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The importance of strength and conditioning for fell running: A year to stay fit

I have been fell running for the past four years, and, throughout this time, I have gone through a cycle of increasing my running load (through increasing ascent, mileage or intensity), picking up a niggling injury, having to reduce the amount I run, gradually building back up again and then picking up another injury. It seems that, whenever I try something new, be it hill reps, speed sessions, or something not my normal lower intensity training, something gives way. While I have been to physios, I have had a habit of seeking to just treat the current injury, and, once the pain is gone, ceasing the exercises. For these years, I have put the injuries down to poor luck or a sign I can’t do as much as I would want. However, recently, I have started something new: strength and conditioning for improving my fell running.  

Strength and conditioning, is a tool to improve the physical performance and movement of an individual. While an excellent tool for anyone to use to help with everyday movements, it is very necessary for fell runners, who have a large amount of forces exerted on their joints and muscles, exacerbated by the uneven terrain run on. The strengthening of the joints and improving range of movement is, therefore vital in improving running performance, helping to prevent injury, and promoting faster recovery. While it may seem logical to do a large amount of leg workouts, it is important that these workouts target all of the muscle groups in the leg to prevent imbalance. My current injury is due to weaker glute muscles, compared to my other upper leg muscles. As well as working the legs, it is also important to look at core strength and balance, both important for long runs as well as preventing injury.

In the past, I have shunned strength and conditioning, assuming that it would only provide marginal gains for the elite runners. I never drew the connection between my recurring injuries, and my lack of strength, assuming all the strength I would need would come from running on the fells. With a vicious cycle of running and ramping up my mileage, ascent and intensity, something always tended to give. Whether it be a slight pain that progressively slowed me down, or an oncoming sharp pain that forced a near complete stop, just as I seemed to get any momentum, I would have to stop again. This year, I have decided to try to break this cycle and have incorporated basic strength and conditioning workouts into my routine. 

For the past month I have been doing one home workout, and two gym workouts each week. The home workout focuses on core strength, mobility and ankle strength. The gym workouts focus on improving and balancing my leg strength. Through exercises like leg presses, weighted squats, jumping on boxes, hip thruster as well as a whole host of other things, I am giving my body the best chance to remain uninjured as well as perform when out on the fells. While I really do dislike the gym, the amount of weight I need to train my legs effectively would be impractical to purchase for my own home. On the days I days, I don't allocate a structured workout to, I do a series of balance and resistance band exercises, fitting it into a lunch break at work, or after I return from the fells. While it is hard to tell the overall effect, my niggles have started to clear up, and my legs have felt less tired after a long run, all positives signs that this will be the year I stay fit.

A fell runner in the lake district
The more strength and conditioning I do, the more days I can spend doing this

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