Most runners think they’re in great shape and very fit because they’re able to run long distances. While they might have high cardiovascular endurance, it doesn’t necessarily equate to being physically fit overall. Being physically fit equates to more than just cardio; it’s a combination of muscular strength, muscular endurance, body composition (the ration of muscle-bone-fat) and flexibility. Running is the same motion over and over and over again, which leads to high cardio endurance but low flexibility and sometimes low muscle strength, because your muscles and joints learn to behave in a very specific way. That’s why runners who want to become faster and stronger need to incorporate cross-training and strength exercises into their weekly running plans. These are necessary in order to have more muscular strength and flexibility, as well as a more equal body composition.
Here are the top six strength moves for every runner, along with tips on how to do them. Do two to three sets of each exercise at least two times a week, and watch yourself become a stronger, faster runner.
1. Planks. These build abdominal and lower-back strength to support and stabilize your upper body, while improving running form and performance – and also reducing the risk of injury. Planks also build muscular strength and endurance.
- Begin lying face down, resting on your forearms.
- Push off the floor, raising up onto your toes and forearms so your body is parallel to the floor, making a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Focus on pulling your abdominals in and keeping your shoulders over your elbows.
- Look slightly forward to avoid straining the neck.
- Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
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2. Side planks. These strengthen the oblique muscles and increase hip strength and stability, which are important in preventing injury. They also build muscular strength and endurance.
- Begin by lying on your right side with your right forearm on the ground, shoulder over your elbow and left leg stacked on top of the right leg.
- Exhale and push your hips off the floor. Push your left hip up toward the sky, and keep both hips stacked on top of each other.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
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3. Pushups. Use this move to strengthen your shoulders, arms and core, and to improve your upper body strength – which will in turn improve your running economy and help maintain proper form as your lower body begins to fatigue. Pushups also help build muscle strength and endurance, and they’ll likely improve body composition.
- Get into a straight arm plank position, and place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Feet can either be together or wider apart (wider is easier).
- Contract your abdominals by pulling your belly button toward your spine. Keep your core tight throughout the movement.
- Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows, and lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Exhale as you push back up to the start position. Don't lock your elbows; keep them slightly bent.
- Repeat 25 times.
- Modified version: Keep your knees on the ground and feet raised.
[Read: What to Eat Before Running.]
4. Squats. Strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps, gluteal muscles, calves and hip flexors. Squats are great for runners, because they work the entire lower body and improve muscle balance and endurance.
- Stand with your knees shoulder-width apart and toes angled slightly out.
- Squat down as if you’re sitting in a chair, bringing your thighs parallel to the floor. Keep your weight in your heels, chest up, back flat and knees behind your toes. Squeeze your butt as you come back up.
- If you have weak knees, only perform a partial squat.
- Repeat 25 times.
5. Bridge lift. This move works your gluteal muscles, which is necessary for efficient leg turnover. It improves flexibility by opening up your hips and moving them in the opposite way that running does.
- Lie flat on your back with your hands by your side, knees bent and feet hip-width apart.
- Push your heels into the ground to raise your hips. Lift up until your hips are in line or as close as they’ll come to your knees.
- At the top point, draw in the abdominals and hold for two seconds.
- Lower back down and repeat 25 times.
- If you feel this in your back, don’t raise your hips up as high. All the work is in the glutes and hamstrings.
6. Single leg deadlift. This will strengthen your hips, engage your hamstrings and get your glutes firing – all necessary to stabilize your body while running. Balancing on one leg simulates the one-legged activity of running, and it also improves your balance and core muscles.
- Stand up with a slight bend in your right knee, and raise your left leg slightly off the ground.
- Hinge forward at the waist, lifting your left leg straight behind you until your chest and left leg are parallel to the floor. Engage the hamstring and gluteal muscle of the standing leg, and return to standing.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times and switch legs.
- Advanced option: As you hinge back to standing, draw your right knee up until it’s parallel with your hips.