Strength for Runners
Runners love running. Runners run. Runners don’t lift weights. You can repeat that mantra to yourself as many times as you like, but it won’t do much to make you a better runner. Forget about hitting the weights just to hit the weights. Below, you’ll find a running-centric workout based on the actual difficulties you may face when running; each exercise is intended to simulate the running environment. Now, repeat after me: runners love lifting, runners do more than run, runners lift weights.
Continuous Step-Up, x3 flights of stairs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4AA5d5mInQ
The continuous step-up isn’t much more than stair climbing with a strength and conditioning twist, but it’s an effective way to prepare your body for the rigors of steep running ascents. Since you’re going to use an actual set of stairs for this exercise, ditch the barbell. Grip a pair of dumbbells of kettlebells and place one foot on the top of the first stair. Without pushing off the back foot, pull your body up and forward onto the stair. Perform the same motion with your other leg, once again trying to minimize the push from your back leg. As described in the lunge below, pay attention to the length of your torso. To increase the stability demand, angle your foot slightly out as you take each step. This forces the hips to open up and slightly increases the distance between each step.
Feet Elevated Forward Lunge, x10/side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-Mp76_Dtf4
By starting with both feet elevated above the floor, you’re simulating a downhill running environment. You’ll be able to train the muscles for this specific movement without beating up your joints more than you already do. Start with both feet position on an extremely low (4-5 centimeters above the floor) box or other stable surface. Lunge forward with one foot, drop your back knee, and push back to the starting position. Alternate legs as you go and slowly increase the height of the box. As you lunge, be aware of how your torso moves. If you’re not staying upright, it will be immediately noticeable along the line from your sternum to your bellow button. Just imagine that there’s a piece of string along that length and your sole job is to keep that string as straight as possible.
Bottoms Up Kettlebell Shuffle, x30 seconds per side: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZCBNnA04_M
After running for an hour, you’re going to start losing stability. A little excessive flexion and rotation may not seem like much, but it will eventually start to stress your core and impact your running technique. Use the kettlebell shuffle to simulate the stability stresses of running long distances. Start by gripping a kettlebell and holding it in the bottoms up position just to the right or left of your face (depending on the side you’re using). Keep your arm positioned at 90 degrees and keep your eyes on the bell. That’s the hold. For the shuffle, starting moving forward at a fast walking pace. Your body will want to flex and rotate in a diagonal direction towards the kettlebell, so be ready to combat that. If the bottoms up position is to difficult for you, use the easier rack position and slightly angle your arm out from your body. This creates a similar diagonal pull, but you won’t be limited by your grip or lack of coordination.
Ladder Single Leg Hops, x3 down and back
This is for the avid trail runners out there. When you’re running on rocky trail, footing isn’t always ideal. In fact, it’s rarely ideal. There’s a lot of lateral motion that requires high levels of single leg coordination. Mimic this coordination with an agility ladder. Place a standard length agility ladder on the floor in a fairly open area. If possible, use grass or padded flooring rather than concrete. With one leg, hop to the outside of the first square. Now, with the other leg, hop to the opposite side of the second square. Continue this alternating pattern down the ladder and back. To progress this movement, skip first one and then two squares between jumps. As always, lateral movements places big demands on your ability to prevent rotation and lateral flexion, so try to maintain a straight torso throughout.
Medicine Ball Pushups, x30 seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIu8LKTVq9I
I’m not usually a fan of unstable surface training, but it’s not a bad bet for dedicated runners. The point isn’t necessarily to increase your ability to train on an unstable surface, but rather to raise your body awareness, an important skill for runners. Position one medicine ball on the floor in front of you. Drop into a pushup position and carefully place one hand on top of the medicine ball and the other hand on the floor. When you’re stable and balanced, perform a pushup. To lessen the stability demands, use a wide foot stance with a small medicine ball. As you begin to feel more comfortable, slowly narrow your foot stance and increase the diameter of the medicine ball. If you’re looking for an even greater challenge, use two medicine balls, one under each hand.
Foot Rolling, x3-5 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOqsGsvJu6M
Okay, you got me – this isn’t a strength exercise. But as a runner, you know your feet enable you to take part in the movements that you love the most. Treat them well by utilizing a self-myofascial release technique. Most of you probably know this as foam rolling, but how do you foam roll your feet? Ditch the foam roller and pick up a tennis ball, softball, or lacrosse ball. Just as you would with a foam roller, apply a moderate to high amount of pressure and slowly roll the ball over the bottom of each foot. Try to cover two to three centimeters per second. When you hit a particularly sensitive spot, stop rolling and apply additional pressure for 15 to 20 seconds to that location.