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6 exercises that make you a better runner and why

Laura Williams, M.S.Ed. is a personal trainer, freelance writer and entrepreneur who works with a wide variety of fitness clients. She's the founder of the popular website, - Girls Gone Sporty, and she's the host of the High Impact Blogg...

Important exercises for runners that improve speed, power and balance

To become a better runner you have to, well... run. But, to become a faster, stronger runner? You have to turn your running routine into a full-body workout.

The following exercises are designed to enhance balance, coordination, power, strength, agility and flexibility, all of which work together to make you a better athlete — one that's ready to dig deep and sprint toward the finish line. Perform each exercise for 60 seconds (unless otherwise noted) and cycle through the circuit two times. You can do the circuit before a short run (two to three times a week) or you can do it on your rest days.

1. Hip stretch lunge

Important exercises for runners that improve speed, power and balance

The hip stretch lunge helps loosen up the hips while warming up the whole body. Start in a high plank position, with your core tight and your body forming a straight line from head to heel. Then, step your right foot forward and to the outside of your right hand, planting your foot firmly with the heel on the ground (you don't have to bring your foot all the way to your hand).

Keeping your upper body strong, allow your left knee to bend toward the floor as you sink your hips down toward the ground for a nice hip stretch. Hold for a second, then return to plank and repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating sides for the full 60 seconds.

More: 6 Hip stretches that give major stress relief

2. Squat with overhead press

Important exercises for runners that improve speed, power and balance

While holding a pair of light dumbbells, perform a full squat with your arms extended over your head. Focus on shifting your hips backward and sinking your butt straight down toward the floor between your feet while keeping your heels planted on the ground. By holding the weights overhead, you'll be forced to keep your chest up and your core tight while also strengthening your shoulders.

3. Plyometric box jump skips

Important exercises for runners that improve speed, power and balance

Plyometric box jump skips help develop power and balance, both of which are important during races when a strong kick can help propel you past the competition.

Using a plyo box or a sturdy bench, stand to the right of the platform and place your left foot solidly on top. With your right leg staggered slightly behind your left leg, your arms bent, your left arm in front of your body and your right arm behind, push forcefully through your left foot. Straighten your left leg as you swing your arms and bring your right knee toward your chest.

If you can, you should end up hopping up into the air off your left foot before reversing the movement and landing softly (knees and hips bent slightly) in the starting position. Continue the skips off your left leg for 30 seconds before switching to the opposite side.

4. Push-up rotation

Important exercises for runners that improve speed, power and balance

Building upper body and core strength enhances your body's running economy and enables you to use oxygen more efficiently. Efficient oxygen use means you can run longer and faster before reaching exhaustion — a good thing for any athlete!

To perform the push-up rotation, start in a high plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your elbows and lower yourself toward the floor before pressing back to start. Shift your weight to the right and rotate your body so your left hand reaches toward the sky as you balance on the heel of your right palm in a side plank position. Hold for a second, then rotate back to center. Perform another push-up, then shift your weight to the left to perform a side plank on the opposite side. Continue for the full 60 seconds.

More: The power ab workout you can do in 10 minutes

5. Single-leg calf raises

Important exercises for runners that improve speed, power and balance

Calf raises help improve calf strength, balance and ankle stability — particularly good for trail runners. Simply stand next to a wall or a sturdy chair for support, lift your right foot off the ground and shift your weight to the ball of your left foot, keeping your left knee slightly bent. Press through the ball of your foot and raise up as high as you can on your toes before lowering your heel back toward the floor, stopping just before it touches down. Continue performing calf raises on the left leg for 30 seconds before switching to the right leg.

6. Sit-up to get up

Important exercises for runners that improve speed, power and balance

While not strictly a sit-up, this exercise requires core strength, coordination, balance and leg strength. The goal is to be able to stand up without using your arms for support after rolling back onto your shoulder blades.

Start seated on the ground as if you were about to do a sit-up — your knees bent, heels on the ground, arms out to the side. Tighten your core and roll backward onto your shoulder blades, allowing your feet to come up off the ground so your legs can help with momentum. As you roll forward, plant your feet flat on the ground slightly wider than hip-distance apart and use your core and lower body strength to push yourself into a low squat... or if you're able, come all the way to standing. Reverse the movement and continue the roll-to-squat-to-stand for the full 60 seconds.

Images: Laura Williams/SheKnows

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