If you’ve been running for more than about a week, someone (or everyone) has probably told you that you need to strength train in order to reach your full potential as a runner. That’s all well and good, and they’re right – strength training is extremely important for runners – but what’s a time crunched, miles-obsessed runner to do? The problem is that running is a repetitive motion that uses the same muscles over and over again, strengthening these muscles (such as the quads and calves) at the expense of others (such as the glutes, hamstrings, and smaller stabilizing muscles), which can cause injury. To help keep yourself off the Injured Reserve list, spend a quick 5 – 10 minutes after your run or on cross training days doing these simple, effective moves.
Squats can be done anytime, anywhere – no equipment needed! Squats work the back line of the body, including the glutes and hamstrings, and are excellent for helping build strength to power up those hills. To perform a body-weight squat, spread your feet a bit wider than hip distance apart and sink your seat back behind you, like you are sitting down into a chair. Protect the knees by keeping the knees tracking over the ankles and focusing on sending your seat backwards rather than your knees forwards. Lower down until thighs are parallel with the ground (or as low as is comfortable without causing negative pain), and then lift back up. Start with one set of 10 and build up to 3 sets of 15.
The hips receive little attention throughout the day, but many important stabilizing muscles are located in this area. Those who have run a marathon without appropriate hip strengthening can attest to the pain you feel in the sides of your seat at mile 22! To perform clamshells, lie down on one side with both knees bent. There should be a straight line from the crown of the head through the shoulders, hips, and heels. Touch the heels together and lift both legs, opening the top knee towards the ceiling to form a diamond shape between the legs. Lower the top leg, closing the diamond, and then slowly open back up. Start with two sets of 10, breaking in between, and build to 3 sets of 15 on each side.
Calf raises actually perform double duty – you’ll strengthen both the calves and the muscles on the front of the shins with this one movement. Calf raises can be performed on a step, with the balls of the feet facing up the steps and the heels hanging off the step. Lift the heels, standing up on tip-toe, and slowly lower back down until the heels hang below the step. This motion can also be performed on flat ground. Start with one set of 10 and build up to 3 sets of 15.
Plank is a total body workout that will strengthen your core like no other exercise. Start on all fours on the ground. Hands should be directly underneath the shoulders with a slight bend in the elbow. Extend the legs behind you, reaching long through the heels and lifting through the kneecaps to engage the quadriceps. Hips should be level and squared to the floor and in line with the heels and head. Pull the abdominals in, away from your shirt, to support the low back. For those with wrist pain, lower down onto the forearms instead of the hands. If your core is not strong enough to support your low back right away, lower down onto the knees, taking a modified plank. Start with 15-30 seconds (or go as long as you can!) and work up to a minute or more. The sky is the limit!