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4 Must-Do Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Build Strength and Power, Decrease Injury Risk
  -- By Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor
Runners are a breed all their own. I can say that because I am a runner. We can be quirky about our race rituals and to outsiders looking in, our lives seem to revolve around a "boring" sport of putting one foot in front of the other. But as any runner knows, it's not really that simple (or boring!), to try to fit in fartleks, quarters, repeats and speed work along with your hills, distance runs, and race days. Mile after mile, we pound the pavement—rain, cold or sun—to reach our goals.

No matter what type of runner you are, or how many races you have under your belt, we all share one common goal: to be better runners. We want to get faster, run farther, be more efficient, and stay injury-free. But if we hope to reach this goal, we must do more than just run. It is important to incorporate other exercises into our workout plans, as well as some rest, if we hope to reach our full running potential.

Strength training is an important form of exercise for serious athletes and recreational exercisers alike, because not only does it help you build lean muscles that power your body through tough runs, but it also fires up your metabolism to help with weight-control and strengthens your bones against age-related deterioration. A solid strength training program can help runners achieve a more balanced musculature for greater power and a lower injury risk.

Here are some of the moves every runner should include as part of their strength-training program, along with an explanation of why each exercise is so important for runners.

Squats
Squats are the single most effective exercise that you can perform to strengthen the entire lower body. Squats target the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, hip flexors, and glutes, and even activate your core. When done properly, they can also help strengthen your knees and prevent knee pain and injury. Here are a few ways to do them, based on your fitness level and equipment available:
Beginner Exercises Advanced Exercises


Lateral Movements
Runners seem to only move in one direction: forward! That's why it's important to train your body through other planes of movement, like backwards or sideways (laterally). Lateral moves help you train often-neglected muscles like the abductors (outer thigh) and adductors (inner thigh), helping increase stability at your joints, improve your balance, and prevent injury. Here are some examples you can try.
Beginner Advanced


Pushups
Runners often neglect their upper bodies when training, but a strong upper body is essential for overall fitness and powerful runs. Pushups help strengthen the arms, chest, and shoulders, as well as the core, in one move, and you can do them anywhere, too. Various types of bench presses or chest presses also work many of the same muscles, but there are plenty of ways to continue challenging yourself with pushups (see options below).
Beginner Advanced


Plank
As a runner, you are only as strong as your core is—your abs, obliques, lower back and hips. These muscles, which wrap around your torso like a corset, help you balance and support every step you take. Strong abdominals and lower back muscles also help you run with better posture, which aids in breathing. The plank is one of the best ways you can train every muscle in your core. Here are a few variations to try.

Beginner Advanced


Now you know the key muscles and movements that runners should include in their strength training programs. When you're short on time, try just one exercise from each of the categories above, or include a few from each section into your current strength-training workouts. To take the guesswork out of your workouts, try one of the full-body strength training plans listed below.

Strength Training Workouts for Runners
Here are three workouts I created exclusively with runners in mind. These should offer plenty of variety while also helping you strengthen the muscles that are most important for runners. Try two sets of 12-15 repetitions for each exercise, and follow your workout of choice twice a week for best results. If you're new to strength training, start with the beginner's program and master the moves without added weights first, and gradually go up from there. And don't forget the warm up, cool down, and stretches!

Beginner Strength Training Workout for Runners
Intermediate Workout for Runners
Gym Workout for Runners


Strong muscles and joints are less prone to strains, pulls, and other damage, so consider strength training a part of your injury-prevention plan as much as a performance-enhancing one!

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople Coach Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer.