Wednesday, May 30, 2012

YBS' Amazing, Slightly Boring, But Very Beneficial Running Strength Workout

I recently hit up my hubs  (YBS) - a former varsity decathlete, marine and runner - for some advice on strength training for distance running. He has run marathons, which tend to look easy when you compare it with some of the 20 mile training jogs he would do in the marine corps (with 200 lbs of gear on his back). He knows a thing or two about running a long ways. I have combined this with research I have done and advice I have gleaned from other runners, to develop a set of strength exercises that will (hopefully!) keep me running long, fast and injury free.

The general consensus about running strength routines - especially for distance running - is that they should be relatively light. If your muscles are burning and you can barely finish a rep, then you're probably doing them wrong. At the end of an exercise the targeted muscle groups should be fatigued, but not hurting.
The weights I used were specific to my height and weight. I am fairly strong, but the key here is to provide enough resistance to make the exercises work, but not so that they are nearly impossible to get through. While I get that women lifting heavy weights is sototallyinfitnessfashion, the key for runners is high reps and lighter weight. This is not even really a workout, and it can be rather boring, but a little commitment to strength goes a long way to preventing injury, which prevents runng. Yay for boring stuff that keeps us running!

Finally, acccording to the hubs, the order here is important; you are working from the major muscle groups to the smaller muscle groups. I try to do the first five exercises (in order) twice a week, and then the core or the weightless options after I run, or whenever I can fit them in (especially if I cannot get to the gym).

Forward lunges
Works: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings,
Weights: 15lb weights in each hand
Reps: 3 x 13-20 reps
Form: Holding weights by your sides, take a step forward so your feet are a a couple of feet apart, feet facing forwardt. Lower intoo a regular lunge, making sure each leg is forming a 90 degree angle (square) when you go down. Keep feet straight ahead and back straight. Take two seconds to go down. Touch your knee lightly to the floor. 1 second to go up.

Good Mornings
Works: hamstrings, glutes
Weights: 7lb in each hand
Reps: 3 x 13-20
Form: stand straight, knees slightly bent. With an arched back, lean forward, pushing your bum out, dropping your hands in front of you. When you reach around 90 degree angle to the floor, you should start to feel a pull on your hamstrings and glutes. Go a bit further, but as soon as your back starts to straighten, pull up to standing position. This feels more like a stretch than an exercise, but it works your hammies and glutes very well. It also looks extraordinarily daft.

Leg Extensions
Weights: I use a machine for this one, and use the lowest weight setting. See below* for a machine-less option.
Reps: 3x13-20
Form: This machine enables you to sit down, and tuck your feet behind a large bar. You then move your lower legs from this 90 degree sitting position, and raise the bar to where they are straight out in front on you.

Lateral Squats
Works: Quads (especially inner), glutes, hamstrings
Weights: none
Reps: 3x13-20 on each side
Form: Take a large step diagonally, into a side lunge. The reason you take it diagonally is doing a side lunge directly outward will ensure that your knee lands well past your toes – a big form no-no! Taking it diagonally allows you to get a deep squat/side lunge, while keeping your knee above your toes, and your leg at right angles to the floor. Step as far as you can without overbalancing. Keep feet straight ahead. Keeping your back straight, lean forward into the squat [I usually keep my arms in a sort of boxing pose, with fists out, for balance]. Use your bending leg –quad and glute – to push you back up to standing position. Lunge for two seconds, and recover for 1 second.

 Calf Raises / Dips
Works: Calf muscles (v. helpful for the obstreperous Achilles tendon)
Weights: 15lbs on one side (you could do this with lighter weight on each side, but you may need to hold onto something to balance)
Reps: 3x13-20
Form: on any kind of step/chair/bench stand on the edge with both heels hanging over the side. Lower your body weight down, so your heels dip below the level of the step, then raise so that you are on your tippy toes. Keep your knees straight and flex your quads. Swap weight between your hands.

Plank: Get into a push-up position. Make sure your shoulders are directly above your hands, your back is straight and your butt is not sticking up (your body should create a straight line). Hold for 30 seconds, or as long as you can.

Lumbar plank: Lie on your side. Lift your body up with the arm closest to the ground, until it is straight. Then lift your hips off the floor so that your body is straight and only your one hand and feet are touching the floor. Hold for a few seconds and lower your hips down again. Repeat 15 times on each side.

Oblique Bends: In a standing position hold 7-10lb weight at your side. Bending at the waist, lower the weight toward the floor. You should feel a pull in your oblique. Be careful not to stick your hip out. Bend until you feel the pull in your obliques and bring it up again. Repeat 3x13-20 times on each side.

 Weightless Options
These are weightless options I have found in my research. You can use them to change things up, or if you’re injured. You can do a quick round of these before going to bed or after a run, to get a little bit of strength without having to stay in the gym for hours.

Clam Shells (I call these Hullo Boys):
Works: Hip adductors and abductors
Form: laying on your side, bend your knees and bring them forward so they are at about a 45 degree angle to your body. Raise your top knee/leg into the air (still bent in the same position) and hold at about a 60 degree angle for 3 seconds. Lower and repeat.
Reps: 3x15 on each side.

Lateral Leg Lifts:
Works: Hip adductors (inner thigh), hip abductors (outer hip), hip flexors and glutes.
Laying on your side, raise one leg straight into the air, knee facing forward as high as it can go. Hold for 1-2 seconds and lower until it is just above the leg on the floor.
Reps: 3x15 on each side.

 Side step-ups:
Works: Quads, glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings
Form: Stand next to a chair or bench. Step up onto the bench with the leg closest to it, so you’re standing on it. Raise the other knee up to form a right angle to your body. Lower that leg to step down again.
Reps: 3x 15 on each side.

 Straight Leg Lifts
*Works: This is a good option for a machine-less leg extension (above) (albeit slightly less effective, because of the lack of weight). Works the quads, particular the inner medial quad that stabilizes the knee cap.
Form: two options:
(a) lying flat on your back, one leg bent with that foot flat on the floor. Keeping the other leg straight, lift it to around 75 degree angle to the ground, hold for 3 seconds lower to 10 degrees and repeat; or
(b) (to really target that inner quad) place a 6-12inch foam roller, or equivalent hard, round object (TWSS) beneath both of your knees. Lying flat on your back, raise your lower legs until your legs are straight and just resting on the roller. Hold for 3 seconds, and lower. Repeat either of these as many times as you want.
Reps: 3x15 on each side.

VMO Dips
Works: Another good weightless option for quads, especially that inner medial quad again.
Form: Stand on  a step (anything raised more than about 6 inches) on one foot, with the other in mid-air. Bend the knee of the leg on the step, lowering the leg in the air to the floor, heel first. Straighten the knee slowly and bring the lowered leg back up to standing position.
Repeat: 3x15 on each side.

*****Please keep in mind that I am neither a trained medical professional, nor a fitness instructor. All of the above works for me, and my running routine and you may be in need of something entirely different. Talk to your doctor, physcial therapist or fitness professional before starting any new fitness routine!*****

#LR1 Penny


  1. Bookmarking this for LIFE! Thank you for doing all the hard research for strength training novices/ runners like me and passing the knowledge on

    1. Thanks RR! I hope this helps with your "butt-crease" issues some :) Penny

  2. Finally got around to becoming more consistent with some of these exercises in the past few weeks....I think it may be gradually working. Come on muscles, keep it up!