Like so many important decisions in my life, I have to tell you that I don’t remember the exact moment I decided to film workout videos and post them on YouTube. I vaguely recall having some extra time on my hands – if only I had appreciated it at the time! – back when I first started doing personal training. It seems to me like I had a smart little idea to post a video on Facebook, showing potential clients how I exercise and offering suggestions for workouts they could build themselves. And then I’m pretty sure that FB at the time had an upper limit for how long of a video you could upload, so I had to put it on YouTube and then share the link.
Little did I know how much that decision would change my life, particularly my workout life. Back in the day, I really only ran. And maybe did the occasional balance ball core workout. When I got my training certification, it really opened my eyes to a whole new world of exercise that I wasn’t previously aware of. Sure, I’d been a gym rat in my early 20s, but that was mostly me sitting on the machines and pretending I knew what I was doing. Free weights were so outside of my comfort zone that there’s not even a metaphor for it.
Fast forward to now and not only do I have 178 workout videos on my (now-thriving as its own second business) YouTube channel, but I have gained a huge appreciation for the benefits of regular strength training! I can’t say that it’s made me a faster runner, but it has absolutely made me a stronger runner and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve been uninjured these three years.
Here are four of my favorite dumbbell strength-training moves. This is not an exhaustive list of the “best” exercises for runners, but these are the ones I come back to again and again because they offer a lot of bang for your buck (they’re complex moves that work a lot of muscles) and I sort of feel like a badass when I do them.
Side Plank Press Ups
How to Do: Start from a side plank position (top photo is the harder version balancing on one hand on the sides of feet, bottom is an easier modification on an elbow and a knee). Keep the dumbbell close to your body as you raise it from the ground into a full extension and then lower it back to the ground.
Why it’s Awesome: This exercise uses so many stabilizer muscles it’s ridiculous! You’re balancing your bodyweight from shoulder to toe (or knee), which strengthens your entire shoulder joint, your obliques and abs, as well as your glutes and outer thighs. Plus the lifting arm is using your biceps and triceps and getting you ready for tank top season.
Use Caution if: You have any sort of shoulder stability issues.
Single Leg Deadlift Plus Row
How to Do: This one requires a lot of concentration and balance. If balance isn’t your thing, focus on the single leg deadlift and leave out the rows for the time being. Stand up super straight with a dumbbell in each hand and squeeze the glute of the leg you are going to lift behind you. As you pull that leg up, let your torso lean forward at the exact same rate. Don’t bend forward! Your leg/butt is doing all the work here. Keep your hips facing forward, rather than letting your leg swing open. If you have tight hamstrings – and let’s face it, we all do! – you might not get very far forward. That’s okay. When you get yourself balanced, pull the dumbbells up to your armpits and then gently lower them back to the starting position. As you stand up, squeeze the glute of the leg you’re standing on to raise your torso. Try really, really hard not to just fall out of the position!
Why it’s Awesome: Like the Side Plank Press Up, this exercise uses a bajillion muscles to execute properly. You’ve got your hamstrings and glutes firing independently and balancing your whole body, which also calls on your calves, your feet and ankles, and your abs to do well. The row is a nice little bonus move that asks your upper back muscles to move a load, which we don’t do very often. Every inch of you is working for this one!
Use Caution if: You have a hard time firing your glutes properly. It takes a fair amount of mental work to make your butt do its job, and if it’s being lazy, your lower back will often take over.
How to Do: Hold the (optional) dumbbell like a baby at your chest, then step your right foot as far back and to the left as you can comfortably go. You don’t need to get your knee all the way to the ground as shown here. You want to be able to get back up without struggling. As you stand up, focus on keeping that left foot flat on the ground – if you come up on your toes, your calves are doing the work rather than your glutes, and this is supposed to be glute and hip work! Repeat on the other side.
Why it’s Awesome: This one is particularly fabulous for runners because of all the work you’re doing on the sides of your hips, plus your glutes, hamstrings and quads. And working on your balance is never a bad idea.
Use Caution if: You have trouble with your ankles or knees in a lateral (side to side) motion. We so frequently train in a forward and backward motion that some joints really have a hard time with this exercise.
Single Leg Squat and Press
How to Do: With a dumbbell in each hand, balance on your left foot. Push your hips back and bend your knee into a squat, taking extra care not to let your knee come forward over your toes. You probably won’t be able to squat as low as you can on two feet and this will take far more concentration! Reach your right hand toward the ground in front of your left foot – don’t worry if you don’t touch the ground, that’s not really the point of this exercise. As you stand up, lift your right hand to your shoulder and then press the dumbell up into a full extension over your head. Do all reps on one leg before switching to the other.
Why it’s Awesome: This is another power balance move, something we runners can seriously never get enough of. Your feet and ankles are working to provide balance while your quads and glutes are working on that squat. The cross-body motion means your abs and obliques are firing and the press-up is like the cherry on top, working your arms and shoulders. Boom! Full body workout in one exercise.
Use Caution if: You have a hard time executing regular squats. That knee-behind-the-toe thing isn’t just a suggestion! Use a mirror or ask somebody to watch you if you’re unsure about your form to protect your knees from injury.
By the way, I’m wearing different clothes in each of these photos because they’re screen shots from different workouts I’ve filmed. I didn’t want you to think I changed outfits. Although I’m not really sure if that’s worse than having hundreds of photos of myself working out to choose from for this post.