Getting stronger doesn’t require a gym membership or even a lot of equipment. In fact, it’s feeling like these things are necessary that turns many runners away from undertaking any sort of strength training routine in the first place!
Here’s all you need to get started: your own body weight, a basic set of dumbbells and a stability ball. You can knock the strength-training circuit described below in as little as 15 minutes from just about anywhere — your living room, the front yard or even in the parking lot following a run. Doing it three times a week for a couple months will make you a stronger, faster and more injury-resistant athlete.
When should you do this strength-training circuit? It’s best done as a secondary session after your main running workout for the day. I’ve found that adopting a Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday routine has worked best for many of my athletes as it allows for adequate recovery and adaptation between sessions,.
A word to the wise: Focus on executing each of the 10 exercises described below with flawless technique — don’t worry about speed! When starting out, take 30–60 seconds to recover between each exercise and do just one set of the full circuit for the first 2–3 weeks. Work your way up to 2–3 sets of the circuit over the course of 3 months as you get stronger and more proficient, taking 3 minutes of recovery between sets. This will allow you to keep your heart rate high and gain some additional aerobic stimulus.
For my money, this is the single-best exercise a runner can do. It targets the hips, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, and promotes stability and strength from head to toe. With a 10–20-pound dumbbell in your right hand, stand on your left leg with knee slightly bent. Lower the dumbbell to the floor, keeping it straight, and be sure that your back is locked as your right leg kicks back. Keep your head up, and maintain a straight line between your right shoulder and your right leg. When the dumbbell gets close to the floor, pull your right arm up away from the floor and bring your right leg back to a standing position. Repeat 10 times, and then switch legs.
This exercise features the same body movement, executed with three different hand positions: hands parallel and shoulder width apart; hands staggered, right one forward; and hands staggered, left arm forward.
Keeping your core tight, your back straight, and your butt down, lower yourself to the ground. Stay low to the ground for roughly 1 second before pushing yourself back up into a stationary position. Perform 5–10 reps in each position. These exercises strengthen your arm muscles, core, and upper and lower back.
For an additional challenge, do this exercise with your hands atop a stability ball.
This exercise utilizes three different body positions:
1. Face down, both forearms on the floor shoulder width apart. Keeping your core tight, your back straight, and your butt down, rest on your forearms and hold your plank position for 30 seconds.
2. Right side, right forearm on the floor. Keeping your core tight, your back straight, and your right hip hiked high off the ground, rest sideways on your right forearm. Hold your plank position for 30 seconds.
3. Left side, left forearm on the floor. Keeping your core tight, your back straight, and your left hip hiked high off the ground, rest sideways on your left forearm. Hold your plank position for 30 seconds.
Planks strengthen your main abdominals as well as your back and shoulders.
Lie on your back, with your feet atop a stability ball. Lift your lower back off the ground, and push the ball away from you with your feet, straightening your legs and keeping your core tight. Then bring the ball back toward you. Repeat 20 times. These strengthen your hamstrings but also work your core, in particular your lower back.
From a standing position, fall to the floor into a push-up position. Hold this position for 1 second before returning to a standing position and jumping high into the air while straightening your body. Burpees are a total body workout, and as an added bonus, they will get your heart rate up.
Standing on your right leg with the knee slightly bent, lift your left knee toward the sky to a 90-degree angle. Put your arms out front for balance. Squat down on your right leg, keeping your core tight and sitting back as if you were about to sit in a chair. Keep the knee of your squatting leg bent at a 45–90-degree angle, making sure it stays behind your foot. Repeat 15 times on each leg. This exercise works glutes hamstrings, quads, and core.
Stand with your back to a bench or chair whose seat is about 3 feet off the ground. Put your hands on the seat behind you, just beyond shoulder width apart and your feet 2–3 feet out in front of you (heels on the ground, toes in the air). Lower your upper body until your elbow reaches a 90-degree angle. Repeat 10–15 times. This exercises engages your shoulders while also strengthening the muscles of the back of the arm.
Find a sturdy box, step, or set of stairs 12–20 inches in height. Stand 12–18 inches away, with both feet firmly planted on the ground. Bend your knees slightly, squat down, and explode upward onto your platform, swinging your arms upward and landing lightly on the balls of your feet. Hold this position for 2–3 seconds; then jump back down to the floor, landing on both feet. A single set comprises 10–12 jumps. For a challenging variation, try single-leg jumps, landing on the same leg you leave the floor from. Perform 5–6 repetitions on each leg to make up 1 set. This explosive exercise works the lower-leg muscles while also engaging the glutes and quads.
Standing Dumbbell Overhead Press
Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Raise the dumbbells up so they’re parallel with your ears. Keeping your back straight, press the dumbbells above your head, straightening your arms in the process until the dumbbells touch directly above your head. Return the dumbbells to ear level to complete your first rep. Repeat 10–15 times.
On a stair or exercise step, stand with the balls of your feet on the edge of the stair, allowing heels to hang freely in midair. Slowly lower your heels until you feel a slight stretch in the Achilles tendons. Now rise up onto your toes, pulling your heels a few inches above the step. That’s 1 rep. Perform 12–15 for a full set. For an added twist, try this exercise holding a 10-pound dumbbell in each hand, or isolate one leg at a time and perform 6 repetitions on each side. This exercise works the calf muscles while also helping to strengthen the muscles in the front of the shin, and also stretches and strengthens the Achilles tendons.