Running is a great full-body workout that is practically free, as you can run just about anywhere. But, for some, running simply isn’t enough, so they hit the gym for a good strength or cardio workout.
And it makes perfect sense. Every elite runner will tell you that what they do on their ‘off days’ has a disproportionate effect on how they perform on race day. Hitting the gym is a great way to target the muscles and energy systems that are fundamental to running fast and running long.
But which gym equipment is best for runners, and how can you use it to help improve your run? At the very least, you should consider an elliptical trainer, rowing machine, stationary bicycle, treadmill, and leg press machine.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the best gym equipment for runners. And how each machine can level up your performance for race day…
- The Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
- The Major Muscles Groups Used While Running
- The Best Gym Equipment To Develop These Muscles
- Gym For Runners: Work Hard to Run Faster
The Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
Strength and cardio training are great options for runners who want to improve their endurance and performance.
While running is enough of a workout for some, some still visit the gym for a good old sweaty workout to keep fit.
Strength and cardio training done in addition to running have a great number of benefits:
- A marked improvement in muscle tone, mobility, and overall strength while running.
- An increase in the V02 max. This refers to the maximum rate of oxygen the body can use during exercise. Cardio training increases this rate, resulting in longer, better runs.
- Boosts coordination, balance, and stability by improving core and upper body strength.
- An improvement in strength, stamina, and performance while running.
These are just a few of the many benefits you can enjoy by sweating it out at the gym with some extra cross-training sessions.
Of course, it’s important to know which muscles play the biggest role while running — before you learn about which equipment to use to develop and tone these muscles.
The Major Muscles Groups Used While Running
Running is like a kinetic chain and it’s important to understand that muscles work in pairs. Working one set of muscles will, in turn, affect another, thus building strong muscles that increase mobility and performance while running.
The major muscle groups that are developed while running are your glutes, quads and hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, and core muscles.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail to understand why they are important and their effect on your run.
Your glutes are the muscles that make up your, ahem, behind. Consisting of three muscles – the maximus, medius, and minimus – the glutes are responsible for strength, power, and overall mobility of the pelvis and hip while running. Strengthening these muscles is crucial as they help you control your legs during a run.
#2: Quads and Hip Flexors
The quads, or quadriceps, are those muscles that make up the front of your thigh. These four muscles help propel you forward when running and help with stability and impact absorption. The hip flexors help control movement and work in conjunction with the quads to provide strong, stable strides during a run.
The ugly step-sister of the thigh muscles, the hamstrings are located on the back of the thigh and are generally weaker than the quad muscles. However, they play a vital role in helping to bend the knee and propel you forward.
#4: Calf Muscles
Everyone wants a good set of calf muscles. Not only do they add shape to your lower legs, but these muscles also flex the ankle and help keep you upright when running. The calves absorb most of the impact created while running, so the stronger the calf muscle, the lower the impact on your other joints.
#5: Core Muscles
Core muscles not only include your abdominal muscles but also consist of the abdomen, pelvis, hips, and spine muscles. These all-important muscles help keep you upright while running, reduce the risk of injury and strain, allow the other muscles to exert less effort to sustain you on the run, and help stabilize the spine.
The Best Gym Equipment To Develop These Muscles
Several different exercises can help tone and develop muscles, improve V02 max rate, and help you give the best performance while running, many of which use some of the best pieces of gym equipment.
One of the main benefits of running, besides the obvious health benefits, is that it is free, saving you money that you would otherwise spend on costly gym contracts and home workout equipment. Having said that, there is a reason why elite runners will still cough up for the pricy gym membership.
And that boils down to access to highly effective machines that can complement their regular running routines.
Below are the pieces of equipment they use to help improve their muscle tone and cardiovascular health and get an upper- and lower-body workout in one quick gym session.
#1: An Elliptical Trainer
Often referred to as a cross-trainer, the elliptical trainer is one of the most popular pieces of gym equipment that helps engage the upper and lower body in a low-impact workout with excellent results. It is one of the only pieces of equipment that almost identically mimics running and helps improve a runner’s overall strength, mobility, and performance.
There are a great number of exercises that you could do on an elliptical trainer, including:
- Forward and backward pedaling to help develop leg muscles.
- Forward-only pedaling to work the biceps and quads.
- Backward-only pedaling to target the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
- A variation of both to strengthen the knees.
The elliptical trainer can be used with or without handlebars, giving you the option of whether or not you wish to tone your upper body.
The beauty of the elliptical trainer is that it is low-impact. You can log some extra miles without putting your knees, ankles and muscles through the suffering that might eventually lead to a season-ending injury.
#2: A Rowing Machine
Want to tone your upper body and improve your overall strength? The rowing machine does all this and more as it mimics rowing. Rowing is considered a low-impact activity that helps improve cardiovascular health and V02 max, resulting in more oxygenated blood flowing to the organs and areas where you need it most.
Fatigue and body aches are among the most common complaints while running, and a quick 15 to 20-minute workout on a rowing machine can drastically improve your endurance and stamina while running.
A rowing machine also helps improve core strength, posture, and breathing while reducing the risk of lactate build-up that causes pain while running.
#3: A Stationary Bike
Once the go-to of many moms in the 80s, the stationary bike has come a long way in design and is now fitted with a wide variety of features that help you make the most of your workout. Another great form of low-impact exercise, a session on a stationary bike targets the glutes, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, calves, and even shins, giving your legs and core muscles the ultimate workout.
This, in turn, helps build strong bones and improves balance and stability while running. Cycling also helps to strengthen the ankles and hips, thus making a stationary bicycle one of the best pieces of gym equipment you could possibly use to improve your running performance.
#4: The Treadmill
This piece of equipment has also undergone some pretty impressive upgrades over the years and now has several nifty features, such as allowing you to select the incline and speed of your run at the touch of a button.
Like an elliptical trainer, the treadmill closely mimics a run and is a convenient way of getting your run in, regardless of the season or current climate. It also provides a low-impact exercise option that exerts less stress on the ankles and knees thanks to the machine’s shock absorption features.
Increase the incline to mimic running uphill and improve your endurance and strength for those real runs out in the open. Use the handlebars to improve upper body strength while listening to your favorite songs through your headphones.
See more: our pick of the 16 best treadmill workouts
#5: A Leg Press Machine
Leg presses are a form of warm-up exercise known as dynamic stretching. This involves activating the muscles by using continuous movement rather than static movements, which tend to stretch the muscles too much, resulting in tears and strains.
A leg press machine is great for building lower-body strength and mass and is ideal for working the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, calves, and core muscles – the most important muscles needed for running.
The machine’s weight resistance can be adjusted to suit your personal needs and can help improve strength, mobility, and endurance while running. Remember to start on a lower resistance and work your way up to a higher resistance band once you feel more comfortable using the equipment as a part of your workout routine.
#6: The Stairmaster
The StairMaster has undergone several changes in design over the years, making it as popular as ever for those who want to maximize their strength workouts for running.
Targeting the quads, glutes, and calves, the Stairmaster helps tone the same muscles you would when walking, jogging, or running. However, it is considered a high-intensity training aid that will help boost your performance and power while running.
Additionally, the Stairmaster is great for cardio workouts and helps improve cardiovascular strength, and allows oxygen to flow to your muscles faster, increasing your V02 max rate, speed, and endurance while running.
The Stairmaster offers a steeper incline than regular stairs, working those calves and giving your legs a real workout. Stronger calves lead to better balance and stability while running, so be sure to fit in a quick workout on the Stairmaster the next time you visit the gym.
See more: Stairmaster vs Treadmill — which is the better workout?
Gym For Runners: Work Hard to Run Faster
The gym is ideal for a year-round full-body workout and has several convenient machines to help you maintain your strength and stamina no matter the season.
A good, sweaty gym session can be a great addition to your current fitness or running routine and can help increase your strength and endurance while running.
The machines in your local gym can help strengthen your muscles for running; many of which closely mimic running by training the same muscle groups you would use on a run. They are also a convenient way of getting in a strength or cardio workout session and can be used year-round regardless of climate or season.
Find a workout routine that aligns with your current running routine or schedule, and remember to factor in rest or recovery days between your run and gym sessions.