Preparing for a marathon or just trying to smash your 5K PB? Pounding the pavement or treadmill isn’t the only thing that’s going to improve your training.
OK, so you may need to stack up that mileage – especially if you’re getting ready for a major event. But adding some variety to your workout can really boost your performance. Sometimes, being a better runner means not running at all.
‘A strong runner isn’t just built on the tarmac,’ says trainer Scott Laidler. ‘You need to add in a variety of exercises to your weekly workout that focus on increasing speed and endurance, and ultimately help you perform better.’ Try these top tips.
1. Get jumping
‘Adding plyometrics (that’s jumping, by the way) works your muscles hard in short intervals, improving your strength and speed when you run,’ says Scott. He recommends squat jumps. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, squat down, engage your core, jump up, then land back into the squat position. Do three sets of six. Check out our how to do squats guide for more info on form.
2. Incorporate strength training
‘Focus on building up your shoulders, abs, hamstrings, glutes and calves,’ says Scott. ‘This will allow you to run more efficiently and reduce your risk of injury. What’s more, increasing your strength will also help you recover more quickly.
‘Think of your body as the frame that supports your engine - i.e. your heart!, add Saucony UK coach and personal trainer Siobhan Dockerill’. 'You need it to be strong to allow you to run faster for longer without injury,’ says Siobhan.
Grab a light set of dumbbells and a resistance band to do the following exercises…
• Single leg squats with dumbbells x 12 on each leg
• Walking lunges with dumbbells x 20 in total
• Leg raises x 15 on each leg. Place the band around your ankles and lift your leg out to the side.
• Clams x 15 on each leg. Lie on your side, knees bent at 90 degrees, and place a band around your legs, just above your knees. Lift top knee towards ceiling, while keeping feet together.)
3. Add an incline
Adding an incline to your training is ideal for improving stamina and building leg muscles. ‘It acts as a natural resistance, so forces you to work harder,’ says strength and conditioning coach Courtney Fearon. ‘And it can encourage your body into a better ‘speed’ position, as it makes you lift your knees.’
Mix up inclines and speed to ramp up power and endurance. This is where treadmills really come into their own, offering the option to set your incline and pace. If you're looking to add one to your home gym, take a look at our guide to the best treadmills.
4. Mix up your training
If you are clocking up the miles, don’t simply run your race distance. ‘It’s important to vary your running speeds and also your running distances, rather than just replicating your chosen event,’ explains Scott. ‘By making your training harder than your event, you’ll add to your overall endurance and make the race feel easier.’
5. Do some HIIT
‘HIIT workouts will build up aerobic capacity and help keep you run fit,’ says Siobhan. Complete each exercise below for 30-45 seconds with 15-30 seconds rest in between and repeat three times - all you need is a mat and a timer.
• Mountain climbers
• Squat jumps
6. Make sure you stretch
‘Stretching will help with your flexibility and ease tight areas,’ says Siobhan. Be sure to regularly plan stretching into your recovery, hitting the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, hip flexors and lower back. Hold stretches for 45-60 seconds and allow your body to ease into the stretch.
To go really deep into the muscles, use a foam roller - check out our round up of the best foam rollers if you don’t already have one at home.