Strength training is a bit like flossing: we know it's good for us, but we don’t do it as often as we should. But successful runners do more than just run – they lift and lunge to build strong muscles for climbing hills, maintaining perfect form and preventing injuries.
But it can be hard to run well when you're recovering from a weights workout. Plus, squeezing running into your schedule can be tough enough as it is. And you probably don't want to join a gym; after all, one of the reasons you're a runner is that you can do it wherever you are.
Well, enough excuses: Tom Sheehan, director of strength and conditioning at Columbia University in the US, has designed a resistance-band programme for runners that provides all the benefits of lifting weights with none of the hassles. The bands put constant tension on the body, which produces a challenging cardiovascular workout.
Also, the resistance provided by the bands doesn't overload joints like a dumbbell can. As a result, there's less risk of injury, more work that can be performed in a single session, and faster recovery between workouts.
"Your knees, shoulders and back won't hurt the next day," says Sheehan, "so there's minimal impact on your running." Several of the exercises in the band programme require multiple muscles to work simultaneously to perform a single move.
"The bands work on synchronising the lower and upper body, which helps provide core stability, balance and muscular power – all things that can improve a runner's performance," says Sheehan.
Here's how you can jump on the bandwagon: get hold of some bands (try fitmag.co.uk, where you can also get interchangeable handles and clip tubes), and a bench (try the Marcy bench, £49.99 from amazon.co.uk). Two or three times a week, put in your miles first, then do one of the workouts below, alternating between them. Each takes 20 to 30 minutes. Except where noted, do three sets of 20 reps. Increase the reps each week until you get to 50, then increase resistance.
Overhead press and squat | Bench press | Two-leg squat | Bicep curl | Overhead tricep extension | Abs/lower-back extension
Overhead press and back lunge | Bench press | Single-leg squat | One-arm row | Shoulder press | Overhead tricep extension | Abs/lower-back extension
OVERHEAD PRESS AND SQUAT
- Attach two bands to the handles, then stand on the bottom band with both feet.
- Holding the top band, press your arms up and out to a 45-degree angle so your body looks like a 'Y'.
- Maintaining tension on the bands, bend your knees and squat until your thighs are at least parallel with the floor – go lower if you can.
- Return to standing, then lower your arms to your shoulders.
- Wrap the band around the back leg of the bench. Lie back on the bench with your feet flat on it.
- Hold the handles with your elbows bent and your hands in line with your chest.
- Press your arms straight up until your hands are over mid-chest. Lower and repeat.
ABS/LOWER BACK EXTENSION
- Lie flat on your back with the band under the bottom of your feet.
- Grab the band under the handles and hold it at your hips with your arms fully extended on the floor.
- Keeping your arms and legs straight, jackknife your arms and legs up until the body is in a 'V' position with just your upper buttocks on the floor.
- Push back down to full, flat extension on the floor. (Note: a more resistant band places emphasis on the lower back; a lighter band makes the abs work harder.)
- Do two sets of 30 to 50 reps.
OVERHEAD TRICEP EXTENSION
- Using two bands attached to the handles, stand on the lower band with your right foot and pull the upper band up behind your head so your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Your elbows should be near your ears.
- Maintaining tension on the band, press your arms overhead by extending at the elbows only.
- Return to the starting position and repeat.
- Stand on the band with your arms straight down, palms facing out and shoulders back.
- Bend your elbows to curl your forearms up until your hands are shoulder height.
- Keep your back still – don't sway. Return to the starting position and repeat.
- Sit on the bench with the band secured under the front leg.
- Hold the handle in your right hand and bend your right elbow 90 degrees so your hand is facing forward, level with your eyes.
- Press your arm straight up so your bicep is close to your right ear. Lower and repeat.
- Secure the middle part of the band under the front leg of the bench.
- With your left foot on the floor and your right knee on the bench, hold the handle in your left hand. Your right palm should be flat on the bench under your right shoulder and your back should be straight.
- Leading the move with your elbow, pull the handle into your waist.
- Lower and repeat, doing all reps on the left side, then switch sides and do the same on the right side.
- Secure the band underneath the bench.
- Holding the handles, stand on the bench with your arms straight down at your sides. Feet should be shoulder-width apart, chest over midfoot, hips back, knees behind toes.
- Bending at the knee and hip, lower yourself down for a three-second count until you get to a quarter-squat position.
- Pause for a moment, then, pushing through your midfoot, drive upwards to full extension. This three-seconds down, pause, up-fast should be one continuous movement.
- Secure the band underneath the bench and stand with your left foot on it, holding the handle in your left hand.
- Your right leg should be straight and hanging off the bench, even with your left leg.
- Push your hips back and down just as in the two-leg squat, into the quarter-squat position.
- Push through your left foot to full extension.
OVERHEAD PRESS AND BACK LUNGE
- Attach two bands to the handles, then stand on the lower band with your left foot while holding the upper band at a 45-degree angle so your body looks like a 'Y'.
- Maintaining tension on the bands, step your right foot back two to three feet and drop your right knee down until it almost touches the floor and your left thigh becomes parallel with the floor.
- Keep your weight on your front foot – your back leg is for balance only. Make sure your front knee stays behind your toes.
- Pushing up through the front foot, return your feet to the start position, and lower arms to shoulders.
- Do 20 reps lunging back with right foot, then switch sides.