Doing some strength training as a runner can only turn you into a powerhouse machine. You become stronger, and more efficient as a runner, and gain resistance to injuries. Performing exercises that strengthens your core and upper body are just as important as strengthening your running muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings. With a lean but strong body, a runner can hold off muscle fatigue and maintain optimal efficiency longer.
Target your core. Your core is the foundation from which all movement is made. It includes all the muscles of your midsection and hips that support your spine and allow you to flex, and rotate your trunk and hips. Having a strong core improves your performance. Exercises that involve twisting your torso not only work your abs, they also strengthen your hips, which enable you to start-up a powerful pace.
Don’t forget your back side. Building your posterior muscles is important too. The muscles on the back of your lower body move you forward and the muscles on the back of your upper body help you maintain an upright running position Slumping forward keeps you from running efficiently,and requires you to exert more energy. Many runners work their quads more than their hamstrings, creating an imbalance in your strength.
Since most of us runners are monsters of endurance, we should worry about building muscular endurance–light weights, high reps, although, lifting heavier weights for fewer reps is helpful for increasing strength. Strong muscles enhance the stability of your joints, it reduces the wear and tear of ligaments.
Here are some strength training exercises I do, or find useful in making my core and area muscles stronger:
Lateral Lunges- It strengthens the hip flexors, quads, calves, core, hamstrings and glutes. Step three to four feet out to the side with one foot while sending the hips back, keeping the abs tight and chest up. At the bottom of the lunge ensure the knee stays back over the ankle without lunging forward and the standing leg remains straight. When coming back to standing, engage the glutes to power off the ground. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
Bridging- It helps make your hamstrings stronger. Lie flat on your back with both knees bent so that your heels are some inches from your pelvis. Relax your arms and let them lie flat on the ground at your sides. Using the muscles of your abdomen and hamstrings, lift your hips off the ground by pushing on the ground or floor with your feet. Continue to raise your hips until they form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. While in this position, try flexing the hamstring muscles at the back of your legs. Try to hold this for a few seconds.
Push-ups- It strengthens your chest, core, biceps, triceps and back. In a plank position, with the hands planted two to three feet apart under the chest line, bend elbows and descend down for two counts until the chest nearly touches the ground. Rise back to plank position for two counts. Repeat 10 to 12 times.
Box Jumps- It helps enable legs and core muscles to “activate” quicker during running. Face a sturdy box, or a knee-high bench. With feet slightly apart, jump onto the box, taking care to land as softly as you can. Step back down. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.
Flutter Kicks- It strengthens the hamstrings. Lie on your stomach on a bed or other stable platform with your hips located at the edge of the bench, your legs straight and your toes resting gently on the floor. Tighten the muscles of your buttocks and hamstrings and raise your legs until they are both straight and level with your pelvis.Do 2 sets of 15 reps.
Planks- This strengthens the core, shoulders, and back. In a push-up position, with hands placed under the shoulders, align the body straight from the top of the head through the heels. Tighten up the abs while lifting through the chest to create as much space as possible in between the chest and the ground. For a little challenge alternate lifting each leg six inches off the ground for eight counts. This also engages the glutes. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. (There are variations of planks)
Arm Swings- This helps strengthen your spine, and back muscles. Use dumbbells, or even water bottles filled with sand. Stand in a position similar to your running stride and hold a weight in your hands. Using controlled movements, bend your arms at the elbows and slowly bring them forward and back as if you were actually running. Do 2 to 3 sets each of 12 reps. (This is very useful for runners with back problems like me=D)
Supine Marches- It activates the transverse abdominus(TVA, or deep abs) that helps to stabilize the pelvis and lumbar spine while running. Lie face up with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Then, alternate lifting one leg until the foot is even with the opposite knee. Do 20 reps each leg.
Leg twists- Another core strengthening exercise. Lay on your back with your knees in the air and bent to 90 degrees(or keep them straight). With your arms to your sides, keep both knees together and slowly lower your legs to one side of your body. Return to the starting position and then repeat on the other side. Do as many reps as possible but shoot for maximum reps.
I hope these strengthening exercises are helpful! Remember to BREATH during all these exercises! And of course, STOP if it is too uncomfortable or painful