6 Strength Exercises Every Runner Should Be Doing
Run Faster, Farther, Longer
If running's your thing, it can't be your only thing if you want to be fit.
"That's like saying you're going to get all your nutrition from a single food," says Charles Poliquin, owner of Poliquin Performance in Arizona and strength coach to multiple Olympians.
Your miles can burn off a burrito or two and clear your mind after a stressful day, but skipping strength and upper-body training can keep you from the sexy shoulders, strong arms, and overall healthy image you're after—and it can keep you from running your fastest.
"You arms set the tone: The faster your arms are, the faster your legs are going to be," says Dan Ownes, owner of Hyper Fit Training in Wall, New Jersey, and a coach for the Full Throttle Endurance triathlon team in New York. And it's not just speed—arm swing keeps propelling you forward, and fatiguing up top can end your run prematurely. "When your shoulders get tired, your legs slow down."
Keep yourself moving forward—and toward your race and physique goals—with these six strength exercises that will make you a faster, longer runner and a fitter you.
Band Torso Rotation
The goal: Keep your upper back loose (and sculpt your core).
Arm swinging requires movement and a level of rotation in your upper spine, says Ali Gelani, owner of Perfect Fit Personal Training in Washington, D.C. "Your body rotates like a pivot." To ward off fatigue, "we need to make sure the thoracic (upper) spine is nice and loose."
To get yours moving, Gelani suggests fast-paced reps of the band torso rotation—and lots of them. To simulate the endurance of a run, the D.C. trainer has clients do sets of 30 to 50 reps on each side. The bonus? You'll sculpt your core while you work your thoracic spine.
To do it, secure a cable or resistance band at waist height on your right side. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hold the cable in front of you with straight arms—there should be tension in the cable. Brace your core. Maintaining an erect torso and without moving your legs, rotate your torso so that your hands (and the cable) move to the left while maintaining your original head position. Rotate back to the start and all the way to the right. Rotate back and forth rapidly for 30 to 50 reps. Switch positions so the cable is on your left side, and repeat.
The goal: Stabilize your core while increasing shoulder endurance.
To stay on your feet for the long haul, "you need upper-body stabilization, and you're trying to maintain muscle mass," says Shawn Arent, Ph.D., director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Rutgers University. "The running position—it's traps, shoulders, and upper back."
Work all three—and stabilize your core—with a pushup-position row, Arent says. To do it, assume a pushup position with your hands holding dumbbells directly below your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Maintaining this body line, bend one elbow to row one weight up next to your rib cage. Return it to the floor, and repeat on the other side. That's one rep. Start with 12 to 15 reps and work up to longer sets.
The goal: Train anaerobically by pairing that row with a push.
"[Every endurance athlete] should train anaerobically," Ownes says. Unlike aerobic exercise—which is of longer duration and allows your muscles to continue to receive oxygen—anaerobic training involves short bursts that starve your muscles of oxygen. This uses the fast-twitch fibers of your muscles—those that will help you be faster and stronger.
For runners, Ownes suggests going anaerobic by performing two-exercise supersets of pushing and pulling exercises—alternating sets without rest in between. While your pulling muscles rest and recover, you're still sapping your energy sources while performing the pushing movement.
The triathlon coach suggests pairing sets of 12 to 15 pushup-position rows with 12 to 15 of the most basic push—the pushup. To make sure you're doing it perfectly, keep your hands beneath your shoulders at the start position. Maintain a rigid body line from head to heels as you bend your elbows to descend, keeping your elbows close (but not pinned) to your sides. Press back to the start.
DB Overhead Press and Lat Pulldown
The goal: Pair a vertical pushing and pulling exercise to keep maximizing your results.
After completing a superset of horizontal pushing and pulling, Ownes suggests switching to vertical pushing and pulling. Perform alternating sets of 12 to 15 reps of each of these two exercises, without resting between sets. Perform 4 or 5 rounds of each move before resting and repeating.
For your vertical push, do the dumbbell overhead press. Start with dumbbells at your shoulders, palms facing in. Press the dumbbells straight overhead until your arms are straight, maintaining an erect torso. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
Pair that with a vertical pull such as a lat pulldown. Set a cable or resistance band above you, and grab the bar or handles with an overhand grip. Lean back slightly and tuck your shoulder blades back and down, as if you were trying to tuck them into your back pockets. Now bend your elbows to bring the bar or handles in line with the top of your chest, maintaining an erect torso throughout. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
The goal: Work your whole body together.
Running effectively for long distances is about your entire body working in concert, says Elizabeth Hendrix Burwell, a personal trainer and owner of High Performance in Greenville, S.C. To simulate this with an exercise, Burwell has clients perform total-body movements like the dumbbell thruster, a combination of a squat and an explosive overhead press.
To perform the move, stand with dumbbells at your shoulders, palms facing in. Push your hips back to squat, bending your knees until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. As you press through your heels to come out of the squat, use the momentum from your legs to thrust the dumbbells off your shoulders until your arms are extended overhead. Return the dumbbells to your shoulders, and repeat.