Runners who incorporate strength workouts usually do them twice a week, sometimes three times. Don't do strength training on the same day as a hard run. Similarly, you should also avoid working out the day before a race because your body needs time to recover. Strength training is great for the off-season and for times when weather limits your running.
Vary your strength workout routine, and try to work several major muscle groups in each session. Always warm up and stretch before you begin your workout. Some light jogging is a good way to prepare.
Don't focus only on building muscles. Workouts should also improve your alignment and coordination. Exercises which require balance, for example, train the muscles that make small adjustments in your posture. Make sure you maintain good form and alignment throughout the movement. Never sacrifice form in order to lift heavier weights or do a few more repetitions.
When you can, it's useful to include one-legged variations of exercises. These movements better mimic the actual motion of running, in which each leg moves independently. One-legged exercises can work each leg harder than two-legged varieties and build more strength. They are also good for strengthening your non-dominant leg.
You also can use strength workouts to help repair or prevent common running injuries. Shin splints, for example, are helped by calf raises. Leaning your back against a wall and raising your toes, keeping the heels on the ground, is another good shin splint preventive. Exercises that build hamstring and quadricep strength are good for recovering from runner's knee.
Here are some additional things to keep in mind when you work your legs:
- Move through your entire range of motion.
- Keep movements slow and controlled. Don't bounce.
- Breathe out as you perform the main exertion. Never hold your breath.
- Don't go to extremes. Stop before your joint is fully extended, and use weights or resistance that you are comfortable with.
- Once a month, take a week off from strength workouts to give yourself some extra recovery time.
- Do some stretching after your workout.
- If you run and do strength training on the same day, always complete your running before you move on to your strength workout.
One final point to keep in mind: Strength workouts should be fun. Vary your routine, try new exercises, work out to music -- whatever it takes to keep the session enjoyable. That way, you'll look forward to the workouts instead of viewing them as a chore.
Read on for more information about leg workouts for runners.