kettlebells for runners

Kettlebells for Runners

We all know that running is proven to increase lung function, improve heart health, aid in weight loss, boost the immune system, and improve mood.

However, if you, like many, just hate the thought of running, the negative stress response will hinder your ability to release the hormones that aid in weight loss, boost the immune system, and improve your mood.

Still, I’d encourage you to keep trying until the kool-aid hits your veins. I hated running until I was 29 years old. If you’re determined to leave the running trail kicking and screaming, “no, I’m not gonna!” then fine. The kettlebell is a fun, dynamic way to get the cardiovascular training that your body needs! You can probably stop reading now.

Now, for my runner friends out there, let’s chat!

My Story

Like I said in the intro, I didn’t fall in love with drawing large circles with my feet until I was about 29 years old.

After growing up being forced to run laps in PE, suicides at basketball practice, then going on the the US Army and being told when, where, and how fast to run, I just needed a few years’ hiatus in order to find it on my own.

Find it I did! From 2008-2012, I went from not being able to run half a mile nonstop to having completed a 115 mile 24 hour race, qualified for the Boston Marathon with a 2:58 PR, was running sub-18 minute 5k’s, and sub 5 minute miles.

Early on, I was plagued by constant injuries. Like many, my cross training involved a lot of cycling and swimming. I noticed that I felt slower after swimming and especially after cycling.

My knees were aching, my posture was crap, and if I laid my IT band on a foam roller, all the demons from the underworld would rise up and inhabit that foam roller, plowing their fiery pitchforks into my tendons. True story.

I knew I couldn’t quit because my first full length marathon was coming up. I also knew something had to change. So, I shook my magic 8-ball, and it told me to primarily train with kettlebells, cut all junk miles (we’ll get to that in a bit), and treat running like a skill.

Okay, so it didn’t happen like that. Truthfully, I don’t know how it happened. It just kind of did, and it worked. I have some ideas on why it worked, and that is what Kettlebells for Runners is all about.

We talked about the good things that running does for the body. Coincidentally, kettlebells check off those same boxes.

Now, let’s talk about some of the bad things that can be associated with running: petellofemoral syndrome (runner’s knee), achilles tendonitis, shin splints, stress fracture, weak/tight hamstrings, and illiotibial(IT) band syndrome.

Did you know that kettlebells can help prevent these conditions through their movements as well as provide enough cardiovascular stimulus to drastically decrease your mileage? Maybe so? Let’s explore…
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Kettlebell Exercises for Common Running Injuries

Many of the common running injuries are a result of some sort of combination of poor technique, poor posture, weak hips, quads and glutes, and overtraining. I’ll address a few and plug in a kettlebell exercise that can help improve those conditions.

Runner’s Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome)

This condition can be linked to overpronation, as well as weak quads, hips, and glutes. Training barefoot with kettlebells can help to strengthen the feet, which can in turn regulate pronation.

Weak quads, hips, and glutes? Simple. Swings, single leg deadlifts, and rear leg elevated squats, holding the kettlebell like you would for a goblet squat.

Achilles Tendonitis, Plantar Fasciitis

These conditions generally occur as a result of too much, too soon, and once you have them, you’re going to have to cut back on your mileage.

Once you don’t have them anymore, you’ll realize that the kettlebell can give you a conditioning workout just as effective as sprints but with zero impact. Find your happy place, balancing speed training with movements and compounds featuring swings, snatches, and cleans.

IT Band Syndrome

It is often linked to weak abductor and gluteal muscles— single leg deadlifts and shrimp squats can fill in the gaps here.

Weak/Tight Hamstrings

Again, single leg deadlifts fit the bill here.

Run Less, Run Better

kettlebells for runners
I’ve had this discussion with runners many times when I suggest they don’t run so much, and many times, they will cling to the SAID principle. Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands. My response is to ask if the adaptation they seek is the ability to run slowly with poor form.

Take a football team. How do they train? Do they take to the field and scrimmage for eight hours a day? No, of course not. They would burn out, become weaker, accumulate overuse injuries, and their skills would diminish. They practice plenty, but they also train to become strong in a way that serves their purpose, and they practice fine skills.

Why should runners train any differently? If long distance running is a sport, and it is, your skill is your running technique. This includes your posture, your gait, and your breath.

If you’re training in a way that breaks these things down under fatigue, rather than train you to maintain them, you’re not practicing SAID as much as you think you are.

A program for long distance runners that follows the SAID principles should reinforce proper breathing, counter the negative side effects of running, and provide enough cardiovascular conditioning to focus on quality miles versus quantity. While there are a million ways to skin a cat, the kettlebell can cover all these bases.

Injury Prevention

As you can see, it doesn’t take a lot of complexity to address common issues with runners using a kettlebell. An added benefit is the convenience. Runners tend to be outdoorsy. Simply pack the kettlebell in your car, and take it wherever you want to workout.

You can combine kettlebells with speed training to increase your metabolic response with less impact. The options are limitless.

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Michael Petruso

Michael Petruso is a coach and trainer in Watauga, Texas. Using kettlebells as his primary cross training tool as an endurance athlete, he lost 100 pounds and became an accomplished ultra marathoner as well as a Boston qualifier. Him and his wife Melissa work together using their business M-Squared Strength & Conditioning to help others sort out and reach their goals.

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