For runners, the most important part of training is obvious: Getting in your miles. But there’s another aspect of training that shouldn’t be ignored if you want to run stronger and faster.
We asked several runners and coaches to name the one additional activity they think is crucial to their training — and while the answers varied, the theme was the same: recovery and cross-training.
Getting more rest may be the easiest way runners can help their training. Our body experiences a tremendous amount of recovery while we sleep, so the more shut-eye we get, the better. It may not be realistic to expect eight hours of rest every night, however, if a goal race is coming up, sleep should be prioritized.
“The older I get, the more I realize that I am simply not at my best with less than seven hours of sleep,” says Alison Desir, activist, athlete, entrepreneur and founder of Harlem Run. “Consistent rest and recovery is the only way to perform at my best and has definitely had a positive impact on my mental health.”
If you feel like you’re always coming up short on sleep, start small. Try lying in bed half an hour earlier than normal and build from there. Your body will reward you for any extra minute of rest it gets.
If you have time to target one area, Amanda Brooks, running coach and blogger at RunToTheFinish, suggests focusing on your hips.
“Because most of us now sit for the majority of our day, our hips tend to become tight and our glutes shut down,” says Brooks. “Without these muscles working at full force, we lose strength and range of motion.”
Take five minutes before and after each run to perform a few hip mobility exercises, such as clam shells, lunges, leg swings or walking butt kicks. While the time spent on hip mobility may cut a mile off your run, it is well worth sacrificing some run time to stay injury-free.
When given the option between a few additional miles or heading to the gym to lift, most runners choose the former. However a short strength session can make a big difference. Most of all, it doesn’t have to be time consuming or confusing.
“The foundation for all strength, in my opinion, is the core, and the foundation for the core is the basic plank,” says Herb Plummer, a cross country coach at Dalton High School in New York City, New York. “Once you master that — and it’s not as simple as it looks — then you can introduce a plethora of variations: side planks, reverse planks, planks with movement.”
Plummer also suggests adding deadlifts (3 sets of 6 reps using a hex bar) to help develop glute strength and power. It’s a routine that doesn’t take a lot of time, but is a great place to start for runners who are new to strength training.
According to RRCA-certified running coach Megan Harrington, the timing of your meals can be even more important than nutrition.
“Days are jam-packed and it’s tempting to go straight to the shower or start responding to emails,” Harrington says. “However, after you finish a run, your muscles are primed to absorb glycogen and other nutrients and you don’t want to miss this crucial recovery step.”
In addition to fueling with a light snack immediately post-run, athletes have to be mindful that what they eat at every meal can impact their performance. A diet packed with whole grains, tons of produce, lean protein and snacks in moderation can help runners feel strong on every run.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN