Maybe you’re plagued by injuries.
Maybe it’s too cold/icy/windy/[insert excuse here] to run outdoors today.
Maybe you’re burned out and want to shake up your routine a little bit.
Or maybe you want to finally break past a plateau to become a stronger, faster, more efficient runner.
While there’s certainly something to be said for hill repeats, speedwork, and long runs, there’s more to running than … well, just running. Strength training and stretching have not only been found to improve overall running performance, they can also help you prevent injury.
Yes, I know it’s time-consuming. It’s boring. You have places to go and people to see. But if you can take fifteen to thirty minutes after each run to perform some simple exercises and stretches, you’ll reap the benefits faster than you might expect. It also may prevent you from being forced to stop running (injuries beat stubbornness every single time).
And before you say you “can’t” because you can’t afford a gym membership or fancy equipment, I’ll tell you that none of that is required. You have no more excuses.
*Disclaimer: Though I received a tremendous amount of help from the eternally awesome Jason Dooley, PTA for this post, I am not a medical expert, nor do I play one on TV. If you don’t believe me, look at the photos below for evidence that I am an uncoordinated asshole. If you are currently injured or unsure of how to properly do an exercise, please, please, please consult with someone who has completed the fancy schoolin’ required to assist you.
10 Strength Exercises for Runners (Gym-rat grunting optional)
Before doing this circuit, make sure your muscles are warmed up. If you’re doing this post-run, go straight into this workout as part of your cooldown. If you are doing this as a stand-alone workout, warm up with ten minutes of light cardio, such as riding your bike, jumping jacks, or step aerobics (people still do that, right?).
If you feel an exercise doesn’t challenge you enough, add more repetitions or repeat the set 2-3 times. If you’re still not satisfied (you sadist, you), do the modified version mentioned at the end of each exercise description (some may require equipment, such as a stability ball).
Leg Drives (or Form Running)
Stand approximately 3-4 feet from a wall, pole, or other steady object. Extend your arms and lean into the wall, then bring your knee up towards your chest. Repeat with the other leg. Start by alternating legs with a 5-second pause, gradually increasing the speed of leg turnover until you hit a challenging rhythm.
Fancy-pants: Shoot for the runner’s “sweet spot,” if you can — 180 steps per minute!
Split Squat Jumps
Drop down into a lunge position, making sure to keep your knees at a 90-degree angle. Don’t let your back knee drop down to the ground, and make sure your front knee stays behind the toes. Using equal amounts of force from both legs, jump into the air. Switch legs in the air and return to a lunge position. Repeat, landing ten times on each leg.
Supa-stah: Place your back leg on a bench. Instead of alternating legs in mid-air, squat, jump off, and land on your forward leg. Repeat 5 times on each leg. Make sure there are no small children around, ’cause you’re going to be cursing like a motherfu — ahem.
Keeping your chest up and out, move your rear back and down, like you’re sitting back. Again, make sure your knees stay behind your toes when you squat. Jump up as high as you can, pushing up from the whole foot (not just your toes). Use your arms for momentum/stability, but don’t go crazy – you shouldn’t be arching your back when you jump. Upon landing, bend your knees and return to a squat position. Repeat 10 times.
Stubborn:Using a light-weight medicine ball, keep your arms extended in front of you when you squat and over your head when jumping. Again, control your movements.
Keeping your chest up and out, step forward and drop your back knee straight down until both knees are at a 90-degree angle. Pushing off with your entire front foot, return to an upright position and walk forward, repeating action with alternate leg. Take ten “steps” with each leg. If limited on space, just step forward and push back, alternating legs.
Feelin’ like P. Diddy version: Use two dumbbells to do shoulder presses with each lunge. Dumbbells should be at your shoulders when you drop down, and press above your head when standing up.
Single Leg Deadlift
Stand on one leg. Keeping the knee slightly bent and the heel on the ground, lean forward at the hips. Engage your core to keep your balance as your shoulders come forward and your alternate leg raises off the ground. Make sure your pelvis does not rotate to one side, and keep your back leg as straight as you are able! Keep your heel planted firmly in the ground as you pivot from the hip to return to an upright position. Repeat 10 times, then alternate leg.
So you think you’re hot stuff: Instead of keeping your arms pointing downward for the duration of the exercise, extend them in front of you as you extend your leg back. This will require you to use your core muscles even more to stay balanced. You can also add weights to both hands.
Stand approximately 3-4 feet in front of a bench or chair. Extend one leg backwards so your toes are resting on the bench. You may need to hop forward a little bit to make sure you are far enough out. Keeping your back leg on the bench and the front heel on the ground, drop down into a lunge position. Using your entire foot, press yourself back into a standing position. Repeat 10 times, then alternate legs.
Now you’re just showing off: Instead of a bench, use a stability ball.
Oh, don’t give me that look. You knew this was coming. Lie down on your stomach. Resting on your forearms, push off the floor until you’re on your toes. Keep your back flat – if you’re butt is in the air or you’re sagging in the middle, that’s a sign you need to tilt your pelvis and use your core muscles. Don’t forget to breathe! Hold for 60 seconds.
Extra credit: Hold your plank for as long as you can. (I hear the world record is somewhere around 1 hour and 20 minutes.)
Single Leg Plank
Same as the original, but on one leg (hence the clever name).
Hurts so good: Extend the arm on the opposite side of the raised leg.
Lying on your side with your feet together, place your forearm under your shoulder and raise your body up off the ground. Keep your legs straight and your pelvis tucked forward. Hold for 60 seconds, then repeat on alternate side.
The hidden bonus track with a special background vocals by John Mayer: Instead of holding, move hip up and down 30 times.
Lie on your back with your hands at your sides and your feet together (as far under your knees as you are able, while still keeping your heels on the ground). Raise your hips up, squeeze your glutes, and tilt your pelvis into your belly button. Hold for 30 seconds.
You brown-noser:Prop your feet on a stability ball and keep your legs straight. Hold yourself in a bridge position for as long as you are able.
6 Stretches for Runners (Don’t even think about skipping out on these!)
Contrary to popular belief, stretching is not one of those “hurts so good” activities. Stretching should only be good, period. If it hurts, you’re probably stretching too far.
Do these six stretches at the end of every workout (yes, every single one!). Stretches should be held for the duration of the stretch – don’t bounce. Every time you bounce during a stretch, a baby marmoset dies. (True story. I read it on the Internet somewhere.)
Stand with one leg in front of the other. Keeping your back leg straight and both heels on the ground, gently push your hips forward until you feel a light stretch in the back leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on other leg.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel down on one knee. Slowly press your hips forward until you feel a light stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds, then alternate legs If more stretch is needed, bend your back knee toward your rear end.
Lie on your back. Keeping your shoulders and pelvis on the ground, lift one leg until you feel a light stretch along the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds, then alternate legs. If you cannot reach your leg, use a yoga strap (pictured above) to assist with the stretch.
Bend one knee. Cross the opposite foot over the bent knee. Clasping your hands behind your bottom leg, pull both legs back toward your chest until you feel a light stretch in your rear and hips. Hold for 30 seconds, then alternate legs.
Knee to Chest Stretch
Keeping your shoulders relaxed and your pelvis on the ground, clasp your hands around your knee and bend your knee into your chest until you feel a light stretch in your lower back. Hold for 30 seconds, then alternate legs.
Lie on your back with your arms extended and your shoulders on the ground. Twisting at the hips, cross one leg over the other until you feel a light stretch in your lower back, hip and thigh. Hold for 30 seconds, then alternate legs.