If you have recently taken up running, you may be asking yourself, “why do I need another workout? Isn’t running a great workout in and of itself?”
While running is one of the single best things you can do for your overall health and fitness, you will need to invest time and energy into other workouts to become a better runner.
Variety is incredibly important in physical fitness. It ensures different groups of muscles are challenged, helps you minimize the risk of injuries from overuse, and enables you to avoid the burnout that comes with doing the same exercise routine repeatedly in and day out.
This is not to say that you are not allowed a favorite exercise or an exercise you do more often than others. You can still be a five-day-a-week runner, but the addition of strength training, cycling, yoga, swimming, or many other activities can help you improve your runs.
Workouts targeted to build your leg muscles will really pay off when it comes to distance runs: stronger legs will go longer. They will also help you with short sprints, too: stronger legs are also faster legs.
Strength Training: How It Benefits Runners
Strength training can be a game-changer when it comes to running. It can help runners stave off injury or pain, and it can also shave seconds and sometimes minutes off of race times.
Strength training also serves runners in the long term with health benefits that address the effects of aging.
As we age, we lose muscle mass. This is an inevitability, even for those who are physically fit. If we commit to building our muscles through strength training, and we continue to work out consistently to engage those muscle groups throughout our lives, we will be better equipped to manage the aging process.
Strength training you start in your 40s could be what ultimately saves you after a fall in your 80s. This kind of exercise is an investment not only in your running but also in your future.
For many runners, especially long-distance runners, endurance is the name of the game. The increased endurance from strength training is a huge benefit, and it’s one that can be realized with only a few short workouts each week.
How Should I Schedule Leg Workouts Around My Runs?
Most runners know the benefits of alternative workouts on “off” days or rest days. This could mean running 4 or 5 times per week, and on the other 2 or 3 days hitting the gym for a strength training class (or opting for yoga, cycling, swimming, or even boxing).
However, what many runners overlook is the need to incorporate a quick strength training routine after a run. Just 10 to 20 minutes of exercise after a run can do wonders for your leg muscles, and we encourage you to add the exercises below after your next run.
Exercise #1 Squats
Few movements work the body as effectively as squats, and few movements come with as many variations to prevent boredom. Sumo squats, jump squats, prisoner squats, single let squats…no matter what your goals are, a trainer will probably tell you, “there’s a squat for that.”
If you want to incorporate squats into your workouts to build strong leg muscles, keep these tips in mind:
- In a basic squat, your feet should be placed shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your chest raised and your back straight. Avoid hunching over or leaning forward as you squat.
- Practice squatting in front of a mirror to ensure you are using proper form.
- When you think you have gone low enough….go lower.
Squats will work your hamstrings, quads, and glutes; this is an exercise that yields a visible result once you stick with them. And if you want more of a challenge and a full-body workout, add some dumbbells to your squat routines.
Tip: If squats are your least favorite exercise, you could try to force some “accountability” with a squat challenge. Ask friends, family, neighbors, and fellow runners to participate with you in hitting a certain number of squats weekly and reporting back to the group on your progress.
Exercise # 2: Lunges
Lunges are similar to squats in their versatility (side lunges, jump lunges, walking lunges, and more) and their effectiveness when it comes to building strong leg muscles. Lunges are fantastic for the glutes and quads, and regular lunge training will absolutely make you a better runner.
The trick with lunges is to avoid knee injuries, and much of that boils down to proper form. These are the things you should keep in mind when it comes to lunges:
- Take it slow and make sure you are standing straight and tall before you lung; try focusing your eyes on a specific target in front of you, and keep your eyes on that target throughout the entire lunge.
- When you lunge, your front knee should be over your ankle; the goal is to create a 90-degree angle with your leg.
- Practice lunges in front of a mirror until you are sure you are consistently using the proper form.
Exercise #3: Calf Raises
The calf raise can trick many observers into thinking they are “easy” because they do not appear to require much effort. But do not mistake this simple move for something that lacks effectiveness.
Simple calf raises are one of the best things you can do to work your calves. You can do these starting from a flat position on a floor and simply raise up onto your toes and hold that position. Or, for an added challenge, try placing your toes on an exercise step or weight plate. Finally, for the ultimate calf raise challenge, hold a set of dumbbells in your hand while you complete your reps.
By spending an extra 10 to 20 minutes after your run completing these exercises, you will build stronger leg muscles quickly.