Strength Training for Runners
There's more to marathon training than pounding the pavement. Incorporating strength training into your plan will not only improve your speed and performance, but help to prevent injuries.
Tell a runner that they need to start hitting the gym, and they're likely to respond: "What? I need to do something besides running?"
Although they're not often associated with one another, strength training is one of the best ways to prepare your muscles, joints and ligaments for the strain of long-distance running, particularly if you usually run on hard surfaces such as pavement. With some studies putting the yearly injury rate amongst runners as high as 85%., the importance of strength training can't be overstated.
But this doesn't mean you should be aiming for a body-builder's physique; bodyweight exercises or workouts using light weights which target your core, legs and back are best for runners. Instead of isolating individual muscles, opt for compound movements which engage several muscle groups at the same time as this will help to prevent muscle imbalances. We have given a few of our top exercises for runners below.
Planks are a staple core exercise and a great way to improve your core stability whilst also increasing strength in your back and shoulders. If you have a gym membership or access to equipment, try using TRX cables or a stability ball under your feet to increase the difficulty.
To perform mountain climbers, get into the plank position with your hands on the floor (not your elbows), then bring your knees into your chest one at a time, alternating sides. Mountain climbers can be performed quickly for a cardio workout, or in a slow and controlled motion to focus on your abdominals.
Leg drops are a great way to focus on your lower core. Lay flat on your back with your legs straight in the air. Then, slowly lower your feet, keeping your legs straight, and stop with your feet about 6 inches away from the floor. Lift your legs back up, and repeat. The motion should be slow and controlled. Focus on your abdominals - you should not feel a strain in your lower back.
Alongside planks, squats should be the bread and butter of any runner's strength training programme. They will not only improve strength in your glutes, quads and lower back, but increase all-important knee stability. On top of that, performing a wide range of squat variations can help you fix muscle imbalances that can lead to poor running form, and injury.
Lunges work your legs in a similar way to squats, but many people find that working each leg individually makes it easier to focus on certain muscles. In general, you should aim for a 90 degree angle at each knee, and try to go low enough that your back knee almost touches the floor. Remember: a wider stance will focus the exercise more upon your glutes, whilst a narrower stance targets the quads.
Despite the name, this exercise works so much more than just your glutes. Engaging your core, back, glutes, hamstrings and quads all at the same time, all whilst increasing hip flexor mobility, glute bridges a great compound move. Lay on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips off the ground until your shoulders, hips and knees for a straight line. Hold the position for a few seconds, and ease slowly back down.
Back and Shoulders
Although your upper body is not the most important area to focus on as a runner, push-ups are a great way to work your chest, back and core at the same time, improving overall fitness and strength. If you cannot perform a full push up, try starting on your knees.
Lay face down with your arms straight out in front of you, and legs extended. Raise your right arm and left leg a few inches off the floor, and hold for 5 seconds before slowly lowering to the floor. Repeat with your left arm and right leg. This exercise is great for improving strength across your entire back and in your shoulders, whilst also engaging your core and glutes.