Improve Your Running By Hitting The Gym
To become a better runner, you just need to keep running, right? I mean after all, practice makes perfect. While there is some truth to that method, you won’t be hitting your full potential until you hit the gym to put those key muscle groups to the test.
The best way to see changes to your body composition and running performance is to surprise your body and change up your routines. The human body has a habit to get used to routine and adapt itself which means you won’t be the getting the gains of a certain exercise that you were when you first started doing it.
As a long-distance runner, when training for my first marathon, I thought the only thing I needed to practice was running for a long time. I was wrong. After countless hours of research and hitting the wall so many times when I was out running, I decided to hit the gym to take my performance to the next level. It turned out to be a complete success as I smashed my target times and vastly reduced my recovery times and risk of injury.
Improving your running isn’t just about training your legs. Your core is an essential part to efficient running so exercising all major muscle groups will improve this.
Machines To Use
Rowing Machine – Pound for pound, the rowing machine is one of the best pieces of equipment you can use. It’s great for cardio workouts and helps improve endurance, strength and burns fat like no other machine can offer. This is due to the compound exercise of the rowing movement. You use multiple muscle groups when rowing including legs, core, back, chest and arms. This means you’re giving every part of your body a workout.
Spin® Bike – This may seem like an obvious machine to train on when improving running but it’s essential. Spin® Bikes or any kind of exercise bike focus solely on training the legs and more specifically the quads and calves. Training these muscles will undoubtedly improve your running performance and give you greater power when running. HIIT sessions on a Spin® Bike will greatly improve muscle mass, especially if you use high resistance.
Treadmill – It may sound controversial but when improving your running performance, limit yourself on the treadmill. Although the treadmill can replicate outdoor running pretty well, it doesn’t substitute for a good old session of going out and hitting the tarmac. Limit the treadmill to warming up and sprinting sessions. It’s important to go through sprints when running training as you don’t normally get the chance to do so during a 5K run. Practicing your sprints and getting up to top speed regularly will strengthen muscles ranging from your quads to your glutes. It’s also great for stretching out tendons and ligaments to reduce risk of injury when you’re out running.
The following exercises are what I like to call Essential Exercises which work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Rather than focusing on one muscle group, these exercises will work a range of them, giving you equal strength all over making sure that there’s no imbalances.
Dead Lift – The dead lift is the staple move of most workouts for a reason. You need to generate power from the legs ranging through to the hips and glutes and finally bringing in your core, arms and chest in the final part of the move. All essential muscles used when running. Lift heavy using the 5 rep, 5 set format to improve power and produce more explosive running.
Bulgarian Split Squat – Set your quads on fire with the Bulgarian Split Squat. Rest one foot on a bench and use your standing leg to squat. Sounds easy, right? Wait until you give it a go. The balance needed to bring yourself back up to a standing position activates your stabiliser muscles and puts more stress on your quads. This makes for a better and more controlled ability to run. Higher reps are usually good for burning fat on the lower body, so if you feel you need more of challenge try holding a heavy dumbbell or kettlebell and lower the amount of reps.
Barbell Squat – Any variation of squat is great for building strength in the lower body and core. Building strength in these areas will help you to run longer and quicker so it really is essential to add it to your workout. Barbell squats are a personal favourite of mine as it loads the weight onto your back which means it’s distributed evenly. This helps your form and takes the strain off of your back. Also by using a squat rack, you can safely lift heavy amounts without needing a spotter.
Leg Extension Machine – The best way to become a more explosive runner is to train the quads. The leg extension machine is by far the best way to do this as you’re purely loading weight onto your quads. It’s important for this exercise to focus on lowering the weight slowly when in the downward part of the move. This is the stage of the exercise when the muscle is under the most amount of strain so will strengthen more efficiently. Drop to lighter weights if you need to achieve this.
Kettlebell Swing – This move is another great compound exercise and is especially good for strengthening the core and glutes. Both are important muscles to train when trying to improve your run. Kettlebell swings are also good to improve the conditioning of your lungs as they’ll be begging for oxygen during them. This in turn helps endurance when out running.
Good Mornings – This move focuses specifically on your glutes and hip flexors. Performing these improve flexibility and reduces risk of injury for long distance running.
If you’re a runner then I’m sure you’re no amateur when it comes to stretching. I can’t stress how important it is to stretch after every exercise and also every run. It may also be worth investing in a foam roller as it allows you to roll out and stretch your muscles which will go a long way towards prevent future injuries. For a more in depth look into foam rolling, you can check out JLL’s guide to foam rollers here.
Things To Think About
There’s so many factors to consider when you’re looking to improve your running performance. Training is only half the battle. Running form is key to becoming a more efficient runner. Google has a plethora of information on tips and tricks you may not be doing at the moment which will give you more efficiency when running. Another great resource is to visit any good running shop. Here, they can record you running on a treadmill and talk you through your running form and areas to improve such as stride length and body position based on your gait.
An important aspect to think about with running is the relevance of your hip flexors. This muscle group is important for transferring the power generated from your legs to the rest of your body. Strong hip flexors help drive the knees up and keep the pelvis and thighs aligned whilst running. Focus on stretching these out on regular basis to promote your range of motion in them to help mobility.
It’s easy to lose motivation when running. This study shows that running with music can boost your performance by as much as 15%. With that in mind, check out JLL’s Running Motivation playlist that we love to listen to when we’re flagging on that last mile.
When I first started running, I did it to lose a few pounds. Then I caught the running bug and found it as a therapeutic release. I kept telling myself that I only ran because I enjoyed which is why I never timed my runs or pushed myself to beat PBs. However, after a while when I saw improvements in my runs that’s when I wanted to see how far I could run. That’s when I started training for a half marathon and a year later a full marathon. By following my views in this article, I became a better runner and an all-around healthier person.