and efficiency.

References:

  • P. Aagaard and J. L. Andersen (2010) 'Effects of strength training on endurance capacity in top-level endurance athletes' Scandinavian Journalof Medicine & Science in Sports, Volume 20, Issue Supplement s2, pages 39–47, October 2010
  • Steven J. Fleck Ph.D and Jeff E. Falkel 'Value of Resistance Training for the Reduction of Sports Injuries.' Sports Medicine, January 1986, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 61-68

 

For more information on THE PROTEIN WORKS™ products, check out their website here www.theproteinworks.com

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

About The Author

Ross Edgley

Sports Scientist with a BSc Degree in Sports Science from Loughborough University Ross Edgley was a Strength and Conditioning Coach at The English Institute of Sport working alongside Britain’s Olympic Physicians, Nutritionists and S&C coaches and is currently fitness and nutrition advisor to a range of celebrities, athletes and what is considered the UK’s most innovative sports nutrition company http://www.theproteinworks.com

 
 
 
 
 

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