Strength training is absolutely vital for runners who want to take their workouts to the next level. Running itself is great exercise, but it places considerable demands on the muscles involved. By training your muscles with exercises, you can improve your running performance.
Of course, behind every great workout is at least one muscle group, and often more than one. If you are a runner who is looking to improve your workout routine with some strength training, learning about the muscles themselves is an excellent place to start.
As you take each stride, you rely on your quadriceps to help bend your hip and straighten your knee. They even help to keep the knee stable, which is important if it is to handle the impact of your foot hitting the ground.
The quadriceps muscles are actually four different muscles, which together form most of the front portion of the thigh. Running tends to work these muscles out quite a bit on their own, but additional exercises are still a good idea.
At the backs of your thighs are your hamstrings. These muscles take over from the quadriceps as you move forward. The hamstrings help you straighten your hip and bend your knee. Despite their vital importance for running, the hamstrings are often neglected by beginning runners.
The gluteal muscles or “glutes” compose the buttocks. Working together, the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus power and stabilize the combined hip and pelvis. They are also absolutely vital for controlling the position of the standing leg.
In running you also rely on your core and abdominal muscles to stabilize your body. Here the transverse abdominis, a muscle located deep within your abdomen, is especially important: the transverse abdominis carries tension to keep both the pelvis and the lumbar spine from moving too much while you are running.
A great place to start your strength-training workout is the bodyweight squat. Doing a bodyweight squat entails sitting back from a standing position, as if there was a chair behind you, and then standing back up. The trick is to not allow your knees to bend beyond your toes.
Bodyweight squats are ideal for runners because they train your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, all without the benefit of any special equipment.
Another good squat exercise is the Bulgarian split squat, which works the glutes, quads, calves, and your core. The only equipment you will need is a simple box, bench, or other solid object about one or two feet tall.
First, place the toes of one foot onto your box behind you. Now, bend your front knee, again without extending it beyond your toes, and hold your forward thigh parallel to the ground for a second or two. Raise yourself up slowly, and then repeat.
A great exercise for your core specifically is the supine march. Simply lie down on your back, and then bend your knees as far as you can while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Now lift one leg until the foot is at the same level as the other knee, and then lower it back to the floor. Repeat as needed.
There are a number of other, very simple exercises you can try at home to increase strength in your legs. Try calf raises to strengthen your lower legs. For your hamstrings, try hamstring push-ups. For your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, try a one-legged squat.
Practicing these strength training exercises will help you improve your running workout experience.
By Michael Schulteiss, Science Journalist