As a distance runner, you probably enjoy pushing yourself on long runs on the road, interval training on the track and relaxing jaunts through your local park. Although strength training may not seem to fit into the distance running picture, it is actually a great complement to it. A mix of resistance exercises for your lower body and core, along with hill training and plyometrics two to three times per week, strengthens your running muscles and improves your posture, meaning less injury and a more efficient running stride.
Dynamic exercises that mimic running, such as bench step-ups and step-downs, one-leg squats, arm swings with dumbbells and leg pull-throughs, develop strength and power in your running motion. Additionally, these exercises improve the coordination of the muscles involved in running, meaning you will have less wasted motion in your stride. After an easy run or a 10-minute cardio warm-up, do two to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions of these exercises in a circuit-type fashion, meaning you do one set of an exercise, and then do a set of a different exercise with minimal rest between sets.
Core strength training isn't just for developing a six-pack, and shouldn't involve doing hundreds of crunches. Strong core muscles, which include your abdominal, back, hip and oblique muscles, provide a stable base of support at your trunk, which maintains your posture even when you fatigue and keeps your leg muscles working properly to power your stride. Ten to 15 minutes of core-strengthening exercises after a run or along with your running-specific exercises three to four times per week will help keep your torso strong. Good exercises include abdominal crunches, front and side planks, bicycle crunches and deadlifts.
You have undoubtedly felt the burn in both your quads and your lungs if you’ve ever run hard up a steep hill. Running uphill improves both your aerobic conditioning and your leg strength and explosiveness in one workout. Find a moderately steep hill that takes about one to two minutes to climb. Warm up with about 10 minutes of easy running on flat land, finishing at the base of this hill. Run up the hill at about 90 percent of your all-out effort, focusing on short, quick steps and a slight forward lean into the hill. Jog or walk back down the hill to recover, and repeat three to five more times, depending on your fitness level. Finish with a five- to 10-minute cool-down jog on flat land.
You can have the strongest muscles, but if they can’t generate that force quickly and efficiently, they won’t help you run faster. Plyometric exercises improve the elasticity of your muscles and their ability to generate power, a measurement of how quickly your muscles can produce force. After an easy run or a 10-minute warm-up jog, do two 30-second sets each of bounding and double-leg forward hops, lateral hops and vertical leaps. Rest one minute between each set. These are intense, high-impact exercises, so make sure you have a few weeks of strength training under your belt before attempting these exercises.
Gina Battaglia has written professionally since 2006. She served as an assistant editor for the "International Journal of Sports Medicine" and coauthored a paper published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research." Battaglia completed a Doctor of Philosophy in bioenergetics and exercise science at East Carolina University and a Master of Science in biokinesiology from the University of Southern California.