6 Useful Variations to Traditional Strength-Training Exercises
A few twists to common exercises can make a huge difference.
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Whether you’re strength training to keep the injuries to a minimum or you’re working towards a new PR, the fact that you’re doing it is fantastic! Hitting the weights is one of the best steps you can take to develop yourself into a stronger endurance athlete. If you’ve been cranking out the same exercises workout after workout, it may be time to change things up.
Adding variety to your routine does more than prevent stagnation—it provides an opportunity to work different muscles that are often neglected, leading to a stronger, more balanced body. Give these six variations to traditional exercises a try and see if your running life doesn’t get just a little bit better.
Why: When it comes to strength exercises, deadlifts are king—they work nearly every muscle in your body in one movement. In fact, perhaps the only exercise better than a deadlift is a deadlift with a hexagonal barbell, or hex-bar. In addition to loading the back and hips in a more conservative manner than a barbell, the hex-bar deadlift is ideal for athletes. A recent study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found the hex-bar to be more effective at developing maximal force, power, and velocity than the barbell, despite the fact that similar maximal loads were used.
How: Stand in the center of a hex-bar with your feet hip-width apart. Flex your hips and knees to lower into a squat position and grasp the handles with an overhand grip. With your core engaged and back flat, look straight ahead as you push through your heels to lift the bar by extending your hips and knees simultaneously. With your hips fully extended, pause at the top of the movement then lower back to the starting position.
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Why: We all know that squats lead to increased strength and endurance in the lower body. But did you know by substituting the goblet squat into your routine, you’re going to improve even more? While the goblet squat is not ideal for building muscle, it is optimal for improving endurance, glute activation, hip and ankle mobility, core strength, foot stability and full-body coordination. Light weights are great for warming up but save the heavier stuff for after your run.
How: Stand with your feet a bit wider than your shoulders and your toes pointed slightly outward. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands at chest level with your elbows tucked and the weight close to your chest. With your chest up, back straight and core tight, sink down into a squat with your elbows tracking inside your knees, which means you’re getting low (this is where the good stuff happens). Squeeze your glutes and push through your heels to return to the standing position. Make sure to squat only as low as you comfortably can without causing pain or discomfort.
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Why: Even though running involves primarily moving in a forward plane, your inner and outer thigh muscles play a pivotal role in keeping everything stable, aligned and healthy—that includes your hips, IT band, knees and ankles. Lateral lunges target the stabilizing muscles, improving support and lessening your chance of injury.
How: Lateral lunges can be performed weighted or unweighted. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and torso erect. Take a large step to the right, transferring your weight onto your right leg as you bend your knee and lower down until your right thigh is horizontal and your left leg is straight. Press through your heel to return to standing and repeat the movement to the left.
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Why: Adding a rotation to the traditional step up hits a small group of muscles often neglected, the external rotators—important stabilizers of the hip joint. Recent research has found that those with greater hip external rotator strength had better dynamic control of the lower extremity during unanticipated single-leg landing—a huge plus when you’re running on uneven terrain.
How: Stand with your right side next to a 12- to 18-inch bench. Place your right foot on top of the bench with your knee and toes pointing away from your body. Press through your heel to step onto the bench, rotating your body so that you end the movement facing the same way as your toes. Lower back to the starting position, leaving your right foot on the step. Complete the desired number of repetitions, then switch legs.
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Push-Up With Row
Why: While the push-up is virtually the perfect exercise—providing total body strength with no equipment—by adding a row to the movement you’re going to incorporate back muscles. Though often overlooked, a strong back will help keep your posture tall even as fatigue begins to set in, maintaining your ability for full lung expansion all the way to the finish line.
How: Begin in push-up position with a dumbbell in each hand. With a straight, rigid body, perform a push-up. Once you reach the “up” position, bend your right elbow to pull the weight toward your chest. Lower the weight and repeat with your left arm. That’s one repetition.
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Side Plank with Leg Swing
Why: This plank variation is more challenging and dynamic than the static plank, engaging the abductors, glutes, hip flexors and shoulders as well as improving balance—all while strengthening that core.
How: Position yourself on your right side with your right elbow supporting your upper body and your hips and legs stacked. Stabilize your core and lift your hips off the floor so that your body forms a straight line. Maintain this position and your balance as you lift your left leg a few inches until it’s parallel with the floor. Begin to swing your leg from front to back (think of the legs swings you do prior to a run). Perform for 30 to 60 seconds before switching to the other side.
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