Are you struggling with your running performance? Have you reached a plateau in your PR (Personal Records) and subsequently a loss of motivation to run? Are you looking for something to shake up your training and take you from poor performance to peak performance?
It's crucial to not just run for the sake of running. Incremental overload of the muscles and incremental improvements are what it's all about. Don't run on autopilot. Now is the time to find other ways to stimulate your muscles and get your running pace and desire back.
Why Bodyweight Exercises?
You may not have a gym membership if you're only a runner since it would be costly to just use a treadmill, especially since you can run around the neighborhood for free. The good news is that you don't need an expensive gym membership to build strength, explosive power, and ultimately, a faster running pace. You can do bodyweight exercises almost anywhere, and obviously, with just your own body as equipment.
So what are the benefits of doing bodyweight exercises over using gym equipment?
As a supplement to your running, bodyweight exercises can offer a lot of benefits. Firstly, you’ll be able to run faster, and who doesn't want that? How do these strength exercises help with running speed? Studies have shown that strength training, especially maximal strength training (higher intensities and lower volumes) can improve oxygen consumption at a steady-state running speed. In other words, it improves running economy. For the sprinters, there's also good news. Improved lower-body strength contributes to better sprinting performance.
Reducing injuries is another huge benefit. There’s enough data to suggest that runners who engage in bodyweight exercises are less prone to injuries. It’s believed that around 70% of runners will experience an injury during an annual cycle. While numbers are not exact, it’s believed that this figure would decrease if every runner added bodyweight workouts to their training program.
Runners can often find their times getting slower and distances shorter, but there are things that you can do to mitigate a decrease in running performance.
Furthermore, you'll be able to run longer distances more comfortably because your muscles are used to the stresses of strength training for runners.
While there are no hard and fast rules about when and how long you should train, you should probably not do strength workout sessions on the same day as longer runs if you're looking for the most gains from your training schedule.
The humble squat has many applications for all kinds of exercise goals. To perform a squat, start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Then, send your hips back and bend your knees to lower your torso (and optionally, the weight you're holding). Finally, press through your heels to return to the starting position.
Easy, right? It might seem easy to perform but this fundamental exercise is also easy to perform incorrectly. Pay special attention to the correct squat form and try to have a fitness coach evaluate your squat performance.
You might have done them before as part of another exercise routine but never considered that they could help you improve your running skills. One medical study has suggested that runners can increase their running economy by 21% (before exhaustion) if they include a squat routine in their running program. Squats promotes lower body muscular endurance, strength, and power. By giving your leg muscles this additional training you’ll be able to re-distribute this experience into your running efforts and, in theory, run for longer and faster.
The beauty of the squat is its seemingly endless choice of variations. Any wall or upright surface can be used for the wall squat. The split squat combines elements of yoga. Squat jacks provide a hearty cardio workout. Holding your arms straight above your head with palms together adds a little extra difficulty (meaning more gains) and stretch to this movement. It's another yoga-style addition to bodyweight training that I'd recommend you try.
It is of course possible to incorporate an additional weight into the standard squat if you have dumbbell weights in your home gym. The most popular is the kettlebell weight which is very versatile with goblet squats and Bulgarian split squats. While this is not bodyweight squat protocol, the benefits of using some form of additional weight are worth considering. You don't need barbells and squat racks, but grabbing a dumbbell or kettlebell is easy.
What is important is to keep good form within your comfort zone; especially if you’re new to these workout routines.
With lunges, you can target your glutes, hips, quads, hamstrings, and other thigh muscles, all of which are used when running. Lunges are a bit like the split squat mentioned earlier, but lunges use more dynamic movements and force larger recruitment of muscle fibers.
In many ways, the lunge exercise replicates similar movements that occur when running, and it focuses more on developing the muscular composition of the lower body. As these muscles grow you will become stronger and benefit from increased coordination and help your form; increasing your efficiency when running.
To perform a lunge: Start by positioning yourself on the floor with feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart, and with your hands placed at your sides. Then step forward with one leg (left leg or right leg) until your front knee makes contact with the floor. Next, push off with your back leg and return to starting position. Repeat with the opposite leg.
Muscle growth isn’t the only benefit to lunges as the exercise can also improve balance and help in correcting posture. As this is a unilateral exercise (one leg at a time), it can help fix problems with muscle imbalances. Lunges have become a mainstay of yoga routines, and can easily be adapted to meet the needs of modern runners.
Once you're comfortable with this exercise, you can even add some additional weights such as dumbbells in each hand to give yourself more of a challenge
The push-up can be a challenge for people with weaker upper body muscles. But the beauty of this exercise is in it's simplicity. You can do it almost anywhere. It's an accessible exercise, requiring only a flat surface to start from. The push-up movement targets the chest, shoulders, and core, as well as working your triceps in the process.
By improving the strength of these important upper body muscles you will enhance your core, posture, and stability; three attributes that lend themselves to good running.
Once on a suitably flat surface in the prone position, push against the ground to raise your upper body. Lower again using your arms to slowly return your chest to make contact with the floor. That's one rep. Remembering to keep good posture throughout, you can repeat this motion within your zone of comfort (meaning you don't feel pain – remember that exercise should be uncomfortable but not painful).
Given the simplicity of the exercise, it should be no surprise there are a wealth of modifications to change the focus. The starting width of your arms is a major consideration; as the wider your starting frame – the most intensity places on the chest muscles, conversely a narrower position will put more emphasis on the arms (triceps, mostly). It is common to include both wide and narrow versions in a single routine. Other variations to explore when comfortable with the basic variation are single-arm, single-leg, and planchet push-ups.
(Note: in some vernaculars, including British English, this exercise is known as a press-up).
Another upper-body exercise that needs nothing more than a flat surface. There are several variations of this core exercise, and one that looks like the press up but where you hold the top position for a set time.
How to perform a plank:
- Place your forearms on the floor and align your elbows below your shoulders in a forearm plank position.
- Ideally, your arms should be parallel to your body and about shoulder-width apart.
- Maintain a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Engage your core muscles and maintain this position for 30-60 seconds.
Your body's weight is on the forearms, elbows, and toes. But the abs and core engage to keep your in proper form and to prevent your body from sagging. While the world record plank duration was held for over nine hours, it’s better to start between 30 to 60 seconds.
When you’re steadily holding the plank within your routine you should enjoy greater flexibility and posture, which in turn should reduce your risk of injury when running.
This simple exercise can be modified in many ways – with popular variations being side planks and others that encourage leg movement. These tend to work your lower body more; so are great additions when you’ve mastered the regular plank.
Weak calves in runners can be a key source of pain and injury for runners. Training these muscles with calf raises can help to reduce these types of ailments.
The exercise is simple: in a standing position, lift your heels until you are standing on your toes, and push through the balls of your feet. Lower slowly back down and repeat. Since it is so simple, it can be easily incorporated into your workout or another part of your day.
This muscle group (which includes the Achilles tendon) works as a spring that re-purposes the energy it receives from your foot consistently moving across the ground. Strengthening the area will give you greater efficiency and durability.
Older runners should take extra heed of this advice as studies have shown that calves can weaken dramatically with age, and to keep pace and stride strong – calf muscles should be strengthened.
Calf raises are easily complimented with dumbbells in each hand for additional weight; as well as some modifications to starting position or movement. One popular variation is a single-leg calf raise or the bent-knee raise.