Strength training: exercises that pack a punch

Maintaining strength is important for both runners and triathletes. Off-season training is a great time to focus on increasing total body strength. As the holidays approach, we all get busier, and strength training sometimes gets put on the back burner. Looking ahead to next season can help increase motivation to work on strength. Stronger, balanced muscles decrease injury risk and increase performance. In between training cycles is a great time to zero in on correcting imbalances in the body and building a strong foundation for next race season.

There are so many exercises we can do. It can be hard to know which ones are right. You coach can pinpoint specific exercises which will be right for you. As runners and triathletes, we are always thinking about efficiency. And as time gets tight during the holidays, here is a list of exercises which provide a lot of “bang for your buck.”

1) Push-ups. Push-ups are versatile, can be done anywhere, no weights required. Push-ups work the chest, shoulders, arm and core. They are great for any level of fitness. Beginners can start building strength with wall or knee push-ups. Proper form is important. Keep the core engaged. Here’s where the versatility comes in. Work up from the standard position to diamond push-ups, fingertip, plyometric and one-handed (to name a few). Vary how you do them. For example, one day do as many as you can in 60 seconds. Next time try a more difficult position, and do 3 sets of 15 with 30 seconds rest in between. You will be amazed at how quickly you improve.

2) Plank. Plank is an excellent core exercise. You can do traditional place with bent elbows, legs straight and on your toes, or high-plank (high push-up position). Remember to keep the core engaged. Start with holding for 30 seconds and work up to 60, 90, then a total of 2 minutes. Variations include lifting one leg, side plank (on elbow or with arm extended), side plank with leg lifted (on elbow or with arm extended. You can also extend the top arm straight up for more of a challenge).

3) Wall sits. Start with your back against the wall and feet shoulder width apart. Slide down the wall so that your thighs are parallel to the ground. This is an excellent exercise for the quads, glutes and calves. Arms at your sides, or straight out in front. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, with 30 seconds rest in between.

4) Walking lunges. This is a lunge combined with a walk. This exercise is great for the quads, hamstrings and glutes. Start at a stand. Take a step forward and lunge. The knee will be at a 90 degree angle. Stand tall, do not slouch and keep the core engaged. Step back to standing and repeat with the other leg. Start with no weights, then move up to holding 5lbs, 8lbs, then 10lbs weights. Be careful not to use weights that are too heavy, as this puts stress on the back. Start with 12-15 reps per leg, 3 sets, with 30 sec. rest in between.

5) Rowing machine. The rowing machine is a great cardio and strength machine, when used properly. The biggest mistake people make is having the resistance too high (most people leave it on 10). Decrease the resistance by moving the dial down. Use proper resistance so you can maintain an aerobic state. Proper form is important on the rowing machine. There are four positions to think about when rowing. 1) Finish – start in this postion when you are first learning how. Arms and legs straight out, torso leaning back slightly 2) Arms away – reach with your arms first, hinging at the hips, before bending the knees. This is another mistake many people make on the rower (bending knees too soon). 3) Catch position – now you bend your knees and slide forward. 4) Drive – this is the pull. Pull with your legs first, keep the core engaged, finish with your arms coming toward your chest. The rowing machine works the legs, hips, glutes, back, shoulders and arms. You can use the rower as a warm up to strength training (use proper resistance and warm up 10-15 minutes), or it can be a workout in and of itself. The machines will have options for 5k, 3k, or 1k. Interestingly, these times usually correspond to your running times. Make it a challenge as you get better on the rower.

Maintain proper form with all exercises. Proper form is priority number one, before reps or how much weight you can lift.

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