3 areas for runners to work on in the gym

Always gravitate towards the cardio machines in the gym? Add in strength work and your running will reap the benefits. Make your gym workout count by targeting these three key areas.

Work: the core

Running coaches frequently preach about a strong core, the reason being that these muscles are so central to running posture. Watch the end of a marathon and you’ll see the slouch that can happen when your core muscles fatigue. The slouch is bad news as it will affect other areas of your body, putting extra load on other muscles and making the chest close up, which can have a detrimental effect on your breathing.

Core moves:
Transversus abdominis hold
Lying flat and breathing normally, slowly draw the section of your abdomen below your belly button inwards and upwards (as if you’re moving it away from your belt line). Keep your rib cage relaxed – it shouldn’t rise. Hold at 20 – 30% of a maximal contraction for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times. As your activation and control improves, practise activating the muscle during other abdominal exercises.

The plank
On a mat, prop yourself up on your elbows and toes and keep your back straight, without dropping your hips. Hold this position for as long as possible, maintaining good posture throughout. Rest for two minutes then repeat three times, resting between each plank.

Ab crunch - hands to ankles
Lie on your back, with your hip and knees bent to 90 degrees and your arms straight. Keeping your neck straight, slowly lift your shoulders and trunk off the ground, moving your fingertips towards your ankles and tightening your abdominals. Do 3 sets of 10 reps, resting between each set.

Side raises
Lie on your side and prop yourself up on one elbow. Keep your back and hips relaxed then slowly lift your hips off the floor tightening your abdominals. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each side.

Work: the rhomboids

Why consider the back muscles as a runner? Strong rhomboid muscles in particular help your posture (contract the muscles between your shoulder blades to see what happens to your posture). The rhomboids are located between the scapula (shoulder blades) and help to draw your scapula together, aiding an upright posture and helping to beat the slouch that can happen as you fatigue in running. Good posture while running not only helps your running form, but also aids your breathing, keeping your chest and airways wide and open.

Rhomboid moves:
Shoulder blade squeeze
Stand or sit with your back straight and your chin tucked in slightly and your shoulders slightly back. Slowly squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard and far as possible. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times. Rest for 30 seconds then repeat for 2 more sets.

Pull backs with a resistance band
Loop a resistance band around a post or secure tree trunk. Stand or kneel with your back straight and hold the band securely in each hand. Slowly pull your arms backwards, keeping your elbows close to your body and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 2 seconds and then slowly return to the start position. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

The dart
Lie on your stomach with your arms by your side. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slowly lift your arms and chest off the ground, keeping your neck straight. Hold for 2 seconds then slowly return to the start position. Do 3 sets of 10 reps. You can increase the difficulty of this move by doing the exercise on a stability ball.

Work: the glutes

The gluteal muscles are the powerhouse of running, they should drive you forward and prevent muscles and joints further down the chain in your legs becoming overworked and fatigued. Weak glutes are a common cause of injury in runners and can be the culprit for all sorts of injuries and biomechanical issues. Strong glutes also lead to faster running as these muscles are a source of tremendous power. There are three gluteal muscles: maximus, medius and minimus. The two major ones to target are gluteus maximus, which primarily leads hip extension (pushing your leg backwards), and gluteus medius, which abducts (moves your leg out to the side) and externally rotates your leg and also helps to stabilise the pelvis.

Glutes moves:
Bridges
Lie on your back on a mat and slowly lift your bottom, pushing through your feet until your knees, hips and shoulders are in a straight line. Tighten the glute muscles as you do this then once you get to the top, hold for 2 seconds then slowly lower your bottom back down. Do 3 sets of 10 reps to start, and gradually increase the reps as you get stronger.

Hip abduction and extension with resistance band
Use a chair for balance for this exercise. Tie a resistance band around your ankles, so it sits just above your ankle bone. Stand side on against the chair, holding onto the chair with your nearest arm. Keeping your back and knees straight (but not locked out), slowly take one leg out to the side, squeezing the muscles at the side of your hip. Slowly return the leg back to the start position. Do 3 sets of 10 reps per leg. You can also do the hip extension with a resistance band by facing the chair and extending your leg backwards. Hip abduction targets more of the glute medius muscle, while hip extension targets more of the glute maximus muscle.

Clams
Lie on your side with your shoulders, hips and ankles in alignment. Bend your knees to 90 degrees, then slowly lift your upper knee away from the lower leg, keeping your ankles together, your pelvis still and tightening your glute muscles. Hold for 2 seconds then slowly lower the knee back down. Do 3 sets of 10 reps to start, and gradually increase the reps as you get stronger. Tie a resistance band around the knees to make the exercise harder as you progress.

Squats
Stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart and keep your knees centered over your feet. Keep your back straight then slowly bend your knees, hips and ankles, lowering until you reach a 90-degree angle. Return to starting position – focusing on driving with your gluteal muscles rather than your legs. Try 3 sets of 20 to start, and increase reps and add weights (such as dumbbells or kettlebells) as you get stronger.

Walking lunges
Walking lunges are one of the best dynamic gluteal exercises to do since they mimic the striding action of running. Placing the hands on the hips and keeping your back straight, step forwards with your leading leg and slowly lower the body until the front knee is bent to 90 degrees. Push yourself back up to the starting position focusing on driving with your gluteal muscles rather than your legs. Repeat with your other leg, walking forward. Try 3 sets of 20 to start and increase reps and add weights (such as dumbbells or kettlebells) as you get stronger. Mix it up with reverse lunges.

Katie Hiscock