Getting Stronger Will Make You Better : 5 of the Top Strength Training Exercises for Runners
“A sore body today is a strong body tomorrow!”
I have been running for a really long time, two decades or so to be exact. I love it for a million reasons. However, I often times do find myself in a rut. Sometimes it is an emotional rut where I am just not motivated. Other times it is a physical rut where I feel like I am staying stagnant and I am not happy with my pace on a daily run. So this year I decided to put a bigger focus on strength training. I hoped it would not only give me some variety and prevent boredom, but that it would improve my running performance. I reached out to a friend of mine, Katie Feyes, a personal trainer at the SET in Maryland Farms. I figured she stays up on the latest and greatest and I wanted some outside advice.
The SET is a private, personal training studio, located in Maryland Farms. They work with runners every day to help them raise the bar on their fitness goals. Katie said my questions were common ones from runners and that she consistently hears questions like “To get better at running, should I just run more, or more often? and “How can I run further, or faster…how can those hills become easier…what can I do to eliminate the pain in my knees?” A short and very true answer to those questions is this:
Runner specific strength exercises can and absolutely will change where you are with your running. You will be able to jump higher, sprint faster, and run through distance better than ever before with only using running alone. With the progress you will make, as well as the addition of the reduced injury risk, its complete negligence to not have strength training be a huge part of your overall fitness plan. Even if you are “just a runner”. You can become a much better, smarter runner than you think.
Don’t simply train harder, train better.
Over the last month I have put more of a focus on my strength training. I have added an extra day at the gym (often with my husband who loves to push me when it comes to weight training)! I have also been doing more of the 5 exercises Katie recommended to me that are listed below. In just 4 weeks I have drastically reduced my average pace per mile on my daily runs and I feel a million times better. Even after 20 years of running it amazes me how quickly you can improve when you have the right tools in place. I hope these exercises are helpful, I know they have helped me tremendously!
If only one exercise had to be chosen to become a better runner, the squat would be king. Squats will help improve the strength, stability, and power in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, while also increasing cardiovascular endurance with high volume sets. Your knees and joints will dearly thank you. Every year many runners are sidelined from knee injuries or ligament related issues. Once you start squatting correctly with great form, you will build up the muscle around the knee and provide the ultimate protection. You can vary the exact motion of the squat by simply changing your footing to target the inner (adductors) or outer (abductors) muscles of the legs. Additionally, once you are ready, you can choose to add weight in the form of medicine balls, bars, or dumbbells.
Much like the squat, the lunge also targets the legs and strongly improves your overall balance and stability. Lunges can be done stationary or walking, and each have their benefits. Regardless of the style you choose, lunges will greatly help increase your lower body strength and power, which is completely necessary for any great runner. Additionally, a strong, balanced lower body will keep you running longer, and help keep you off the injured list. Strengthening your lower body is clearly an all around win and if your goal is to become a better runner, it’s necessary to incorporate some type of lower body strength exercises. For that, lunges and squats would be most ideal.
Plank Dumbbell Rows with Push-Up
If you’ve read this far, you now know that a strong, powerful, and balanced lower body is vastly important for runners for so many reasons. You want to be able to climb up the hills faster, and with more ease. You also want to save yourself from injury by creating more flexibility, stability, and strength in your legs. As a runner, you will want to have a strong core and upper body as well. Your legs are not the only pieces that get you moving and keep you going. Your core and upper body continuously pump and work hard during your run as well. A runners cadence should be in sync and match up with their arm and upper body during the run. This is especially true up those long, dreaded hills. This hills are coming..they always do. A plank dumbbell row with a pushup is going to target these areas just mentioned. This exercise will focus on the core, triceps, front / rear delts, and chest. Its a fantastic, complex and compound exercise that will strengthen the upper body in a fun way using functional movements.
Hamstring Curl with Stability Ball
This lower body exercise is more isolating and absolutely targets the hamstring while making them stronger and also increasing flexibility. Remember that a strong, flexible muscle is much less injury prone than a weak, tight muscle. As we build up the endurance, and strength in our legs to perform better during our run, we also want to complete the circle by staying flexible. This exercise can be done with both legs on the ball, or you can isolate one leg at a time which is terrific for finding and eliminating muscle imbalances.
Single Leg Squat
Finally, moving into the last single leg exercise and there we see that word again. Squats. Similar to our first exercise, however, interestingly different in that we want to use only one leg at a time for this one. Again, as mentioned with the single leg isolated hamstring curl, the single leg squat is going to allow for each leg to progress and get stronger without the possibility of one leg over-compensating. This exercise should first be done using TRX straps, until you have the balance and strength needed to complete the movement without help from the upper body.
Once you’re able to complete all exercises listed here, mixed into a fast paced workout, your running game will be on another level. Challenge yourself to consistently work on these for 4 weeks and I feel confident you will see improvements!!!