Fitness

The Best Strength Workout for Beginner Runners

When gyms closed, many people started running to get in their cardio. So, PSA time: Incorporating a strength workout for runners into your routine is super important.

As a longtime running enthusiast, I think it’s awesome to see fresh (and, um, masked) faces on the trails near my home. But one thing I wish I knew when I first laced up? The importance of strength training for runners.

If you’re into running, shouldn’t your workouts be running? It’s not quite that simple. Balancing your running with strength training can help you run faster and farther—plus help you ward off injury, two-time Olympic runner and current running coach Nicole Sifuentes, CSCS, tells SELF.

So keep reading to find out why strength training for runners is key to your performance and your health. Then give the 15-minute strength workout for runners a try too.

What is so important about strength training for runners?

For one, there’s a performance benefit to strength training for runners: Strength-training your lower body can increase how much force you’re able to put into the ground with every single stride, says Sifuentes. A stronger lower half can also help you apply that force more quickly—that basically means it increases your power. With greater force and power, you can propel yourself farther with every step and thus cover more distance in a shorter amount of time. In other words, you can run faster, explains Sifuentes.

A strength workout for runners that incorporates upper-body and core moves helps improve your posture and running form. A strong core improves your overall stability, which can help you better control your movements. As a result, you’re less likely to do things like excessively rotating your torso or flailing your arms when you start to get tired—form errors that can cost you serious energy—which can help you run more comfortably for longer. Plus, a strong core gives your other muscles a strong foundation to help them work at their full capacity, Sifuentes says.

Regular strength training can also enhance your mobility. “Runners need good mobility, especially in the hips, ankles, and thoracic spine [upper back] to run smoothly and efficiently,” says Sifuentes.

Another reason to strength-train? It can help you train movement patterns that your body isn’t able to practice while running. Running is a very repetitive movement focused in just one direction—straight ahead—which means it doesn’t condition your body for any lateral (side-to-side) movements, says Sifuentes. But inevitably, you’ll need to move laterally at times, “whether it be to dodge a puddle or, these days, a fellow pedestrian to allow for social distancing,” she says. If your body isn’t conditioned to move this way, you could be vulnerable to injury when you attempt to do so. Doing strength training that incorporates lateral exercises can help fill this gap, says Sifuentes.

A final benefit of strength training for runners: It can help correct imbalances in muscle strength or mobility that most runners have to some degree. You may notice that one side of your body tends to be “tighter, weaker, or experience more pains and niggles than the other,” says Sifuentes.

If that’s the case, other areas of your body might step in to make up for that imbalance, which then puts those compensating muscles at risk of taking on too much work. For instance, if your glutes are weak, your low back and hamstrings may take on too much of that work.

“Overuse injuries are so common in running simply due to the repetitive nature of the movement that we really want to avoid any one area overworking,” explains Sifuentes. Doing unilateral strength training (for example, single-leg exercises) can help you identify and correct these imbalances.

What’s a good strength-training workout for runners?

So there are loads of reasons runners should strength-train. And the good news is you don’t need a gym—or any equipment—to get the job done. Sifuentes created the following 15-minute bodyweight strength-training routine for runners that can be done at home.

It’s an eight-move, full-body workout that emphasizes mobility, stability (get ready to fire up your core), and symmetry (thanks to single-leg work). Do this routine correctly and you’ll smoke your posterior chain—the backside of your body, including your glutes and hamstrings—as well as the deep core muscles that help stabilize your spine.

You can do this circuit workout before or after an easy run—just make sure you are practicing social distancing when you run outside and are wearing a mask anytime you’re running where there’s a chance you’ll pass other people—or on a nonrunning day, says Sifuentes. Because the biggest focus is on good form, don’t do this right after a hard run when you’re already wiped. In general, Sifuentes recommends new runners do strength training twice per week.

You don’t need a dedicated warm-up before doing this routine since it actually has one built in: The first two moves are designed to wake up your core and the muscles on your backside.

Also important: This workout is not a high-rep, heart-pumping routine—you’ll get enough of that stimulus during your runs. Instead, you should focus on maintaining good form and working your mobility and coordination with each move. When you master this workout, Sifuentes recommends progressing the difficulty of the moves (suggestions for doing that listed below) rather than upping the number of reps or sets. Again, quality—not quantity or speed—is the goal here.

The workout:

What you’ll need: Just your bodyweight and an elevated platform for the step-ups and elevated push-ups. For the step-ups, you can use the bottom step on a staircase, a low box, or a sturdy step stool. For the elevated push-ups, you can use a low box, a chair, or a table.

Exercises:

  • Glutes Bridge
  • Dead Bug
  • Step-Up With Knee Raise
  • Lateral Lunge Shift
  • Elevated Push-Up
  • Forearm Side Plank Hip Dip
  • Forearm Plank Rock
  • Superman With Arm Extension

Directions:

  • Do 8 to 10 reps of each move, resting as much as you need in between each move to maintain good form.
  • Once you’ve completed all eight exercises, rest as needed. Then repeat the entire set one more time.

Demoing the moves are Crystal Williams (GIFs 1 and 6), a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City; Cookie Janee (GIFs 2 and 7), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Nikki Pebbles (GIF 3), a New York City–based fitness instructor for over nine years and an AFAA- and NCCPT-certified personal trainer and group fitness trainer who regularly teaches cycling and dance cardio; Grace Pulliam (GIF 4), an aerial yoga and Vinyasa yoga teacher in New York City; Amanda Wheeler (GIF 5), a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies; and Sarah Taylor (GIF 8), a personal trainer and fitness blogger in Canada.

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