After finishing the half marathon, I set two goals for my next race of that distance: finish faster, and finish stronger. In my research of how to accomplish these two goals, the common suggestion for both was strength training. I had been doing push-ups and sit-ups fairly regularly, but that was the extent of my strength workout. You would think that running would strengthen leg muscles on its own, but the consensus opinion is that running simply isn’t enough – so I had to come up with ways to better strengthen my legs and my core, and joining a gym or CrossFit group was not an option.
I came up with the following routine utilizing body-weight or light free weights, repeating 3 times:
- Calf raises on a piece of 2x4 (eventually with added free weights)
- Bicep curls, with free weights
- Normal slow crunches and/or bicycle crunches
- Bodyweight squats, with added free weights
- Push-ups (alternating triceps push-ups)
- Lunges, with free weights
- Triceps curls, with free weights
- Torso twists, with free weights
- Forearm curls
I have not yet found time to do this more than once or twice a week, but I think it’s already helping my running times. I know from past weight-lifting experience that strength training can help endurance as well as actual strength, so I’m hopeful that I will be able to perform better at my next half at the end of August.
An additional benefit to the added strength training has been stronger muscles and tendons in my feet – which means greatly reduced arch pain, even with the faster pace. This factor alone is sure to shave a few seconds per mile off my run time. If I can make it through 9.5 miles with zero pain in my foot, then I can go all out at the end without feeling the need to nurse my stride.
While researching ways to improve running times, I also found considerable support for not stretching at all before a run, but instead warming up with a 5 to 10 minute walk, which is something I do anyway. I had been stretching both before and after my runs, but read that stretching cold could actually put extra strain on the muscles and lead to injury. So, the other change I made was eliminating pre-run stretching – now it’s just a warm-up walk, and stretches after the run.
The other option is that all the training I’ve been doing the past few months is contributing to a faster pace, but as stated above, running on its own isn’t a reliable way to strengthen leg muscles, so I really don’t think this is the case.
At this point these two tweaks seem to be making a difference, so I plan to continue in the foreseeable future.
What strength training exercises do you regularly do? If you run, what have you done to help you run faster?