7 Unique Body Weight Exercises for Runners

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Looking for cross-training ideas? Needing a break from the gym? Or perhaps you’re traveling to a place where you don’t have the right weather or safety for running? Body weight exercises are a great addition to any runners’ training regime. No equipment, no problem! All you need is a 6×6 foot area for most body weight exercises. It doesn’t get much simpler (or cheaper) than that!

Body weight exercises are a great way to incorporate some stabilization training into movements you don’t typically do when running. Without the addition of weights, you can often do more repetitions than what you would do at the gym with, but with less of the risk of an injury from heavy weight lifting. Body weight exercises are not immune to soreness, however, so you may want to skip these the day before your race.

We’re all most likely familiar with the body weight “classics”: squats, lunges, sit-ups, push-ups, burpees, etc. What  many physical therapists don’t like about those exercises is that they activate the main muscle groups but often neglect the crucial smaller “stabilizer” muscles. They aren’t “bad” in themselves but they ought to be supplemented with exercises that are unique and novel compared to one’s typical training focus. Runners are typically often already strong in their quadriceps but may lack control in their deep core stabilizers and hip muscles if they’re not cross training often.

7 Keys to Effective Body Weight Training

  1. Get a good active warm-up. Runners are notorious poor at warming up; most of us leave the house and immediately take off running! When cross training, make sure that before you dive in, you give yourself 5-10 minutes of a warm-up that gets your heart rate up. If you don’t have a stationary exercise machine or jump rope to complete your warm-up, consider spending 5-10 minutes walking or jogging a staircase. Active repetitive movements like leg swings, high knees, butt kicks, and carioca drills can also help the legs get warmed up. (See this dynamic stretching routine for more ideas). Also consider a short yoga flow to warm-up the muscles around your spine, hips and core. Arm circles and arm swings are also good to ensure a whole-body warm-up.
  2. Make sure you work multiple body areas. Even though we tend to focus on the legs as runners, it’s important to incorporate the core and arms into each workout. Target muscle groups that, when weak, often contribute to overuse injuries, such as the hip stabilizers.
  3. Focus on movements that are not common in running, such as lateral and backwards motions and rotational movements.
  4. The key to the most effective lower body training is: SINGLE LEG! Get on one leg so that you don’t perpetuate any patterns or tendencies you have to favor one side.
  5. 12-15 repetitions is considered a good spot for endurance training when it comes to strength training. Some people prefer to time their body weight exercises on 30-60 second intervals instead of counting. Either way, adapt each exercise so that you reach the fatigue point prior to your last repetition. For example, if it feels too easy at the end of your set, you may need to adjust so that you have a deeper range of motion to your movement (while maintaining good form), or switch to a one-legged exercise.
  6. Consider doing a circuit, where you rotate a series of 5-15 exercises for 3-4 rounds. That will enable you to switch muscle groups and give the muscles your just worked a period of “active rest” in between sets of the same exercise.
  7. Get creative, invite friends, and make it fun! You’ll be surprised with how many exercises you can come up with without the use of machines or other equipment.

7 Unique Body Weight Exercises

1) Chair Taps

Stand on one leg in front of a chair. Squat backwards slowly as if you’re going to sit on chair, but tap your butt on the chair and then immediately return to standing, without resting your weight on the chair.

2) Lunges with Back Leg on Bed/Chair/Exercise Ball

Bring one foot on top of a chair, edge of your bed or exercise ball. Position yourself in a wide lunge stance and lower your body toward the ground, making sure your front knee isn’t reaching beyond the edge of your toes. You can vary this exercise by including a forward trunk lean with your arms reaching toward the floor as you lower, if you want to activate your hamstrings more.

3) Eccentric Heel Raises

Eccentric calf training can be effective for reducing the likelihood of chronic Achilles or Plantar Fascia inflammation. Instead of traditional calf raises, try this version: Stand on the edge of a step or with toes on a rolled towel. Raise both heels and once you’re at the top of the motion, shift weight to one side completely, and lower slowly (4-5 seconds) with one leg. Repeat on both sides.

4) Single Leg Dead Lift

Stand on one leg. Maintaining a straight spine and soft bend in the knee, lower arms and trunk down toward the ground, hinging at the hips. Tap fingertips on the ground and return slowly to the upright position, using your core and hips to control the movement.

5) Single Leg Elevated Bridge

Lay on floor with body near the edge of bed. Place one foot on top of bed, with pressure down into the mattress with your heel. Bridge up with hips, keeping spine straight, hold, and lower. You can also try this one with your heel pressing into the top of an exercise ball.

6) Side Plank Crunches

Perform a side plank with pressure through your elbow (or hand) and feet. If you can maintain good form, lift your top leg and hold in the air, keeping it in line with your body. Lift your top arm so that your hand is above your shoulder or ear. At the same time, bring your top knee and elbow toward each-other, without letting your hips collapse. Pause and return to start position.

7) Triangle Exercise

This exercise is a variation of the yoga pose “triangle” and is a good for activating core strength on both sides with a rotational motion. Take a wide stance, with one foot (underneath you) pointing forward and one foot (away from your midline) pointing away from your body. Straighten your knees and lean toward the foot that’s farther away from the center line, keeping your trunk and spine straight as you drop your bottom arm to the floor and lift your top arm in the air. Don’t rest your trunk on your hips; use your core to hold the position. Then rotate your top arm to meet your bottom arm, turning the trunk. Pause, and raise the arm/open the trunk again. Repeat.