Whether you enjoy running as a recreational activity, you do it for fitness, or a marathon is on your bucket list, you might be under the mistaken impression that the only training you need for running is, well, more running. However, if you want to see the best results, improve performance, and avoid injury, adding strength training to your routine is a smart move.
Of course, there is no shortage of strength training options, with exercises for toning, bulking, overall strength, and targeting certain muscle groups to consider. However, it is important to know which ones are going to offer you the biggest rewards in terms of conditioning your body for improved performance on track or trail?
If you're looking for cross training routines that are going to improve your strength in ways that will also boost your performance as a runner, here are a few you should definitely consider.
Strong legs are an essential ingredient in the running recipe, but you also want to focus on keeping bones and joints healthy. As a high-impact activity, running can definitely wreak havoc on your body if you're not careful.
While squats, lunges, and various leg lifts are fairly par for the course when it comes to strengthening your leg muscles, it's important to remember that you run one leg at a time. You could therefore see better results by trying balance exercises.
You could start by turning your familiar squats into single-leg versions and do the same for deadlifts, but you might also want to throw in some tree pose (from yoga) to give each leg extended balance practice. The great thing about working one leg at a time is that you'll also sneak in some core work simultaneously.
Most people don't realize just how much they use their core until an injury or surgery affects their abs or lats. However, these core muscles are used in nearly every movement, running included. You could improve your performance by focusing on core strengthening exercises.
If you're partial to floor work like standard sit-ups, crunches, and twists, you'll find that an exercise like bicycles works the entire abdominal region, including upper and lower belly and obliques. Don't forget to work your lats, as well to improve balance. Rows can be performed at home with hand weights, but if you want to do lat pull downs, you may need a gym facility.
You can also try standing ab exercises if floor work hurts your back. However, one of the best options to strengthen your core all around is plank, and there are many variations you can try (forearm plank, side plank, plank with arm/leg lifts, and even plank crunches, for example).
Yoga is great for runners on so many levels. From a physical standpoint, yoga not only increases strength and endurance, but it can also help with flexibility. Runners often suffer from tightness of muscles and joints, and yoga can make a huge difference in that area.
Yoga is also great for your mental game. Distance runners especially need to find ways to stay mentally engaged during long sessions - boredom can derail your progress if you're not careful.
Pairing breathing with body movements can increase oxygen in the body as well as help you to Zen out. Plus, reducing the tension you might build during running (especially in the shoulders and neck) can only help to improve any activity you undertake.
Like yoga, Pilates is a whole-body conditioning program that focuses on strength and flexibility, but also aims to improve stamina, endurance, and coordination, among other things. Pilates allows runners to improve overall body strength, but also to focus on areas that are prone to pain and injury.
Yoga and Pilates are both strength training options that perfectly complement running because they work to prevent injuries from this high-impact activity and they undo much of the tightness and other damage done to the body during running. In other words, you should definitely give one or both a try.
Stressing and overloading your muscles is what makes them stronger, and while some exercises allow you to do this through repetition or the use of your own body weight, there's no quicker way to tone, bulk, or otherwise strengthen muscles than with weights.
If you're looking for a targeted weight training routine specifically aimed at runners, you have many resources to explore. Speak with a professional trainer or seek out online resources to help you find the best weight training options and help teach proper form.