The 12 Best Exercises for Runners

There are plenty of reasons why runners should cross-train. Doing other types of workouts helps balance out muscle usage and prevents overuse injuries. Cross-training allows you to stay fit and train through a current injury. It also fights boredom and can help up your fitness game, making you a faster, stronger runner. Need we go on?

Try these top cross-training workouts to take your running to the next level.

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Done correctly, a walking session can deliver a decent cardio workout while giving your body a vacation from pounding the pavement, according to Jessica Smith, star of the new workout DVD, “Walking for Weight Loss, Wellness & Energy.”

2Walking: Power Walk Hill Repeats

Walk as quickly as you can up a moderately steep hill for 30 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds at the top. Walk slowly back to start. Repeat for a total of six times. Gradually work up to 10, 90-second repetitions. Smith says swapping out two runs a month for this workout is just enough to give your body a break while still staying sharp on your feet.

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Pilates is the perfect antidote for the tight muscles and poor posture that plagues a lot of runners, according to fitness pro Suzanne Bowen, because it dynamically stretches the body and strengthens the core. Bowen recommends adding one or two Pilates workouts a week to your schedule. The result: Your movement will be more fluid and you’ll be less prone to injury.

4Pilates: Single Straight Leg Stretch

Lie on a mat. Lift the right leg up, keeping it as straight as possible. Grasp your calf with both hands and lift the shoulder blades off the mat by pulling on the right leg. Stay aligned as you slowly and purposefully switch legs. Exhale as you hold the leg, and inhale as you switch. Repeat 8 to 10 times. Do 1 to 3 sets. Bowen says this a terrific hamstring and glute stretch and also strengthens core muscles.

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5Martial Arts

Sensei Guillermo Gomez, a 4th degree black belt and creator of the Martial Fusion method, likes martial arts training for runners because it builds total body strength, speed, agility, flexibility and stamina while remaining a knee-friendly workout. A once-a-week session in place of a run helps balance out muscle usage.

6Martial Arts: Jab Cross Drill

To improve foot quickness, core strength and upper body stamina, stand with the right foot forward, elbows bent and “on guard” in front of ribs with your hands in fists. Throw a jab punch with the right arm by extending right arm out, turning palm towards the floor and then immediately draw elbow back into guard position. Next, throw a cross punch with the left arm, extending left arm forward, turning palm towards the floor, rotating left hip into punch and lifting left heel off the floor. Repeat as quickly as possible for 30 straight seconds.

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Yoga not only stretches the muscles that bear the brunt of running’s repetitive stress, but it also helps improve joint stability, notes Jordan Ciambrone, a certified trainer who specializes in running and yoga. Ciambrone recommends twice weekly yoga sessions to help promote a more relaxed running style and possible injury prevention.

8Yoga: Standing Bow Pose

Stand balanced on your right leg. Grasp the left leg as close to the foot or ankle as flexibility allows. Keeping your posture aligned, lean forward and pull the left leg up and back, as much as flexibility allows. Extend the right arm out for counterbalance and to lengthen the stretch. Hold pose for 30 seconds. Repeat with both legs 3 to 5 times. Ciambrone loves this stretch because it hits the thighs and hip flexors—the most notoriously tight muscle groups among runners.

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When all you do is run, you create an imbalance between the front and back of the thighs. Tom Holland, certified strength coach and author of “The Marathon Method,” says that cycling is a phenomenal complimentary activity for runners because it is an impact-free way to balance out thigh muscle usage. Trading in a run for one or two cycling workouts a month should help you remain injury free.

10Cycling: Interval Repeats

To warm up, cycle at an easy cadence on a light gear/resistance for 5 to 10 minutes. Next, set the bike to moderate resistance/gear and spin as fast and as hard as you can for one minute, followed by a one-minute recovery on a light resistance. Repeat 10 times. Cool down as you warmed up. Note: You can do this on an indoor studio cycle, too. Holland says this workout is a great way to train your body for sprints up hills and into the finish line.

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Plyometrics are explosive, bounding moves that build strength, speed and reaction time. If you’re looking for a personal best in your next 5K, adding in 5 to 10 minutes worth of plyos to your regular weight training routine 1 to 3 times a week are a must, notes Lisa Kinder, star of the “10 Minute Solution: High Intensity Interval Training” DVD.

12Plyometrics: Switch Jump Lunges

Stand with your feet straddled about a stride-length apart, right leg in front, left heel up off the floor. Bend your knees until the left knee nearly touches floor and right thigh is parallel to floor. Jump upward and switch leg positions in midair. Land softly and bend knees to absorb impact. Move into the next repetition as quickly as you can, but rest if you need to in order to maintain good form. Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 15 repetitions. “Don’t force the repetitions if you start to get too tired or your form falters,” says Kinder. “It’s better to perform 10 strong, correct repetitions than 15 sloppy ones..” She also points out that this move is a full-body workout that can also help lengthen your running stride.

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