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This workout will improve your running while you watch TV.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
Strength training is good for runners. But strength training takes time, and most runners feel they barely have enough time to do all the running they want to do, let alone extra workouts on the side. And many runners also don’t enjoy strength training.
It’s quite a pickle. But I believe that runners can have their pickle and eat it too by taking a very simple approach to strength training. I call them TV workouts: strength workouts that can be done at home—while you watch your favorite prime-time television shows, if so wish—in minimal time and with only an aerobics step and a jump rope for equipment. You don’t even have to change into workout clothes if you don’t want to.
Three quick sessions per week will give you meaningful benefits in the forms of improved running economy and reduced injury risk. The following selection of exercises provides the ideal mix of specific benefits for runners. Some improve overall strength, others increase stride power, and still others enhance joint stability. There’s no need to vary the workout over time. If you were making your living as a runner I would recommend that you put a little mental energy into making your strength-training program progressive, but for the average runner that extra mental cost is not worth the added physical benefit.
Think of your “TV workouts” as being like flossing your teeth: something you do routinely, year-round, the same way every time to maintain a certain desired benefit. Complete just one or two sets of each exercise two or three times per week.
This exercise builds strength in the glutes, hips, and thighs.
Stand facing a sturdy 12- to 18-inch aerobic step with your right foot on it and your left foot on the floor. Now use your right leg to pull your body upward until you’re standing on the bench on your right foot. Concentrate on not pushing off the floor with your left foot. (One way to ensure that you do this is to lift the toes of your left foot before you engage your right leg to lift your body.) Make your right leg do all the work of lifting your body. Step back down with your left leg. Complete 10 repetitions, then switch legs. As you get stronger, increase the height of the aerobic step to keep the exercise challenging.
The push-up strengthens the chest and upper back and, to a lesser extent, the core. It helps improve the ability to transfer forces between the upper body and legs during running.
Assume a standard push-up position with your hands just outside shoulder width. Imagine your body being a straight line from ankles to neck; don’t allow the hips to sag, or your butt to stick up too high. Tuck your chin so that your head is close to being in line with your body. Lower your chest to within an inch of the floor. Look straight at the floor the entire time, and keep your core braced tightly. Keep going until you are strongly but not extremely fatigued.
This exercise strengths the deep abdominal musculature and improves the stability of the low back and pelvis during running.
Lie on your back, bend your knees, and draw them as close to your chest as possible. Grasp any type of stick or rod (such as a broom handle) with both hands, positioned shoulder-width apart. Begin with your arms extended straight toward your toes. Now squeeze your abdominal muscles and reach forward with the stick until it passes beyond your toes. (This is a very small movement—just a few inches.) Pause for one second and return to the start position.
Single-Leg Tuck Jump
Like all jumping or plyometrics exercises, this one increases stride power and “leg stiffness” during running, which translates into improved running economy.
Stand on one leg with the other slightly bent. Lower yourself into a quarter squat and the jump as high as you can. While you’re in the air, try to draw the knee of the leg you just used to push off the ground toward your chest. (Unless you’re a gymnast you won’t be able to get it very close.) Upon landing, immediately lower yourself into another quarter-squat and jump again. Complete 8-12 jump and then repeat the exercise using the opposite leg.
Inverted Shoulder Press
This exercise strengthens the shoulders.
Assume a push-up position but with your feet elevated on an exercise bench or other sturdy platform of similar height. Position your hands close enough to your feet so your body forms an inverted “V” with a 60 to 90 degree bend at the waist. Bend your elbows and lower the top of your head toward the floor between your hands, stopping just short of making contact. Press back to the start position. The higher you elevate your feet and the more you bend at the waist, the more challenging this exercise will be.
This is a classic power builder for the calves.
Skip rope normally for 1-3 minutes uninterrupted.
The side plank strengthens the oblique abs and enhance stability in the hips and pelvis during running.
Lie on your right side with your ankles together and your torso propped up by your upper arm. Lift your hips upward until your body forms a diagonal plank from ankles to neck. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds, making sure you don’t allow your hips to sag toward the floor. (Watch yourself in a mirror to make sure you’re not sagging.) Switch to the left side and repeat the exercise.
The hip hike strengthens the hips to improve stability in the hips and pelvis during running.
Stand on your right foot only on a sturdy platform that’s at least eight inches high. Position yourself so that the instep of your foot is close to the edge of the platform and your left foot is hovering above the floor. Begin with your hips aligned so your left foot is level with your right. Now relax the muscles of your right hip and allow your left foot to sink a few inches toward the floor. Be sure to do this without bending your right knee. Next, contract the muscles of your right hip and lift your left hip as high as possible, bringing your left foot a few inches higher than the right. Complete a full set and then reverse your position and repeat the exercise.
Check out Matt’s latest book, RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel.