If you are a runner, you spend hours out on the road or track. You have trouble squeezing all those training runs into an already busy life. The last thing you need is another thing to do.
But running uses the same muscles over and over again and can lead to overuse injuries. These are heartbreaking injuries because rest is usually the first thing prescribed. You just have to wait until the overused muscle (usually a tendon, actually) heals.
An important line of defense against these common injuries is to actually work out more. How can you avoid overuse by working out more? Try complimentary exercises that strengthen the areas that have become weak in comparison. Basically, the five major muscles of the legs must each be strong to avoid injuring the tendons and connections they utilize. Places like the knees and hips can be injured if they are not supported properly. But as runners we spend hours kicking our legs behind us and using mainly the hamstring and calf muscles. It is imperitive that we strengthen the opposing muscles and the smaller muscles around the knee and hip.
Every expert has a different set of exercises they think you should do. Some recommend a full 35-45 minute full body strength training session. No one can dispute that doing a thorough workout like that will help you feel stronger and look better, but as runners we have some specific needs.
First, we already work out for hours a week. Adding 3 more full body workouts to that is difficult and improbable. Second, we want our strength training to be in service of our running, i.e. making us stronger, faster, better runners who are less prone to injury. Third, we aren't avid fans of gym workouts, we prefer to run outside in the fresh air. Fourth, we may not be good at strength workouts (or they may not come naturally to us) and that leads to avoiding them.
Sifting through many sources has revealed that experts have similar recommendations. This list is of the top 4 suggested strength moves that you can do quickly and easily after a run or on your rest days. They do not need to be performed in a gym, and the only equipment needed is a stretchy band used in the lateral band walks. Click on the exercise name for links to detailed instructions on proper form for each exercise.
Calf raises - Balances the shin muscles that work hard pulling the toe up as we run. Can help with Achilles tendon injuries.
Plank - Strengthens core, butt, and even shoulders (runners don't get as much upper body toning). Core strengthening is great because when your running form sags, you are not as effecient.
Lateral band walks - Improves hip stability and knee joint stability, strengthens the hip abductors and glute medius. Be sure and lead with the heel! The smaller muscles around the hips are important as a guard against IT band issues.