Marathon Runner: Best Functional Fitness Exercises
The above smile is the expression you’d expect to see from a marathon runner at the happiest place on earth. Drawing tens of thousands of participants each January, the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is an experience any avid marathoner should add to their bucket list.
If you don’t incorporate a well-thought-out training plan, however, a somewhat different expression could be found on your face come race day. An essential part of this process is regular strength training, which benefits runners of all skill levels because it increases strength and power, fixes muscle imbalances and improves running form. That’s all well and good, but why not make the most of your strength regimen by incorporating functional fitness exercises? These moves are all full-body exercises that mimic movement patterns we perform in all types of activities, from walking and running to hauling groceries into our homes and scaling stairs with a heavy backpack in tow.
Studies also show that exercises like the ones to follow increase metabolism levels and can help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes and heart problems. And, functional fitness exercises are perfect for the marathon runner because they reinforce strength, improve range of motion and boost efficiency. What’s not to like?
So, in order to sport a wide grin beneath your running hat when marathon day arrives, heed our advice by practicing some of these functional fitness exercises in preparation.
Why: If a full-body exercise is what you want, deadlifts are a pretty good place to start. They’re one of the most basic powerlifting exercises and especially hit your quads, calves, lower back and the core muscles. Research indicates deadlifts help increase release of the growth hormone, bringing about greater strength and muscle mass–i.e., #gains (we couldn’t resist).
How to: Place a barbell of appropriate weight on the floor in front of you and position feet about halfway under the bar. Bend over until your shins touch the barbell and then grab the barbell while hinging at the hips and keeping back straight with core engaged. Pull barbell off ground and extend hips and knees until you’re standing straight. On the descent, slowly lower weight to the floor until you’re back in starting position. Three sets of 8-10 reps is a good protocol to follow.
Why: Whether you’re an ultra marathon runner, Spartan Race stud or just trying to complete your first 5K, squats need to be part of your workout. Regular squats can and likely will make you a better runner because they strengthen key areas for power and explosiveness, like the core, glutes, quads, hamstrings and hips. Failure to target these muscles can often lead to overuse injuries like nagging IT band syndrome and runner’s knee. Don’t be that guy or gal.
How to: From a standing position, lower your body as far as you can by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Sit back and down between the knees, as if you were sitting in a chair behind you. After pausing slightly, slowly push back up through your heels to starting position. Plan on three to five sets of 12-16 reps.
Why: Strong upper bodies helps the marathon runner to maintain proper form, which is good for your health and proudly displaying your visor to all supporters along the route. Push-ups not only make you a better runner, but will also make your arms, back and core–areas that are often weak in runners–look better.
How to: This one is pretty straightforward. However, make sure to really focus on exerting proper form with each push-up to get the best results. If you’re looking for an extra challenge or variety, consider mixing it up with some variations in form to target different groups.
Why: Overhead lunges challenge balance and overall mobility, and help increase flexibility in the hip flexors. Marathoners who’ve had hip issues know full well this is huge. As a variation of the classic bodyweight lunge, overhead lunges zero in on the core, glutes, hamstrings and quads.
How to: Stand tall with a plate, a pair of barbells or dumbbells straight above your shoulders. While keeping the weight directly overhead, take a big step forward with your right leg and lower body until your knee is at a 90-degree angle. Return to starting position and alternate with left side. *Pro tip: If this is new to you and feels too difficult, modify by holding the weight at shoulder level.
Why: Like the push-up, the chin-up is a straightforward exercise that will result in a stronger upper body if you stick with it. It tests the core, back and biceps muscles in a way that few other exercises can.
How to: Grab the pull-up bar with your palms facing you and with hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. While keeping the core engaged and letting your body hang, raise yourself up until your chin is parallel with or over the bar. Slowly release and repeat. These can take a while to master so if you just need a starting point to build some confidence, use a chair to make the act a bit easier.
Work these functional fitness exercises into your routine and you’ll be crossing the finish line in just as triumphant a fashion as these fine folks. Smiles all around. Click on the link to find out why you need functional fitness in your exercise regime – whether or not you are a marathon runner.