Are you a runner? Get the ultimate home gym for runners to maximize your potential. From strength training to cardio and recovery equipment, this guide will walk you through the specifics to building the perfect gym. While having a running specific home gym should not replace your outdoor running, it will complement your training and provide a huge help when it comes to recovery.
- 1 Why Do Runners Need a Home Gym?
- 2 Outfitting A Runner’s Gym
- 3 Conclusion
Why Do Runners Need a Home Gym?
If you are a runner, you probably have a natural love of the outdoors. Treadmills are good for inclement weather, or when you are squeezed for time, but most of a runner’s work takes place on the road. Trails, parks, side roads, and even cityscapes help keep it interesting. But there are situations that call for staying indoors.
In addition to weather, you may be recovering from an injury. Or maybe you have found, like many of us do, that a little core and leg training improves form and endurance. Cross training at least twice a week can also reduce injury and downtime, making you more efficient and helping you crush your running goals.
Strength Training For Runners
First, let’s review some of the reasons to pursue runner strength training in the first place. We tend to love running so much, and put so much work into it, that we may not think cross training is necessary. Here’s why it is.
The main benefit of strength training, for runners, is, well, increased strength. Specifically, you can target the muscles in your abs, trunk, glutes, and legs. Whether you use weights or not, too, the cross training will improve your joints. This better equips you to pound the pavement without being sidelined by inflammation. Even with good running shoes and easy/rest days, your feet touch the ground up to 100 times each minute you spend running. If you run on concrete or asphalt, your entire body will feel that impact after a while.
As a runner, you don’t need to be packing on tons of muscle…. rather ensure any muscle you have is toned for the task of running. This is where functional fitness exercises may offer the most benefit as they focus more on the overall balance of the body for more normalized movements such as running.
Hitting All Your Muscle Groups
While you’re at it, don’t neglect back exercises. Your shoulders have to hold up your arms while you run, and your lower back helps you stay upright. Your back can get sore, too, if your hip flexors are not developed enough. The hip flexors connect your legs to your upper body. They are often tight, from running as well as sitting (if you have a sedentary job). Squats are just one of the exercises that can beef up your hip flexors.
Now that we have established the link between strength training, injury prevention, and performance improvement, here are our suggestions for outfitting your home gym. If a home gym is not feasible, these are things you can look for when you join a commercial gym.
Outfitting A Runner’s Gym
If you’ve never had a home gym, or you want to expand yours, we made this list for you. It includes 11 pieces of essential equipment for a runner’s gym. You do not have to limit yourself to what is on the list, and you do not necessarily need all 11 tools. Everyone has different needs and different budgets. Use our list as a guideline, a jumping off point to start equipping yourself for the win.
A Word About Treadmills
Let’s get one pesky myth out of the way first: the difficulty level of a treadmill is equal to running outdoors. This is especially true if you adjust the incline as little as 1 percent. Research bears this out. So you never need to feel like you are taking a shortcut or going too easy on yourself with a treadmill.
Pros and Cons
Some pros of a treadmill: less joint impact, more efficient interval training (you have a built in timer and adjustment), and the ability to keep your pace constant over time.
On the negative side, treadmills do not work all the fine muscles that running outside does. When you run on a track or road, you constantly encounter tiny obstacles and uneven terrain. This challenges your hamstrings far more than a treadmill does. So, if you run primarily on a treadmill, be sure to incorporate some strength training for those important leg muscles. In addition to the lower muscle challenge, many people find the treadmill boring and repetitive. Lastly, treadmills require a bit a maintenance, so be on the lookup for common treadmill issues.
Other Cardio Equipment
Exercise bikes provide another low impact aerobic workout, and the seated position may be preferable on days you don’t want to run. Since the bike helps support your body weight, it will typically burn fewer calories than a treadmill. The treadmill provides no assistance except for the handles, and those are there for people with limited mobility.
The other gym staple you may want to consider is the elliptical trainer. It is practically no impact, and will not strain your joints. The elliptical works out more muscles than either the treadmill or bike, especially if you use one with moving handles. And by adjusting the incline or resistance level, you target muscles in your glutes, hamstrings, quads and lower back.
Resistance Band Training
Resistance bands are pieces of tubing or flat rubber, often with handles to facilitate exercise. They are great because they are portable, lightweight, and adaptable to any fitness level. There is not a muscle group in your body that you can’t work with resistance bands. Possibilities include augmented squats, leg curls, glute lifts, and triceps extensions. But there are dozens more, so make sure the set you buy comes with a wall chart or DVD to teach you all the moves.
These fixed or adjustable tools are not just for arm curls. You can hold dumbbells when you do lunges, or walk around the gym with one in each hand. If you have a bench, chest presses and flys will strengthen your chest and arms at the same time. Make sure to keep your dumbbells organized in a dumbbell rack for safety and speed during reps.
If you think this fixed plastic or vinyl raised surface is a relic from the 1970’s, think again. An aerobic step gives you an array of exercises for your cardio and strength needs. They also typically come with risers, meaning you can raise the step off the ground for a more intense workout. A home gym for runners will benefit greatly from this affordable training tool.
Pull Up Bars
Augment your push ups, planks, and crunches with this time honored upper body developer. Today’s pull up bars are easy to install, will stay in place forever, and often have fancy attachments that turn them into multigyms at a fraction of the price. A strong, stable core is a must for meeting your full potential as a runner. Few exercises can match the pull up when it comes to runner strength training.
Foam Rollers For Recovery
Foam rollers give you a massage-like experience, without having to pay for a massage. They are typically durable, high density foam, often with a rigid core. It takes some time to unlock all the different angles you can reach with a foam roller. Once you meet the learning curve, you will experience less post-run soreness while preserving your flexibility.
If you have spent time in a gym, or if you play sports, you are familiar with weight benches. They are mandatory for certain exercises, especially the bench press. The more expensive ones have uprights to hold loaded barbells in place. Often, the uprights can double as a squat stand.
If you are not a dedicated heavy weightlifter, a utility bench may be just the thing. They can be flat or adjustable, with or without attachments. Many utility benches are portable. You can use them for seated dumbbell exercises, or low weight/high rep bench presses. Most utility benches also let you do body weight resistance exercises. If you are used to push ups and other floor work, the utility bench is a way to keep from getting stale while targeting the same important muscle groups.
Heavy Duty Benches
In case you are not familiar, an upright is a metal rack that can support the weight of a loaded barbell. They will have a max weight rating that you should not exceed. The upright lets you start and end each repetition with good form, and re-racking the weight is easy. Some benches will have attached uprights. You can also buy just an upright and pair it with any utility bench. The higher end uprights can be used as squat racks or stands.
If you are going to do progressive (heavier and heavier) weight training, with a barbell, a bench with uprights is an absolute must. This is for safety reasons. There are flat benches with uprights out there, but they are almost always adjustable. Lifting at a higher or lower incline will push your muscles in new ways, leading to gains in the gym and in your running practice.
Kettlebells are the cornerstone of any functional fitness routine. These allow you target not only smaller muscle groups but work the major ones via the different movements. As its critical to prevent injury and maximize your workout, check out the kettlebell resources as part of the FitPak to get started. Don’t forget to keep the kettlebells in a rack to allow for circuit training.
Swiss balls are also called stability balls or exercise balls. They are large, big enough for an adult to use as a seat, and inflatable. They often come with a pump. That means you can deflate a Swiss ball for travel, then blow it up to use in a hotel room.
Why would you want to do such a thing? The stability ball adds spice to your push ups, planks, and other core exercises. Placing your hands or feet on one gives you even more resistance to work against. Swiss balls are great for improving coordination. Also, perhaps more than any other piece of gear, Swiss balls are just fun. If you get tired of floor exercises, you can pick the ball up and bounce it against a wall for a while. They are big enough that catching one on the rebound is a substantial challenge.
We will admit it: there is something gimmicky, at first glance, about the ab roller. It is a plastic wheel with handles on the sides. You place it on the floor, get into push up position, and roll back and forth with it.
In spite of our skepticism, research shows that the ab wheel does help strengthen your triceps, wrists, and chest muscles. It also ensures symmetry and balance–you will develop both sides of your trunk at the same time. It is actually impossible to use an ab wheel with just one arm. The device also helps you with correct form, which is vital for both getting stronger and continuing to run. An ab roller is one more tool that does not take up much room in any home gym for runners.
A sauna is a great tool for recovery. There are a ton of options from small saunas you zip up over your body to technically advanced far-infrared saunas and more. Check with your doctor before using a sauna as it is not for everyone, especially those with low blood pressure or certain heart conditions.
Ensuring you are able to target multiple muscle groups is key when constructing a home gym for runners. Of note, you should start with a strong base such as a bench and free weights and complement it with possibly 1 cardio standby, such as a treadmill. Once you have that base established, make sure to pick up a mat with recovery aids such as foam rollers to have a more complete home gym for runners.