Strength Training for Runners

"Strength training for runners?! Why are these two together?! Isn't running enough?!"

This may be what those of you who signed up for the Advent 2017 #CatholicWomenRun challenge are saying right about now. We sent out the training plan for the 5k, 10k, and half marathon on Sunday night. And one day of the plan includes strength training. (Side note: If you didn't sign up for the challenge in time, you can go here to get notified when the next challenge starts.)

Why strength training for runners is necessary

Strength training for runners is actually extremely important, especially for those of you preparing for a half marathon. Building your muscles is essential to reducing running-related injuries. Plus, stronger muscles = more efficient running = faster race times! Not that I'm competitive or anything...

Let me give you a personal example. I didn't do much strength training for my second half marathon in San Francisco.

If you couldn't read that sentence and understand what the problem was, let me give you a hint: HILLS.

While I did hill training for the numerous and big hills in San Francisco, it wasn't enough. By the end of the race, my knees were killing me. I had much more trouble walking at the end of my second half marathon than I did my first.

I learned from my mistake in my most recent race. I added moves to strengthen my shoulders, abs, and legs. Plus I made sure to hop on the stairmaster during the days I wasn't running. That machine not only gets your heart beating, but it also helps stabilize your leg and core muscles. The result: by the end of the Bourbon Chase, I felt like I could have kept running!

What to do

If you're a beginner, you might be asking how to incorporate strength workouts.

That's what this post is for! These eight easy exercises will strengthen your most important large muscle groups to enhance your running. No weights are required. So all you need is yourself and a space to exercise.

Complete as many repetitions (reps) as you can, ideally between 8 to 15. Start small, then work your way up throughout the 12 weeks as you feel comfortable. You can do one exercise after the other for a circuit. If you do this, aim for two to three sets total. Another option is to work the same muscles with a one- to two-minute rest in between.

squat

Stand with legs parallel, feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Sit back like you're sitting in a chair, making sure your knees don't go beyond a 90-degree bend. Keep your knees still, pointing forward not extending over the feet. Bring your arms in front of you for balance. Be careful not to lean forward as you lower. Push through your heels as you return to standing.

Watch a video here.

bridge

There are two levels.

Start with your back on the floor and both legs bent on the ground with your knees together. Arms can be at your sides or out. Lift one leg, keeping it glued to your other leg. Now slowly raise up into a straight line. Keep your abs engaged. Squeeze your glutes. Hold for 5 seconds. Slowly lower.

If this is too intense, do a twolegged bridge first. Keep both feet on the ground. You’ll want to keep them shoulder-width apart. It’s really important for the bridge that you’re squeezing the glutes and holding your core super firm and tucked in.

Watch a video here.

tricep dips

Sit on the edge of something stable. (I use my couch. Heavy chairs also work.) Slide your booty off the end and hold yourself up, keeping a bend in your elbows. Keep your abs engaged. Breathe in as you dip down until your arms almost make 90 degree angles. Breathe out as you push back up, still keeping that bend in the elbows when you reach the top. Make sure your shoulders stay down and stay pointed to the wall behind you.

Look at the pictures here.

push-ups

There are two levels.

Knees on the floor, arms are straight and slightly wider than shoulder distance.

OR

Up on your toes instead of your knees.

Holding your abs in and make your body one straight line with no arch in the lower back. Breathe in as you lower down close to the floor and breathe out as you push up. No booties in the air and no dropping or arching necks.

Watch a video here.

plank

There are three levels.

First option: Start in the top of a pushup then lower to your elbows. Lower your knees directly to the floor while keeping your back flat.

Second option: Elbows rest on the floor, but this time raise your knees off of the ground, balancing on your toes as if doing a push-up.

Third option: Straighten your elbows and hold yourself up with straight arms and legs.

Now, imitate a plank of wood by tilting your pelvis forward and squeezing your abs. Continue to squeeze your abs as tight as you can throughout the whole plank. Don't arch your lower back. Keep your neck in line with your plank, look between your hands and breathe. Make sure you're booty isn't sticking in the air!

side plank

Lay on your side then push up on your forearm. Abs super tight, head in line with everything else.

When I do two-leg Side Plank, I add small hip dips to work my obliques. All you do is dip your hips a few inches, then raise them back to starting position.

Watch a video about all the different types of planks here.

crunch

Get in crunch position on the floor. Now, adjust your shoulders further back to stretch out your spine as long as you can. Pull your ribs like in the other exercises and engage your lower abs as tight as you can. Bend your elbows and put your hands to the outside of your ears, not behind your neck. Don't use your arms at all. Stay looking at the ceiling and breathe out as crunch to lift your shoulders off the floor. They may not come off very far at first. That's okay.

Watch a video here.

mountain climbers

Start at the top of a push up — abs engaged, one straight line. Now bring your right knee up. Jump and switch the position of your legs so the left leg is bent and the ball of the left foot is touching the floor. That’s one rep.

Watch a GIF here.

Now try it yourself!

Make sure you're using proper form for all of these moves - it's what strengthens your muscles, and you want to make sure you don't hurt yourself. If you're new to exercising, I'd rather you do less reps with good form than more reps with bad form.

Listen to your body. Make modifications and/or substitutions when you need to. We're not trying to win a bodybuilding competition here or anything! We just want you to keep getting strong. :)

When you find time for your strength routine, snap a photo and tag #CatholicWomenRun on Facebook and Instagram!

Do you have other favorite strength moves? Tell us in the comments!

-Johnna D.