Running is an effective way to burn calories, increase heart rate and train for muscle strength. But taking off on a run may get boring after awhile. Introduce other exercises and techniques into your running regimen to provide more benefits from running and keep it interesting. These exercises serve different purposes, but all can ensure you get the most from your running experience.
Many runners jog along urban streets or tracks near their home. Trail running instead takes the sport off-road, similar to mountain biking. Exercise from trail running forces different muscle activity because of frequent changes in incline and sometimes ground surface structure. There are more turns and the body must adjust more quickly than in conventional running exercises. The terrain from trail running is usually less harsh than streets or sidewalks. This can benefit those with painful "runner's knee" and other sensitive joints, as the ground more easily absorbs the shock from foot contact. Trail running can be less motonous since the scenery changes often. This can make a run more enjoyable for some. Lack of traffic and stoplights also helps trail runners maintain a more consistent exercise. Trail running will better improve balance and coordination, says well-known running coach Jenny Hadfield. However, trail runners must stay focused on the trail to avoid unusual objects in the path.
Combining plyometric training with running creates an exercise routine that significantly extends the benefits from running. Plyometrics is a process of quickly stretching and then contracting a muscle group. When alternated with running, the stimulation to the leg muscles can help increase a runner's "max VO2," or maximum volume of oxygen. A 1998 study at the University of Illinois confirmed that strength training interjected into a running routine can improve muscle economy, increase running endurance and increase VO2 max. Deep squats prior to a quick high jump is an example of lower-body plyometrics. Other similar exercises include jumping sideways on and off of a box or step. Try adding these exercises before and after a run, and also on a short break from running.
A common exercise for runners is to actually stop running and walk for a portion of the run. Marathon coach Jeff Galloway notes that this strategy actually improves overall running time for long-distance marathons. Walking and running utilize your muscles differently. When these two exercises are alternated, your muscles are allowed some recovery time. This allows a runner to maintain speeds at the end of a race or run that are comparable to her speeds at the beginning of the race. Without walk breaks, the average speed gradually declines as muscles experience fatigue. This exercise is common in long-distance running and may improve your results as well.