Whenever the topic of strength training and running comes up, most runners tend to respond with, "Wait, I'm supposed to do something other than running?" Supplementing running with strengthening exercises will not only aid in injury prevention but will make you a stronger, faster, and more efficient runner. (For ultimate results, follow the training suggestions in our Month-by-Month Guide to Fitter, Faster You)
But runners need a different strength-training program than your standard gym rat. Instead of pushing weight away from the body with bicep curls, leg extensions, and bench presses, runners should focus on targeting the key muscles that will keep them balanced.
We asked our experts to come up with 10 essential strength exercises for runners. Worried about fitting this routine into your training schedule? Don't worry, these 10 exercises take 30 minutes to complete and can be done twice a week. Try adding them to your easy or cross-training days.
Prop yourself up on your elbows with your feet slightly apart. Make sure your body is aligned, your abdominal muscles are tight, and shoulders are directly above the elbows and down and back, not hunched up. Hold this position for 45 seconds to one minute. Gradually add time as your core gets stronger.
Modifications: Plank variations include: side planks to target obliques, single leg planks, spider planks, mountain climber planks, and supine planks.
Repetitions: 3 to 5
Muscles worked: core, lower back, shoulders
LOWER-BODY RUSSIAN TWIST
Lie on your back with your upper legs perpendicular to the floor and your knees bent 90-degrees. Without changing the bend in your hips or knees, lower your legs to the left side of your body while keeping your shoulders in contact with the floor. Lift them back to the starting position, and repeat to the right side of your body. That's one repetition.
Modification: To make it harder, keep your legs straight.
Repetitions: 10 to 12
Muscles worked: core
Get into pushup position but with your feet on a bench. Raise your right knee toward your left shoulder as you rotate your hips up and to the left as far as you can. Then reverse directions, rotating your hips up and to the right, and try to touch your right foot to the back of your left shoulder (you won't be able to do it). That's one repetition. Continue for 30 seconds with your right leg, then switch legs.
Modifications: To make it easier, do step one of the exercise, twisting in just one direction. To make it harder, instead of putting your feet on a bench, do the exercise with your shins on a stability ball.
Repetitions: As many as you can in 30 seconds
Muscles worked: shoulders, core
Lie facedown on a stability ball with your feet spread wide for balance. Your elbows should be bent with your hands lightly touching the ground for initial support. Squeeze your glutes and lift your torso up until your body forms a straight line. As you lift your torso, allow your hands to come off the ground, keeping your elbows bent. Extend your arms overhead. Hold for one or two seconds. Release your arms and then your torso back down to the start position. That's one rep. Aim for 10-12. No stability ball? You can do the movement on an exercise mat: Raise your thighs and arms off the ground while your torso stays in contact with the ground.
Modifications: To make it harder, hold light dumbbells.
Repetitions: 10 to 12
Muscles worked: lower back, glutes, middle back, shoulders
KETTLEBELL SQUATS WITH OVERHEAD PRESS
Hold the kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Push your hips back, and lower your body into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Press the kettlebell above your head, and as you stand back up, return the kettlebell to the original position.
Modifications: Do the squat without the overhead raise by just keeping the kettlebell in the center chest position for the duration of the exercise.
Repetitions: 10 to 12
Muscles worked: glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, upper back, shoulders
Hold a pair of dumbbells straight above your shoulders, with your arms straight and elbows locked. Step forward with your left leg, and lower your body until your front knee is bent 90 degrees. Return to the starting position, and repeat with your right leg. That's one repetition.
Modification: To make it easier, hold dumbbells at shoulder level.
Repetitions: 6 to 8 (each leg)
Muscles worked: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, core