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Strength training for runners...and non-runners, too!

Posted May 13 2010 12:00am
It's a proven fact that strength training makes your muscles stronger. (I know...duh.) And strong muscles are obviously the base component of that which makes your body move. They not only facilitate the movement, but they balance your body throughout the motion. And strong muscles also protect your internal self from the excessive pounding often associated with running. So the stronger your muscles are, the greater their ability to protect you from injury.

Ready for another proven fact? Strength training also makes your bones stronger. And as a participant in a sport that, once again, employs excessive pounding—you need all the bone strength you can get. Creating a good strength training program is an excellent place to start. And according to my ACE Personal Trainer Manual, you might also boost your metabolism, improve digestion, lower your resting blood pressure, reduce your risk of osteoporosis and even lessen arthritic pain if it plagues you.

Have I sold you on strength training yet? Good.
Now back to strength training for runners (and non-runners, too).

Most runners have (or want) long, lean muscles. So when you put together a strength training program, you'll focus on higher repetitions with lower weight. And you'll want to pay special attention to your legs. Strong leg muscles will always serve and protect your knees. In addition, you never want to ignore the core. It supports your entire body. The stronger your core, the more solid a foundation you'll have from which to move. And movement is everything when you're a runner.

Take a look at the following list. It isn't a complete workout, rather, a long list of potential strength training exercises to add to whatever you're currently doing. Pick and choose as you please, and as always, let me know if you have any questions.

1) MEDICINE BALL CHOPS: If you don't have a medicine ball, a weight will do. Stand in with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hold the medicine ball above your head and slightly to the right so that your arms are at an angle. Squat while bringing the ball across your body and down to the floor by your left ankle. Keep your abs tight throughout, and really control the movement so that you don't hurt your back. Bring the ball back across your body and repeat. Complete desired repetitions, then switch the movement to the other side of your body.

2) CRUNCHES : A classic no matter how you do them. Just remember, quality is better than quantity. Don't power through them, you'll risk hurting your neck or lower back.

3) BANANA ROLLS: Lie down on your back with your arms and legs extended, tummy tight. Lift your arms and legs six inches off the floor and hold for five seconds. Without lowering them, roll to your right and land on your stomach. Hold for five seconds. Roll to the left and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Increase hold time as you get stronger. (It's silly lookin', but good.)

4) SQUATS : Split or one-legged, these too are a classic. And boring, but totally worth it.

5) ONE LEG HIP RAISES : I've talked about these before, and I stand by them as an excellent glute option. Try the variations I've previously described, or straighten your leg instead of bending it in. You can also place your feet on a BOSU ball to make it more challenging.

6) HIP ABDUCTIONS: Lie down on your right side, legs stacked and straight, head supported by your bottom hand. Bring your left leg slightly forward, keeping it off the ground. Lift your leg about four inches higher, lower without touching the ground, repeat. Try at least 15 repetitions, as it usually takes a bit more to feel the burn. Switch sides and repeat. Roll back to your right side, bringing your left leg slightly to the back. Same action, same repetition. Repeat.

7) HIP ADDUCTIONS: Position yourself as if you were doing the abductions again, only move your bottom leg forward. Lift your leg about six inches off the ground, lower without touching and repeat. Switch sides and repeat. If you don't feel the burn, find a body bar in your gym and rest one end on your foot as you hold the other. Lift, lower and repeat.

(Note: Many gyms have hip abduction/adduction machines. You can also rig the cable machine and do these same moves standing up. Or, if you're working out with a friend, find a set of exercise bands. Tie one end around your ankle while your friend holds the other.)

8) CALF RAISES : Don't forget this ever-important muscle!

9) SHIN FLEXES: Many runners develop shin splints. To prevent them, you'll need to strengthen the muscles in your lower leg. Simply sit on a chair or stool that will allow you to bend your knees at 90 degrees without having to put your feet on the floor. Flex your ankles as hard as you can. Hold for 10 seconds then point your toes. Repeat desired number of times. If you have an exercise band, loop it around something that won't move. The band will act like a weight against the top of your foot.

10) DUMBBELL ARM SWINGS: I know, it seems counter-intuitive to focus on the arms if you're strength training to improve your running game, but it all goes together. I promise. And this exercise is especially fitting. Grab a light set of weights and stand with feet hip width apart, mimicking your posture during a run. Swing your arms back and forth as you would if you were, in fact, running. Mimicking sport-specific postures and other movements while strength training makes perfect sense, and it makes you stronger in all the right ways.
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