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Most runners have a love-hate relationship with lifting weights. While you know it’s beneficial cross-training, it’s not your primary form of exercise so it tends to get skipped often. Besides, commuting to the gym is a hassle and those monthly membership fees add up.
Unlike cardio exercise like cycling or pool running, lifting doesn’t directly contribute to your running fitness. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore strength exercises as a waste of your time.
Strength work is your insurance against injuries, making your bones, muscles, and tendons stronger and more resilient to the pounding of running. By lifting heavy weight, you’re also engaging more muscle fibers than running alone. This helps you run more efficiently, prevent injuries, and generate more power.
You don’t need to be a gym rat to enjoy the benefits of lifting. Hell, you don’t even need to join a gym! In addition to body weight exercises that you can do anywhere, there’s one piece of equipment that is my favorite for being the most versatile: the medicine ball.
With a medicine ball, you can execute compound, multi-joint exercises just like you do at a gym. To get you started, the following are general strength exercises you can do in your living room while watching TV:
Hay Bales are a fantastic leg and core exercise. View a video demonstration here. If you want an additional challenge you can try to perform them on one leg, but progress intelligently to that point.
A variation of the hay bale is to hold the ball and swing it above your head, straight down across the mid-line of your body, and through your legs. There’s no twisting motion in this variation and it’s a slightly easier version.
V-Ups are an abdominal and lower back exercise that is fantastic at developing core strength. They’re very challenging and require a good deal of effort. My suggestion is to only attempt these when you can do a standard plank for a full minute.
To do a v-up, lie on your back with your arms above your head on the ground. Hold a medicine ball in both hands and lift it from the floor above your head straight up above your stomach. At the same time as you’re lifting the medicine ball, lift your legs slowly from the ground and try to touch your toes to the med ball.
The key to performing a proper v-up is to do this motion in a slow and controlled manner. If your movement is jerky you could risk an injury.
Around the Worlds
Perfect for core stability, this exercise has you hold the medicine ball with both hands above your head and bring the ball in a wide clockwise motion around your body. Holding the ball above your head will be at 12 o’clock and holding it at your pelvis will be 6 o’clock.
Squats and Overhead Press
Holding the medicine ball in front of your chest and do a squat. When you come out of the squat position, lift the medicine ball above your head. This exercise works multiple muscle groups and is a perfect strength building exercise for those who don’t use the gym.
Front Lunges with Lumberjack Chop
This is a new twist on a classic lunge. Step forward into your standard lunge position while holding a medicine ball above your head. When you lower your body, bring the medicine ball to the inside of your front leg while keeping your arms straight. Bring the med ball back up above your head and then return to the starting position.
These exercises are difficult and shouldn’t be attempted unless you are comfortable with standard body weight exercises like squats, pushups, planks, and pull ups. Start with a lighter medicine ball and move up in weight once the exercises become easy. One alternative to a medicine ball that is just as effective is a kettle bell.
Adding a 6-12 pound medicine ball to your weekly strength routine can have numerous benefits to your training and racing fitness. Once you get strong enough to prevent injuries, train harder with more consistency, and get to your ideal race weight then you might just be knocking off a lot of personal bests!