Besides the mandatory running workouts that I need to complete all the races I have scheduled - there are three main supplemental workout categories that I break my week into:
Ab & Core Work, Nutrition, & Leg StrengtheningI HATE the first two ... they are the biggest challenge for me. If I could trade one huge kick in the groin in exchange for no more ab work ever ... I would take it! And eating right has always been a struggle - but that part's getting better. My current ab & core routine doesn't give me "EMZ abs", but it gets the job done. And constant thought about proper fueling and hydration always make "tomorrow's run" much easier with high energy levels.
As far as leg strengthening ... I think it's a must for marathoners. It helps develop the smaller stabilizing muscles and the increased strength aids in injury prevention. I know a lot of runners stay away from leg strengthening and rely only on running, but I notice a HUGE difference when I'm consistent with my additional leg workouts at the gym. I feel stronger. I'm faster. And most importantly, it helps me avoid "time-off" injuries.
Here is a look specifically at my leg workout at the gym. I typically complete this workout two, and sometimes three times a week. I NEVER use heavy weights ... just high repetition. And most importantly I make sure I stretch before, during, and after the workouts.
Typically when I start at the gym, I do some light ab work to warm up and get my heart rate elevated a little. I'll do 2 sets of 20-25 of oblique & back bends on the inverted back extension bench, followed by 2 sets of 20 with the ab wheel.
1. Single Leg Squat - I used to do this on a bench with one leg elevated as shown in the photo, but lately I have changed to "Walking Single Leg Squats" around the track. I do 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps on each leg. BE CAREFUL TO KEEP YOUR BACK PERPENDICULAR TO THE FLOOR. This will help take the stress off of the knee. I see a lot of people do these while bending at the waist ... this is an easy exercise to HURT YOURSELF WITH if you don't do it correctly. This exercise strengthens your quads & butt, and the back of your groin that connects to your butt.
QUADS & BUTT
QUADS & BUTT
2. Seated Leg Press - (Not pictured) Lately I have began using the leg press machine at the gym for a little more quad & butt work. I only use about 100-120 lbs and do 2-3 sets of 20 reps. Be careful to keep your back straight and focus on pressing from your thighs and butt, not your knees.
3. Leg Extensions - I also do these on a machine. They are very important for building strength in the lower quad area (vastus medalis), which is important for downhill racing. Typically only about 60 lbs and 2 sets of 15-20 reps. Be careful with this one too ... too much weight can lead to knee injuries.
HIPS ... HIPS ... HIPSProbably the single most important exercises I do, especially as I get older, are HIP STRENGTHENING EXERCISES!!! We need strong hips as runners for stability, speed, and good health. Once I became more faithful to these specific exercises, my times began to come down, I felt better, and became an overall stronger runner.
4. Front Hip Swing - If you have a hip machine at your gym, you can accomplish this a lot easier ... but this is what I "invented" for a good hip workout. On the cable machine, attach a strap to the cable and adjust it to the floor. Stand about 4 ft. from the base of the cable. Put one foot inside the strap, with the other foot elevated. (Lately I have started standing on a Bosu Balance Trainer - a half stability ball, for more stability training). Swing the strapped leg forward, bringing your knee up to about a 90 degree angle, simulating a running stride. I only use about 20 lbs of weight with 2 sets of 20 reps, each leg. This will strengthen your front hip flexor area which helps with hills and proper running form. When I'm not at a gym, I've also used this same method with a resistance band in my hotel room.
5. Groin Crossover - Using the same set up, turn to the side and with the same weight and the non-working leg still elevated, cross the opposite leg over in front of your stable leg. This will strengthen the groin area, also necessary for hill runs. I use the same 20 lbs of weight with 2 sets of 20 reps, each leg.
6. Seated Hip Abductor Machine - This is the machine that looks like the groin machine, but you are pressing the weight outward with your hips, as opposed to squeezing the weight with your groin and inner thighs. I usually do about 130 lbs, with 2 sets of 20 on this machine. This is good for building strength in the outer hip and thigh area (abductor muscles).
7. Groin Machine - Our friend Cindy calls this machine the "beaver squeezer" ... I'm not sure what that means, but anyway. This is the inner thigh machine that you typically only see women using at the gym, but it strengthens the groin area. About 70 lbs with 2 sets of 20 reps.
Hamstrings8. Hamstring Swing - I usually do this with a cable when I'm doing hip work. I turn and face the cable and stand on something like a half stability ball to allow full range of motion. I then "swing" the weighted cable backwards strengthening the hamstring and lower butt area. I only use about 20-30 lbs with 2 sets of 20 reps.
9. Single Leg Hamstring Push Up - On my back in front of a stability ball or bench press, I place one foot on the bench with my knee at about a 45 degree angle and keep the other leg extended and low. I then lift my hips using the bent leg for about 2 sets of 20-25. This isolates the hamstrings a little more effectively and is one of the best strengthening exercises I have found for this muscle group.
10. Hamstring Curl Machine - (Not pictured) Occasionally I'll also do hamstring curls to finish up the workout. This is the one where you are on your stomach lifting in a curling motion with your hamstrings. I'll only do about 30 lbs with 2 sets of 15 reps. I don't do this a lot, I think the other two hamstring exercises are a lot more effective for total hamstring lengthening and strengthening.
Some days I'll finish up with single leg calf raises, light upper body work, or a few light running drills around the track. Also, occasionally, I'll swim a little or maybe use the elliptical machine, but right now I'm in a pretty good groove with this workout and some of those things have fallen by the wayside. I always stretch afterwards! Also, in the summer, we try to walk our dog, Jack, for about a mile in the evening. I find the evening walk helps get rid of a lot of lactic acid build up from running and working out and really aids in recovery.
Well, there it is ... that's pretty much my week of working out. I know that none of it is rocket-science or earth shattering, but hopefully some of it was insightful and helped. Remember to always only workout to your current fitness level ... and STRETCH, STRETCH, STRETCH!!! Doing too much can injure you and keep you from doing anything at all. Have a great week!
... be great today!