Q&A: Which Gym Machines are Best for Runners? Are There Some I Should Avoid?
Whether you’re training for your first marathon or trying to set a new PR, it’s important to make sure you are strength training in addition to running. Proper strength training will reduce your risk of running injuries, improve your running form, and improve your body’s ability to withstand the stress of race day.
Always remember: Even though running is a linear sport, it’s important to strengthen your body in all planes of motion to optimize your performance.
There are tons of machines in the gym, and sometimes it’s hard to know which ones are best to use and which ones to avoid. Here are three exercises that you should try and two you should avoid, along with recommendations of other exercises to check out instead.
TRY: Leg Press
This is a great choice because it allows you a variety of ways to strengthen your legs. Some variations you can do on this machine include pushing with both legs together, single leg, or pushing with both and slowly lowering yourself down on one leg.
The “two-up, one-down” variation works on your eccentric quadriceps strength, which will help you absorb the impact forces of running. Eccentric strengthening exercises will also help with power development, which will benefit any runner.
TRY: Cable Column Pallof Press
This is a great exercise to strengthen both your core strength and your stability in your hips and pelvis, which are all essential for running.
Begin doing this in the half-kneeling position. Hold onto the handle with both hands and slowly press in and out, keeping the cable in line with your chest.
Resist the lateral pull of the cable by keeping your core tight and your glute engaged.
Repeat the same movement with your other leg in the front.
This can also be performed in a tall kneeling or standing position, with various foot positions to increase or decrease the level of difficulty.
TRY: Lat Pulldown
When your legs start to get tired, you’ll be happy you incorporated upper-body strengthening in your program, too! It’s important to keep your back strong so you avoid slouching when you run. Maintaining healthy arm movement, as well as stability in your shoulders, is also important. Having a strong upper body can go a long way and can really carry over to helping your running performance.
When you perform this exercise, sit up tall and pull the bar down to the top of your chest; make sure your core is engaged so that your trunk does not rock back and forth as your arms move.
AVOID: Seated Hip Abductor/Hip Adductor Machine
INSTEAD TRY: Standing Clock
Strengthening your muscles in the standing position, with good posture and core engagement, is a much more efficient exercise and use of your time in the gym.
This can be done with your own body weight or with a resistance mini-band above your ankles.
Stand in a quarter-squat position and imagine you were in the center of a clock that’s flat on the floor.
If you’re standing on your left leg, reach your right foot to 1:00, 3:00 and 5:00, and if you’re standing on your right leg, reach your left foot to 11:00, 9:00 and 7:00.
Maintain a neutral pelvis and a very stable stance leg. Perform this for 30 seconds on each leg.
AVOID: Seated Spinal Flexion (“Crunch Machine”)
INSTEAD TRY: Side Plank with a Clamshell
This exercise is a good one to do, because while it strengthens your core, it also stresses the importance of eccentric control of the deep hip external rotators.
Start in the side lying position with your elbow stacked under your shoulder. Bend and stack your knees and bring your hips up and forward.
Extend your top arm in the air. Keep your core tight and your rib cage engaged.
Slowly begin to make a clamshell motion with your top leg. Push down with your bottom leg as your top leg begins to lift up. Make sure your hip does not roll backwards throughout the movement. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions and hold the last rep for five seconds!
About the Author
Ashley Fluger CSCS, CPT is an exercise physiologist at the Tisch Sports Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She graduated top in her class from Indiana University and also completed the Sport Essentials Certificate Program from Columbia University. Ashley has an extensive knowledge in exercise science and sports performance.