Tone the legs, strengthen the core, engage the whole body and get faster with these five moves.
We all know the distance runner’s body: lanky and lean. But lean doesn’t mean weak, in fact, the most effective running machines are powerhouses packed with solid muscle, because the stronger the runner the faster, more efficient and more injury resistant the runner becomes. And this doesn’t just hold true for the legs. “I really believe in training your whole body,” says Jenny Schatzle, a runner and personal trainer in Santa Barbara, Calif., “because running is a full-body activity.”
Performing exercises that smartly strengthen your core and upper body are just as important as strengthening your principal running muscles such as the glutes and hamstrings. With a lean but strong physique, a runner can hold off muscle fatigue and maintain optimally efficient form longer. “Your body is a connective chain,” Schatzle says. “You can’t just work one muscle.”
Try these exercises two or three times a week and in no time you’ll be stronger, more efficient and less prone to injury. You just might cross your next finish line with a new PR.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Working muscles: Quads, glutes, core and calves.
Progression: Standing in a lunge position, rest the toes of the back foot on a one- to two-foot bench or box. Lower the torso straight down by bending the front knee, ensuring it isn’t lunging forward beyond the toes. When the forward thigh is parallel to the ground hold for one to two seconds and then slowly come back up to a neutral position. Repeat 10 to 15 times on each leg.
Extra credit: Add a small hop at the top of the movement or hold a ten-pound weight in each hand.
Working muscles: Core, shoulders and back.
Progression: Alternate lifting each leg six inches off the ground for eight counts. This also engages the glutes. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
“The planks is the perfect exercise for strengthening the entire core,” says Beth Shepard, owner and wellness coach at www.wellcoaches.com, adding that the core is often neglected by runners, but is essential for improving stride, form and speed. In a push-up position, with hands planted under the shoulders, align the body straight from the top of the head through the heels. Tighten up the abs while lifting through the chest to create as much space as possible in between the chest and the ground.
Working muscles: Quads, hamstrings, glutes and core.
Progression: Holding a 10-pound weight, stand next to a two to three foot high bench or box. Step the inside foot up onto the bench. Engaging the core and the glute muscles in the stepping leg, step all the way up, while bringing the outside knee up to a 90-degree angle. Hold there for two seconds then lower down with control.
Repeat 10 to 15 times on each side.
Working muscles: Chest, core, biceps, triceps and back.
Progression: In a plank position, with the hands planted two to three feet apart under the chest line, bend elbows and descend down for two counts until the chest nearly touches the ground. Rise back to plank position for two counts. Repeat 10 to 12 times.
“Push-ups are great for the upper body,” Schatzle says. “You can do them anywhere.”
Extra credit: Slow down the push-up. “By descending at a slower rate your muscles fire up more,” Schatzle says.
Working muscles: Hip flexors, quads, calves, core, hamstrings and glutes.
Progression: Step three to four feet out to the side with one foot while sending the hips back, keeping the abs tight and chest up. At the bottom of the lunge ensure the knee stays back over the ankle without lunging forward and the standing leg remains straight. When coming back to standing, engage the glute to power off the ground. Repeat 10 times on each leg.
Extra credit: Hold a 10-pound weight in each hand.