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The 12 Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners

This section provides a strength training program that targets those muscles and movements most important in improving your running performance. These routines are not designed to turn you into the incredible hulk. The idea is to increase your strength to the point at which your body can handle the stresses of running without getting hurt. If you end up getting a little firmer in the abs, hips and buns, who's gonna complain, huh? In addition to injury prevention, strength training helps round out your overall fitness program.

Here are a few of the other benefits:

Maintain and increase muscle mass

Researchers know that one part of aging is the loss of muscle. A little resistance training can help maintain your vital muscle mass. In other words, use it or lose it.

Add interest and maintain motivation

Strength training also adds variety and interest to your exercise program. A little change of routine will help keep you motivated.

Become a better athlete overall

Strength training can help you become a better total athlete. It improves balance and coordination. It teaches discipline. By building your running muscles, and those that support them, and by following the other guidelines in this book-including goal setting, nutrition and stretching-you'll start to become a "total athlete," not just a runner.

Meet more people

Going to a gym to work out is an ideal way to meet people who share your interests. It's a great place to get new fitness ideas and news.

Twelve Exercises

Exercise #1: Towel Crunch

Body part: Feet

This exercise will strengthen your feet. After all, they withstand 2-3 times your body weight with each running step. So the stronger your feet are, the better! Lay a small towel out on a linoleum or tile floor. Sit in a chair with your toes just over the edge of the towel. Begin to pull the towel toward you using your toes. When you can no longer pull more towel under your toes, spread the towel out again and repeat. Once the towel crunch gets too easy, just add some weight (a food can or small book) to the end of the towel for more resistance.

Exercises #2 & #3: Straight Leg Raises and Bent Leg Raises

Body part: Calves

Like the feet, the calves are very involved in running. That's why it's so important to keep them strong and flexible. In these two exercises, one with your knee straight and one with your knee slightly bent, focus on lowering your heel as far as possible then rising up as high as possible. Once you can do 30-50 repetitions of these, you can add some additional weight. Try holding a large food can or dumbbell as you exercise.

Exercise #4: Bed Pulls

Body part: Shins

Shin splints is one of the most common running injuries for beginners. The muscles on the front and side of the legs just aren't ready for all the work. This simple exercise will prepare them for running. Hang just the ball of your foot off the mattress and pull your foot toward your shin. The mattress will provide just the right amount of resistance. Focus on slowly releasing the mattress. This helps train the muscles for the action they take during running - namely lowering the foot slowly to keep it from slapping the ground.

Exercise #5: Knee Extensions

Body part: Quadriceps

The quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thigh) are critical to your running. Not only do they help absorb the impact and propel you down the road, they also stabilize the knee. Keeping your "quads" strong will help you avoid Runner's Knee and other ailments. Begin with your knee bent slightly - less than 90 degrees. Straighten your legs to move the weight and continue until your legs are fully extended, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. If your knees, not the thighs, feel any discomfort, decrease the weight and reduce the range of motion (how far you flex or extend your leg). Experiment to find a pain-free range.

Exercise #6: Leg Curls

Body part: Hamstrings

The hamstrings (the muscles on the back of the thigh) are also important for your running. They need to be strong and flexible. Lie face down on the leg curl machine. Slip your feet under the rollers and hold onto the handles. Begin with your legs straight, then pull your heels toward your buttocks to lift the weight. Pull your heels only to the point where your butt begins to rise off the bench. You don't have to touch your butt with your heels. Then lower the weight slowly.

Exercise #7: Lunges

Body part: Buttocks/Hamstrings

Take a good size step forward with one leg. The front leg should be bent so that your knee is directly over your ankle (forming a 90-degree angle). The rear leg should be straight. Return to a standing position by pushing backward with the heel of your forward leg. You should feel the exercise in the buttocks and backs of legs. Repeat with the other leg.

Exercise # 8: Crunches

Body part: Abdominals

Your trunk is the major power source for your running. If your "core" isn't strong and stable, then you risk injury. Lay on your back with your knees bent. Cross your arms over your chest, then crunch your chest towards your knees without straining your neck. A 45-degree angle is about right. The lower back should remain on the floor. Focus on tightening the abdominal muscles.

Exercise #9: Rows

Body part: Back

As with your abs, your back muscles keep your trunk and torso stable during running. Keeping your stomach tight, pull your hands toward your chest to lift the weight. Squeeze the shoulder blades together, then slowly lower the weight to the starting position. Your lower back should move minimally. If you experience any lower back discomfort, decrease the weight and range of motion of the exercise.

Exercise #10: Bench Press

Body part: Chest

This exercise will develop your chest and shoulders. Lying on your back, hold the bar at chest level, then extend your arms fully without locking your elbows. Slowly lower the weight back to starting position.

Arm Workouts

The arms are used mainly for balance during running, but can tire after a few miles. Strengthening the front of the upper arm - the biceps - and the back of the upper arm - the triceps - keeps your arms strong. Plus you'll look buff!

Exercise #11: Bicep Curls

Start with your arms extended. Flex the elbow to bring the weight toward your shoulders. Once the elbows are maximally flexed, slowly lower the weight to the starting position. As you fatigue, remember not to rock the body or move the elbows back and forth to accomplish the exercise.

Exercise #12: Tricep Curls

Start with your elbow bent. Straighten your elbow fully to lift the weight and strengthen the backs of your arms. Slowly bend your elbow to lower the weight.

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