Just like your running workouts target either developing speed or increasing endurance, strength training workouts can have the goal of building either muscular strength or muscular endurance. Heavy weights with low reps (such as CrossFit or traditional weight lifting) focus on building muscular strength, speed, and power. That’s why many professional sprinters and middle distance runners will see huge benefits in their racing when they devote a good portion of their training to heavy lifting. Lower weight or body weight exercises with lots of reps will improve your muscular endurance and fatigue resistance. This type of strength training is best for distance runners, since they will see the most gains in performance from building muscular endurance along with aerobic endurance.
As I train for my goal of a sub-1:40 half marathon in April, I’m focusing on building muscular endurance in addition running endurance, especially in my core, glutes, and legs. I’ve never been a fan of heavy weight lifting, so it’s not that I have completely changed my strength training routine. Instead, I’ve been focusing on adding even more reps to help build muscular endurance so that my abs, glutes, and legs stay strong through all 13.1 hilly miles.
Pilates is great at building muscular endurance and core strength (I plan on having a Pilates workout up soon since I’ve been talking about it so much lately!), but I also love to add in additional core-focused strength training to really work my abs from all-angles. Part of building muscular endurance means working those muscles frequently, so I try to do ab work at least four times a week after runs: Pilates twice and core-based strength training twice.
Why is muscular endurance so important for distance runners? Think about those last few miles of a race, when your whole body aches and you are digging deep to find the strength to keep pushing at your pace. Strong abs help you maintain an upright and efficient running form during these hard miles, and strong glutes will keep you powering forward for longer. Muscular endurance also leads to fatigue resistance, which is one of the keys to successful distance racing. The more your muscles are used to fatigue from training, the more they can push through it on race day!
This workout is my current favorite core-based strength workout for half marathon training. It’s a great ab workout for distance runners, whether you are training for a half or full marathon and whether your goal is simply to finish or to achieve a huge PR. All you need is a stability ball, a medicine ball (I used 10 lbs.), and a mat! I recommend completing one set of each exercise and then beginning again from the start for a second set. If you really want a challenge, add a third set once you have done these exercises for a few weeks.
Plank Tap on Stability Ball: Begin in a raised push-up position with your feet resting on a stability ball. While keeping your hips even and your core engaged, slowly raise your left arm and tap your right shoulder; pause, lower, and then tap your left shoulder with your right arm. That is one rep; repeat for 15 reps.
Russian Twist with Medicine Ball: Hold a medicine ball with both hands in front of your chest (your arms can either be fully extended or bent at the elbows). Keeping your back straight, lean your torso back to 45 degrees and lift your legs slightly off the ground, balancing on your tailbone. Moving from your waist, slowly twist to the left, pause, and then return from center. Repeat on the right for one rep; do 15 reps total. Be sure to keep your legs off the floor and your hips facing forward.
Pilates Side Bend with Twist: Sit on your right hip with your legs extended on the floor and stacked one on top of the other, and your right palm resting on the floor, slightly above your shoulder. Straighten your right arm and raise your hips up so that you are in a side plan, and extend your left arm overhead. From here, twist your torso down and to the right and reach your left arm underneath your body. Reverse the movement to start, and repeat for 5 reps before switching sides.
Bridge with Medicine Ball: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Place the medicine ball between your thighs. Engage your abs, squeeze the ball with your thighs, and curl your hips up into a bridge, so that a straight line forms from your knees down to your shoulders. You should also be engaging your glutes. Slowing roll your spine down until your hips are on the floor. That is one rep; repeat for 15 reps.
Stability Ball Pass: Lie on your back with your legs extended straight in front of you. Hold the stability ball in your arms and extend them behind your head. Raise your torso and legs at the same time, as if you are folding your body in half, and pass the ball from your hands to holding it between your legs. Lower all the way back down, and then fold up again to pass the ball back to your hands, and lower. This is one rep; repeat for 15 reps.
Stability Ball Ab Tuck: Get into a raised push-up position with your feet rested on the stability ball. Your arms should be directly below your shoulders. Use your abs to pull your legs and bring the ball towards your chest, making sure to keep your back flat. Reverse to start; that’s one rep. Repeat for 15 reps.
Medicine Ball Squats with Side Leg Lifts: Hold the medicine ball in front of your chest and stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back flat and your chest up, lower back and down into a deep squat (your thighs should be parallel with the ground). Squeeze your glutes and raise back up to standing. After 10-15 squats, stand with your right leg underneath you and lift your left leg up and out to the side for 15 lifts. Do 10-15 more squats and then repeat the side leg lifts with the right leg.
(Note: I am not a certified personal trainer! While I do have experience in teaching group fitness, please always refer to your fitness professional or physical therapist if needed before beginning an exercise program.)