As runners, constant self-development is normal; we always look to increase the distances we run, our endurance and our overall ability to keep up with a certain pace for a particular period of time without getting tired. That feeling of self-pride and elation when we finally reach certain milestones or break our personal records is unparalleled. But without rigorous strength and stamina building exercises, it’s either almost impossible or very tedious to break those boundaries and explore new waters.
Although workout routines and drills might seem like unnecessary complications, they are designed to help you run easier, better and faster. After all, in the words of Haruki Murakami, “The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”
Before I delve into the various strength and stamina building exercises, I should advice you to always follow the ‘process’. Your exercise routine won’t make you Mo Farah or Helen Skelton overnight. And trying to do too much too soon will only live you with injuries or worse.
The following exercises and tips will help build or increase your running strength and stamina in no time:
Your diet matters; eat carbs!
As a runner, carbs should be your best friend! You are constantly going on long runs and burning great amounts of calories, (Fun fact: you burn an average of 2,400 calories every time you go on a long run) so 70% of your diet should be comprised of carbs in the form of complex sugars. ( An excess of sweet, sugary foods like chocolates isn’t healthy as they will only end up increasing your blood sugar level).
The reason why you haven’t been able to complete that course or reach a certain milestone could be as a result of a low blood sugar level or insufficient carbs in your system. There’s no substitute for having the right amount of carbs in your system before taking a run, because your body cannot give what it does not have.
If you’re diabetic, you should see your doctor before consuming carb intensive foods. But the rule of thumb for diabetic runners is that their blood sugar levels should be closely monitored before taking a run.
Tempo runs or anaerobic threshold runs are stamina building exercises for runners. The run is designed to help your build your stamina, mental strength, and help your run longer.
How do tempo runs work? They are what I like to describe as ‘middle grounds runs.’ When you engage in intense workout sessions or exercises, your body consumes more oxygen than you inhale, so your body switches from aerobic respiration which makes use of oxygen, to anaerobic respiration which makes use of Lactic acid or lactate.
The body can’t run for extended periods on lactic acid so after some time it shuts down due to lactic acidosis or poisoning. The time frame within which our respective bodies can run on Lactic acid differs with respect to how much we exercise, (how much stamina we have built up) and in some rare cases, how much lactic acid our bodies naturally produce. Tempo runs seek to create balance between how much lactic acid our bodies produce and the rate at which we use it up.
How to do it: tempo runs work perfectly in a 50-minute cycle. Begin at an easy pace which should last about 20 minutes, increase your pace to a level you feel you would be able to sustain for an hour, then slow down to an easy pace in the final 10 minutes.
Every runner should go on at least one tempo run per week, as it is perfect for building stamina and endurance.
What I love about the progression run is that it doesn’t just build running strength and stamina, it also teaches discipline and caution. It starts at an easy pace, but steadily increases within the given timeframe, so you have to learn to pay attention to your pacing to prevent yourself from burning out too quickly.
How to do it: The progression run typically lasts for an hour. It is basically a tempo run with frequent increases in pace.
- Begin with a 15-minute warm up at an easy pace.
- Ramp up your pace to one which you feel you can sustain for one hour, and increase your speed every 6 minutes by 10 seconds per mile. This phase should last about 35 minutes.
- Fall to an easy pace and sustain it for the last 10 minutes.
Hill workouts for runners help to improve muscle strength and running economy. Continuous uphill running helps runners expend less energy when running on straight courses due to an increase in their lactase threshold.
How to do it:
- Run at a relaxed pace over a 2 mile distance.
- Run up the hill as fast as you can for 30 seconds.
- Reduce your pace to a slow jog for 4 minutes.
Repeat this exercise 7 times and work your way up gradually from there.
The Barbell Squat
Body strength is an essential part of running, and the barbell squat focuses on the strength of your leg muscles.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet apart.
- Place a heavily loaded barbell on your neck.
- Push your hips backwards until you’re in a squat.
Rise back up, and do 5 sets of 9 reps..
Yes! The typical, good old-fashioned press-ups help runners a lot. They improve the upper body strength of runners and their overall posture and arm drive while running.
How to do it:
- Lie on your belly with your arms on either side of your chest.
- Raise yourself from the floor with your arms and with your toes tucked beneath you.
- Bring yourself down, but avoid touching the ground with your face, torso, laps or knees.
Continue the process and do 10 reps of 3 sets.
As a runner you can never go wrong with leg-muscle building exercises. Step-ups focus specifically on building running strength.
How to do it:
- Place one foot on the gym bench while ensuring that your knee is over your ankle on the second leg. Push off the leg on the floor and raise it to a knee high position without coming in contact with the bench.
- Hold dumbbells for a better effect.
Do 8 reps of 4 sets.
We’ve provided a list of strength and stamina building exercises for runners. Whether you are an avid runner or just starting out, these exercises can help improve your performance whilst out running.
A consistent exercise routine will also keep you healthy as well as happy! Which one of these exercises do you currently perform? Exercise is key for improving your physical health while reducing stress levels and anxiety too! What advice would you give someone who has never taken up running before but wants to start exercising regularly because they want to be healthier?