Strength training is essential to any running program. Running is highly repetitive and the same muscles get stressed over and over. Runners may think that they only need to do upper body strength training because the lower body is already strong from running, but this is just not true. There is no lateral or side to side movement in running and leg strengthening can help address muscle imbalances that may lead to injury.
More intensive strengthening adds power to the legs. Power to the legs equals speed. From personal experience, after incorporating strength training twice a week, I’ve shaved off about one minute per mile from last season. I also notice that I can push myself harder during speed work and farther during my long runs.
Recreational runners should stick to doing strength work twice per week year round, while more serious runners should add on an extra day during the winter or off-season. As spring and summer approach and the running workouts intensify, cut back to twice a week.
You don’t have to spend an hour a day at the gym to develop strength and stability. The goal is to develop balanced muscle groups and prevent injury, not become a body builder. Just remember when the exercise becomes easy, it’s time to adapt it so that the muscles keep getting challenged.
If you don’t have much time to work on strength, try squeezing the following exercises into your schedule twice a week. Try to do two to three sets. As you progress and the moves become easier, remember to increase the reps or add weight resistance to make it more challenging.
-Alternating Forward Lunge: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hands on hips. Lunge forward with one leg. Be sure your front shin remains perpendicular to the ground; your knee should not extend past your foot. Keep the back straight and head up. Push off with your heel back to the standing position. Repeat with the other leg. Alternate legs for 20 repetitions.
-Side Lunge: Stand with feet normal width apart, hands on hips. Step one leg out to hip width apart and squat. Stop once your thighs are parallel to the floor. Make sure the knee does not extend past the foot. Push off the foot and back to standing position. Repeat on other side. Alternate legs for 20 repetitions.
-Calf Raises: Stand on the edge of a step. Drop your heels slightly and then raise them to a level position. If no step is available, this can also be done by just raising and lowering the heels from the floor. Do 20 repetitions.
-Front Plank: Hold the plank position for one minute. Keep your hips low and back straight, with the head up. Concentrate on keeping the stomach tight.
-Side Plank: Hold the plank position for one minute on each side. Keep the body and head in a straight line. Extend your top arm straight into the air. To make it more challenging, try lifting your top leg and holding.
-Push Ups: These are the best overall exercise to incorporate your arms, chest, back and core muscles. You can do them regular or modified on the knees if need be. Keep the back straight and head up, lowering the chest to the floor and slowly pushing back up. Do 20 repetitions, increasing as it becomes easier.
Even if you don’t have much time, incorporating just some of these exercises a few times a week will make you a stronger runner and help you avoid injury.
Written by Genie Bianchi