To become stronger, fitter, more toned–and a better runner–add one or more of these activities to your weekly regimen, says Olympic distance runner Kara Goucher, author of Kara Goucher’s Running for Women: From First Steps to Marathons.
How: Extrapolate workouts from running workouts. That is, do intervals, long rides, sprints, and hills, just like you would train for running, only longer on the bike.
Why: Improves endurance and leg strength (emphasize the “up” stroke for hamstring activation, which is often neglected and deficient in runners). The cyclical nature of the stroke mimics running biomechanics in a non-weight-bearing environment. Studies show that cycling can improve 10K race times by 9%, 5K by 3%, 2 mile by 1%, and boost VO2 max by 3%.
How: This is so much like running but without any pounding, as your feet never leave the pedals. So you can do pretty much all your running workouts on the elliptical.
Why: Improves endurance and leg strength, burns lots of calories, and protects you from injury thanks to its “gliding” aspect.
How: Find some flat ground to cruise along. Increase the workout time to get the same benefits as running.
Why: A nonimpact way to strengthen all leg muscles, especially the oft-neglected glutes and hips.
How: Find a local class at a gym or private session.
Why: Improves strength, core stability, overall flexibility, and it’s relaxing and fun.
Pool Running (or Aqua Jogging)
How: Mimic the same workouts run on land, now in the pool. Use a belt to add buoyancy or go without a belt to increase the intensity.
Why: It’s a non-weight-bearing form of exercise that improves mental and physical endurance. A study showed that pool runners who totally abstained from running for 6 weeks were able to perform the same on race day as a second group that ran for the 6 weeks.
How: Focus on the major muscle groups involved in running (quads, hamstrings, gluteus maximus), but don’t neglect core, hip stabilizers, and upper back.
Why: Research links strength training with a 4% increase in running economy (efficient use of oxygen). It may also reduce heart rate, and can improve race times from the 5K to marathon. Protects against injury by providing a solid muscular foundation.
How: Find a local Y or health club that schedules lap swims. Or join a masters swim team that incorporates interval and distance training.
Why: You get a total body workout, especially core and upper back. Improves flexibility and endurance. Gives your joints a break because it’s non-weight-bearing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kara Goucher, author of Kara Goucher’s Running for Women: From First Steps to Marathons (Copyright © 2011 by Kara Goucher), is the World Championship bronze medalist for the 10K and a top U.S. marathoner. A member of the Nike Oregon Project, improving standards for distance running, she lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, professional runner Adam Goucher and son Colt.