Runners get a bad reputation for not being athletic or able to play other sports because they aren’t coordinated, agile, etc. Not only do I cringe when I hear things like this, but it is quite untrue for many of us who happen to enjoy running as our main physical activity. However, I can’t help but observe there are many runners who almost exclusively only run and if you did give them a basketball or volleyball they’d have no idea what to do with it.

Now I’m not saying as a runner you have to know, understand and be able to play every possible sport there is, but there is a lot of benefit in being athletic across the spectrum and able to jump high, throw a ball far, and zig-zag around opponents. Sports such as basketball, volleyball, flag football, etc are a great way to improve overall athleticism while also developing a better balance of neuromuscular ability, strength, and power--all of which are crucial to becoming a fast, strong, and injury-resistant runner.

Athletic Goals for Runners

Do you need to join a softball league or Saturday morning pick-up game of basketball to become more athletic? No, but it is fun so go for it! Rather make sure you are incorporating speed, agility, and power-type movements into your weekly routine. Adult sporting leagues are a beneficial and fun way to do this, but not always feasible with day-to-day responsibilities such as family, work, etc. Luckily, there are a ton of ways runners can make sure they are training their bodies to be able to sprint at a moment’s notice or hurdle over that fallen tree from last night’s storm. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  1. Jumping. There are so many different types of jumping exercises you’d quit reading this blog if I attempted to name them all. So to keep it short and sweet start with squat jumps as high as possible, broad jumps as far as possible or single-leg hops. Begin with 10 of each or time yourself for 20 seconds. The key is good form and not getting sloppy though. Make sure your knees aren’t crashing in toward each other with take-off or landing and your family shouldn’t think you’re hiding an elephant in this house because the floor shakes when you land (think ninja quiet).
  2. Ladder drills. If you have access to an agility ladder, these are so fun to use and the possibilities of steps/jumps are endless. If you don’t have one, no worries. Athletic or masking tape works perfectly as long as you won’t get yelled at for putting it on the floor (i.e. may not want to put it in the hallway at work…) Make the ladder anywhere from 10-20ft long depending on the space available and then use your creativity! Do things like quick steps or hops forward, backward, sideways, or the icky shuffle. Time yourself then try to beat your time to improve agility and foot speed which again can directly enhance running mechanics and muscle coordination.
  3. Doing something other than running. Preferable would be an activity that requires you to sprint, jump, pivot quickly, or throw, but just getting out of the running bubble will expose you to the beneficial germs of other sports. We improve our “running immune system” by engaging in other sports for variety and to keep our muscles and nervous system sharp, just like when children need to be exposed to other children and environments to develop resistance against germs and illnesses. Not to mention it can help you avoid the mental burnout of running every day and increase compliance to consistent exercise.

By no means do runners have to give up really any of their running, but so many possibilities and hidden talents can show up when other activities are added to a consistent training routine. If you enjoy running with a group, challenge everyone to a relay contest made up of jumping and sprinting exercises or join us for our SPARK Tough workouts where I guarantee you’ll find muscles working you didn’t even know you had!

Dr. Ivy L. Jordan, PT, DPT, CSCS               
Performance Physical Therapist / Running Performance Specialist

Dr. Jordan received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and her Bachelor’s in Exercise Science from the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. She competed for four years in cross-country and track and field while attending UMary with areas of specialty in the 1500/1600m, 3000m, 5000m, and 3000m steeplechase. She continues to be an avid runner who has a strong interest in working with the running population, whether it’s achieving a personal record or taking the first step towards joining the running community. Dr. Jordan is also a high school cross-country and track and field coach specializing in distance events.