How Do Ultra Endurance & Trail Runners Strengthen Their Quads?
January 5, 2012
by Stephen R. Santangelo
One of the most severe injuries an endurance athlete can endure is a disabled knee. There are many reasons why this can be such a debilitating injury. One reason, I’ll discuss, is the lack of strength in the quadriceps.
The quadriceps act as a knee extensor and hip flexor and consist of 4 muscles located on the front of the thigh; vastus medial, vastus lateral, vastus intermedius and the rectus femoris. Many trainers claim to have the answer for strong quads; squats (front and back), leg presses and leg extensions. The claim that leg extensions are a good isolation movement is totally bogus and should not be done. This movement creates negative motor patterns which will increase your chances of knee injury and yet trainers, physical therapists and chiropractors continue to prescribe this useless exercise.
Leg presses fall into this same category. Leg presses are strictly a body building movement, not athletic. Stay away from these as well. They do not transfer well to athleticism.
Squats of any kind are always good for any strength building program, regardless of your sport, when properly executed; not the way it’s taught in the commercial gyms around the country.
The very best exercise which specifically strengthens the quads, at insertion, without any chance of ever injuring the knee, is backwards walking while towing a load. This movement enhances the quads at the insertion around the knee as well as all the other connective tissue which surround the knee. This is truly a conditioning and prehab XRCZ.
Performing this exercise will not flex the knee into unnatural positions/angles nor will it compress the knee cap. Unlike all the other quad movements, backwards walking under resistance, maintains a solid and stable position for the knee and it mimics the function of the knee much closer to long runs on the trail, in the snow or ultra long hikes; especially on down hills.
Introduce the XRCZ slowly and gently into your training regimen. Once per week will suffice. Use low resistance for 2-3 sets of 50 meters each. As your strength develops increase resistance and perform for a shorter distance of 30 meters. The amount of weight used must be heavy enough so by the time you are at your 30 meter mark you’re only capable of 2-3 more steps before you hit failure.
Give it a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how you will dominate the trails and your rivals.