Are you looking for new ways to boost your running performance on the track, the trail or in a road race? Or are you coming back from an injury and need an alternative to running for a few weeks?
It’s easy to improve your performance with different workouts. And none of them require you to run extra miles. But all of them will give you greater stamina, tone, strength, flexibility and focus.
Here are five different workouts that give runners real, long-term physical and mental rewards.
Would you like to have better focus and breathing during a long run or half-marathon? Yoga is a terrific alternative workout that helps in both areas.
When you’re in the middle of a half-marathon, you want to feel centered and calm. You want to pay attention to your stride, breathing, and pace. You want to feel your feet making smooth transitions on and off the pavement. You want to be aware of your entire body, how you are using your energy, how you are moving.
Being present helps you notice when you need to make those small, race-winning adjustments to pace, breathing, and stride.
You don’t want to be distracted by crowds or other runners. You want your mental game to be just as fit as your physical one.
Yoga offers excellent training for both areas.
You learn the patience to hold a pose, stay in it, and then flow into the next one. You discover when and how to inhale and exhale for maximum efficiency. You use your core, legs, and arms in ways that require less speed than running, but end up giving you greater speed during a run.
As you concentrate on each pose, you feel how your body uses energy. The mindfulness yoga teaches you to be aware of the placement of your hips, feet, and shoulders, all areas that affect a runner’s stride and balance.
These are just some of the benefits of practicing yoga. And they are why it is a powerful workout for runners, both on and off the race track.
A strong core is vital to a runner’s success. If your midsection is weak, chances are your body is getting fatigued earlier in a run than it needs to.
To strengthen your core, try Pilates. You don’t need to invest in expensive machinery or classes if you have a tight budget. There are plenty of free videos on YouTube that you can access and use in the comfort of your own home.
Pilates works your core with exercises that lengthen and tone your entire body. It differs from yoga because it is not as meditative and the positions don’t flow one into another.
But it provides real results.
You’ll come away from a pilates class much more aware of your posture. First, you’ll start noticing how you stand and walk. But you’ll also feel how you use your hips and waist to bend over to pick something up. Even the way you climb steps will become a conscious movement.
This body awareness improves your running in several ways.
You’ll feel the difference in energy as your feet strike and lift from the pavement. Light and fast or hard and heavy? You’ll be more aware of your hips. Do they roll forward or side-to-side? How are you carrying your shoulders and neck? Are they stiff or supple? Are your arms providing forward motion or are they creating drag?
This added physical awareness lets you make smart adjustments in training, so your body works in harmony during a race.
Toned muscles work harder for you. Period. Some runners worry about adding bulk through weight lifting. But that’s not the goal. Strength training gives you added speed, increased energy, more efficient oxygen intake, and flexibility.
Core, back, and leg muscles are crucial to a runner’s performance. Adding weights to your workouts can make all three more powerful. This added strength keeps your body from breaking down too early in a run. When you can fight fatigue, you can run faster and longer.
Three types of exercises you can do with hand weights are the lunge, squat to overhead press, and alternating rows.
Lunges target your hamstrings, calves, glutes, and quads. All of these muscles assist your core and your balance. The squat to overhead press works your core, back, quads, and oxygen intake. And alternating rows will tone your arms, shoulders, back, and core. Upper body strength is just as important as lower for keeping fatigue at bay during a run.
Training with weights is about building strength, not bulking up. And strong, toned muscles can turn you into a lean, mean running machine.
High-intensity walking is a terrific workout alternative. It’s easier on the knee joints, is a mood-elevator, and good for breath work and pacing.
But did you know that a combination of running and walking can increase both your race time and your training days? How? By giving your body a chance to recover, even just a few minutes at a time.
During races, if you take short breaks to walk, your body recovers quicker. Each time you start to run again you’ll go faster. You can finish the race earlier than if you had run the entire course at one pace.
This run/walk method of training and racing is not new. Top runners know that it allows your whole system to recharge faster.
And because walking offers quick recovery, it can add days to your training schedule.
For example, if you run 20 miles you might have two days of downtime until your next run. But using the run/walk method, your body breaks down less during a long run. Having a faster recovery time means you can train again sooner.
Swimming laps or doing water aerobics is a refreshing way to burn calories, improve mobility, and work on toning and stamina. It also offers the following:
• Cool water provides anti-inflammatory benefits.
• Increases your oxygen capacity.
• Boosts overall endurance for long runs.
Another benefit is that pool work is a great rehab option for runners recovering from injuries. The buoyancy of the water creates minimal impact on the affected body part. This lets a runner work on a range of motion and strengthening exercises with a lot less discomfort, and less chance of further injury.
Don’t have a pool? Check for a YMCA or local gym in your area with a pool that offers water aerobics classes or lap swim times. I’ve written a bit more about swimming for runners here.
Engaging in different types of workouts can boost your performance through a wider range of physical and mental benefits that running, by itself, doesn’t.
Great runners are like great race car drivers. A winning race car doesn’t cross the finish line first because it’s the fastest. It crosses the finish line first because the driver knows how to get the best performance out of it.
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