10 Training Moves Every Runner Should Know
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10 Training Moves Every Runner Should Know

10 Training Moves Every Runner Should Know

by Molly Lori

I admit it!

I was one of those runners. The type that never stretched or did any strength work with my body. Okay, I do lift weights with my arms for purely aesthetic reasons (I don't want to end up with arms that flap in the breeze). But I always figured that my body was getting enough conditioning through training runs and speed work.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

As you know, the body uses the same muscle groups every time you run. While these muscle groups gain definition, others do not. Strengthening these other muscle groups can make all the difference in the world to your training and racing. You'll feel stronger, have a more efficient form, run faster and prevent injuries.  

The first thing registered dietitian and A.C.S.M.-certified personal fitness trainer Sara Marchi told me was, "Strengthening your core is the key to becoming a better runner."

My core?

She explained, "The core is essentially everything but your legs and arms, with emphasis on your back and abdominals."

As I learned, the core muscles protect your lower back by keeping you upright when you fatigue on a run.Though the core is the most important, leg and arm exercises are not to be skipped. Marchi hits home when she adds that runners notoriously neglect their legs - scoffing at the prospect of spending extra time in the gym when they've just done a 12-mile run. She cautions against this kind of thinking.

"The best way to prevent knee injuries is to strengthen the largest muscles in the leg - the quadriceps and hamstrings."

Most importantly, strength workouts should be varied, even - believe it or not - fun. Marchi likes to mix boot-camp moves with yoga, Pilates and traditional weight lifting. She showed me the ropes at the San Francisco Bay Club, where she began her training career. She recommends starting with the abdominal exercises first.


1. Stability Ball Sit-Ups
What You Need: A stability ball, sized according to your height. You have the right size if your legs come out at a 90-degree angle when you sit on top of it.
Muscles Worked: Upper abdominals
How To: Lie across the stability ball so that the small of your back is directly over the top of the ball. Your feet should be flat on the floor. Bring your hands behind your head and point your eyes and chin toward the ceiling. Sit up halfway, keeping your back straight and pulling your navel in toward your spine. Hold for one count and slowly lower your back down to the original position.
How Many: Two sets of 25 sit-ups

2. Navy Seals

What You Need: An exercise mat or carpeted floor
Muscles Worked: External obliques
How To: Lie on your right side, propped up on your right elbow. Rotate your pelvis slightly back until you are resting on your right cheek (you don't want to rest on your hip bone - these will be painful if you do). Bring your left hand behind your head and, with knees and ankles together, bring your knees and left elbow toward each other.
How Many: 25 on each side

3. Reverse Curls
What You Need: Incline sit-up board or a sturdy table leg
Muscles Worked: Lower abdominals
How To: Adjust the angle of the board to your strength level. The greater the angle, the harder your abs will have to work. Lie flat on your back, reaching your arms up over your head to grasp the post on the incline board (if you are at home, use a table leg or a friend's ankles). Bring both legs straight up into the air - this is the starting position - and slowly lower them until your lower back just starts to come away from the board or floor. Do not lower your legs any further than this point. Now, bring your legs slowly back up into the starting position. If it is too hard, you can bend your knees on the way back to the starting position.
How Many: Three sets of ten

Back & Lower Body

4. Balance Board Squats
What You Need: A balance board and medicine ball (optional)
Muscles Worked: Quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes
How To: A balance board adds extra challenge to squats because it takes extra effort to stabilize yourself on the board while doing the exercise. You may want to stand near a wall on your first attempt. Once you are balanced on the board with your feet shoulder-width apart, suck in your abdominal muscles and lower your back end as if you were going to sit in a chair. Your arms should start to come up in front of you as you lower yourself into the sitting position. To protect your knees, watch that they don't bend out over your toes. Hold for one count and then raise yourself back up to the standing position, arms at your side. Optional: hold a medicine ball or a heavy object (a dumbbell or soup can).
How Many: Two sets of 20

5. High Knees
What You Need: A flat stretch of land or a long hallway
Muscles Worked: Quadriceps
How To: Jog in place and start to bring your knees higher and higher until you are bringing them to waist level (or as high as you can). Move forward slowly, concentrating on raising your knees as high as you can on each step.
How Many: Two sets - about 45 seconds each in duration

6. High Heels
What You Need: A flat stretch of land or a long hallway
Muscles Worked: Hamstrings
How To: Stand at the end of a long hallway. Jog in place and start to bring your heels higher and higher until you are almost kicking yourself in the rear. Make your way slowly forward, keeping your posture erect and trying to get your heels as high as possible with each step.
How Many: Two sets - about 45 seconds each in duration

7. Cobra
What You Need: A mat or carpeted floor
Muscles Worked: Back muscles
How To: Lie on your stomach with your legs together. Your palms are placed on the mat under your shoulders, arms close to your side. Your face is pointed down toward the mat. Without using any arm strength - your hands are only for steadiness - carefully start to raise your head and chest. As your head rises, your back will begin to arch. Keep your pelvis to the floor. Try to look as far back on the ceiling as you can. Breathe out and then lower your head and chest back to the mat.
How Many: Two sets of 15

8. Back Extension
What You Need: A mat or carpeted floor
Muscles Worked: Back muscles
How To: Lie on your stomach with your arms out in front of you and keep your legs together. Your face should be pointed toward the mat at all times during this exercise. Raise your arms and legs at the same time while tightening your butt muscles. In each set, do ten raises with your arms out in front of you and ten with your arms extended straight out to each side.
How Many: Two sets of 20

Upper Body

9. Diamond and Regular Push-Ups
What You Need: A mat or a carpeted floor
Muscles Worked: Chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps
How To: Kneel on your mat and bring your hands together in a diamond shape so that your forefingers and thumbs are touching. Position the diamond right above your chest level. Keeping your back flat, your chin up and your arms by your side, gradually lower your chest toward the mat. Exhale on the way down and inhale as you rise.
For regular push-ups, you can choose to stay kneeling or you can fully extend your legs behind you. Place your hands on either side of your body, positioned at a level even with your shoulders. As you lower your body, keep your back straight and your shoulders away from your ears.
How Many: 30 of each type

10. Deltoid Circuit
What You Need: Hand weights, 10 pounds each or under
Muscles Worked: Front, side and rear deltoid
How To: You will be doing three separate shoulder exercises in one circuit. First, with weights in hand and palms facing the ceiling, bring the weights up in front of you until they reach shoulder level. Lower and start again. Complete ten of these front raises.

For the next exercise, start with the weights at your sides. Raise them up to shoulder level on each side, keeping your elbows slightly bent. Lower and start again. Complete ten of these lateral raises.

For the last exercise, lean forward from your waist, keeping your knees slightly bent. Start in a boxer's pose, with the weights horizontal and your knuckles together just below your chin. Stay in the bent position with your back straight and extend the weights out to your sides until they are even with your shoulders. Lower and start again. Complete ten in this forward position.
How Many: Two complete circuits.

Marchi reminds me that I should be stretching daily, especially after a run. She suggests using a foam Pilates roll for certain stretches - especially for the I.T. band. I'm still working on that stretching part (bad habits take a while to break) but, after a month of doing Marchi's workout twice a week, my new-found core strength is helping me run taller, smoother and, well, smarter.

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