Below are 5 strength exercises that you can do as a circuit. Make sure to warm up first or do these exercises after a run when your muscles are already warm. Do 20 reps of each exercise. For the plank, hold for 30 seconds and increase your time to 1 minute. Repeat for 2 to 5 sets.
If there is one exercise to recommend to all runners, beginner to experienced, it would be squats. Squats can help improve knee stability, leg power, and body awareness, as well as prevent common running injuries.
Improved Body Awareness
Body awareness is formally known as proprioception; the sense of the relative position of parts of the body, and strength of effort being employed in movement. This means being aware of body position, movement, posture, alignment, and acceleration—without using visual cues.
What does proprioception have to do with squats and running? Running injuries are often caused by movement faults such as losing posture, improper knee loading, and misalignment in the knees, hips, and ankles. Practicing squats with the correct technique can address all of these movement faults, and ultimately train your body to easily recognize if your posture has collapsed, if your hips aren’t “squared,” if your knees are rotated too far in one direction, or other common running mistakes.
Increased Leg Power
Leg power provides some obvious and some not-so-obvious benefits to runners. Running regularly will increase muscular endurance but is an inefficient way to build muscular strength. Squats, on the other hand, are a very efficient way to build muscular strength. Increasing muscular strength is what will allow you to run faster on flats, power up hills, and lengthen your stride. Additionally, well-developed muscles enable the body to use oxygen more efficiently, thereby reducing fatigue.
Strength training your legs with squats directly improves running performance on uneven terrains, and soft surfaces such as dirt, sand, & snow. Additionally, strength training legs is crucial for sprinting. If you want to get an explosive start—or even more importantly, an explosive finish-line sprint—then squatting is for you.
How to Squat Like a Pro
Like any other exercise, squatting is only beneficial when performed safely, with proper technique. If you have never squatted before, begin with the air squat (no added weight).
The basic squat movement is this:
- Arms extended in front or overhead
- Sink the hips down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, making a 90-degree angle. This depth is good for beginners.
- If you have good mobility, deeper is better.
- If it feels OK to you, then go ahead and squat until your bum is “below parallel.”
- When standing back up, do not let your back cave in.
- Keep your knees behind your toes, your weight on your heels, and your back straight while you squat.
To advance your squat:
Make it a jump squat by explosively lifting from the squat position and jumping as high as you can. Land softly and repeat.
Try a one-legged squat. Follow the above instructions while standing on one leg. The other leg can be extended in front (pistol squat) or held elevated in front or behind your other leg.
Why squats are important:
Squats strengthen your quads, glutes, hamstrings and core, all essential for great running form and protection from injury.
They are ideal for runners because, to some extent, they are just like running. When you perform lunges, your body is slightly off balance with more emphasis on a single-leg motion at a time, just like when you run.
Not only that, lunges target the main running muscles—your hamstrings, quadriceps and the glutes.
The Power of Lunges – The Benefits
Here is a short list of the benefits you can reap from doing lunges on a regular basis.
Strengthen. Lunges are some of the ideal leg strengthening exercises you can do to become a faster and injury-free runner over the long haul.
https://5cdac4e8a80a364946c58436bd73632e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html The typical lunge targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes muscles like nothing else. Building strength and power in these muscles can help you boost sprinting speed as they work together to pull your body in a forward motion.
Plus, since lunges require balance, you will also be indirectly working on strengthening your stability muscles—mainly the glute minimus and glute medius.
Protect against injury. Strong leg muscles can help bulletproof your body against common overuse running injuries. For instance, strengthening the muscles around your knees, think hamstrings, quads and calves, can protect your knees form the high impact nature of running, and reduce the strain placed on them while hitting the pavement.
Balance & coordination. Lunges are some of the best leg exercises you can do to improve coordination and balance. Enhancing your single-leg balance is key for preventing injuries such as ankle sprains.
Increase stride length. Lunges can also help you increase your stride length, which ultimately will help you boost your speed.
In fact, according to a study published in the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” in 2009, lunges (the forward and the jumping variations) have been shown to increase hamstring strength and running speed.
Warm-up. This is a powerful dynamic exercise you can use as a warm-up because they can fire up your hamstrings and quadriceps, enhance lower limb function, and increase body temperatures.
Convenient. Lunges are really practical and convenient and can be done almost anywhere, given that you have enough space and the motivation to do them.
Scalable. You can also easily modify them to fit with your own fitness needs and level. You can make them more challenging by adding weights, performing more reps, increasing the width of the lunges, or doing some of the advanced variations I’m sharing with you below.
This is the standard lunge. Use this one to master proper lunge form and to target the hamstrings and glutes.
Assume an athletic position with feet hip width apart, back straight, core engaged.
Next, take an exaggerated step forward with your right foot, then lower your left knee within an inch of the floor.
Next, use the muscles of your left leg to pull yourself back up into the starting position, then continue forward alternating between the right and left leg.
Make sure to keep your upper body engaged but in a neutral position, just like when standing with a proper posture. Allow for no forwards nor backward leaning. And don’t twist either.
Embrace your core by pulling your belly button back toward your spine. Focus on reaching ahead of your body as you as possible while moving in a straight line the entire time.
Increase with variations: backward lunge, step up lunge, pulsing lunge, lunge with rear leg raise, lateral lunge, (side lunge) reverse lunge & kick, jumping lunge, weighted lunge (with dumbbells)
To advance your lunge:
For great balance throughout your hips and glutes, try other lunge variations, including back lunges, side lunges, curtsey lunges, twisting lunges or walking lunges.
Try lunge jumps. Start from your lunge positions, the jump explosively as high as you can, switching your legs in midair. Land in a lunge with the other leg in front.
Why lunges are important:
Lunges strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, and help increase the range of motion of the hip flexor, which can improve running form.
“By honing in on the posterior chain—the muscles that make up your entire backside—deadlifts improve running form, economy, and power,” says exercise physiologist Polly de Mille R.N., C.S.C.S., coordinator of performance services at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
Runners tend to have weak hips, glutes, and hamstrings, which is responsible for both the sloppy form you see at race finish lines and a whole host of lower-body running injuries—IT band syndrome and runner’s knee just to name a few, de Mille says.
By loading one leg at a time, this deadlift variation is highly specific to running, honing your total-body stability and teaching each of your hips to fire independently, de Mille says. Since the goal here is less max strength and more about stability and hip function, go light on weights.
Ho To Do It: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and a kettlebell (or dumbbell) in one hand. Lift the leg of the same side just off of the floor, making sure not to let one hip shift out to the side. Hinge at your hips to raise your lifted leg straight behind you and lower chest to the ground. Your kettlebell should hang straight down in front of you. Continue until your chest and lifted leg are nearly parallel to the floor in a straight line. Pause, then squeeze your glutes to raise your torso back to start. Do three sets of eight to 10 reps on each leg
Why deadlifts are important:
One-legged deadlifts strengthen your hamstrings and glutes, as well as improve your balance. This is important because running is basically a series of jumps from one leg to another.
All runners should add push-ups in their training routines. It’s a chest, shoulder, and core exercise that can help you run stronger. How can push-ups help you improve your running performance? It’s an upper-body strength exercise that requires core stability, which is essential for runners.
A strong core allows you to keep good posture and running form during your run. Push-ups require full-body control, a skill that translates directly to running.
You can perform push-ups anywhere, with little to no equipment. But what if you can’t perform a proper push-up (yet)?
Trainees usually revert to the knee push-up as a regression, but knee push-ups do not engage the core the same way as full push-ups, so it’s not as effective of an exercise. Performing knee push-ups makes you better at knee push-ups. You could do them forever and not gain the strength you need to achieve full-body push-ups. They may be appropriate for some people, but I’d recommend that runners work to attain full push-ups by more closely mimicking a full-body push-up in training.
Build Core Stability
Work on building core stability first by performing straight arm plank holds.
(see next exercise, which is the plank)
How to do a push up:
Start in a high plank position, on your hands and toes (or knees if you’re just starting out), with your arms a little wider than your shoulders. Keep your weight slightly forward, so that your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in alignment. Keeping your body straight, slowly bend your elbows, lowering your chest toward the floor. Press up, straightening your elbows, to your starting position. Do as many repetitions as you can with good form.
To advance your push up:
If you are on your knees for your push up, try doing as many as you can on your toes, then dropping to your knees to finish.
Try to get your chest lower, nearly touching the ground.
Try a triceps push up. Instead of bending your elbows out to your side, keep them close to your body as you bend them.
Try a push up jump. From the low position, press up explosively, so that your hands come off the floor (clapping your hands is optional). Land as softly as you can. This is a very advanced move, so make sure you’re ready before attempting.
Why push ups are important:
The push up is a multi-purpose exercise that works most muscles in your upper body, as well as your core.
Planks are one of the most popular exercises for runners, and for good reasons. The simple exercise builds stronger cores, improves your running form, and helps you sculpt flat abs, all in only a few minutes per day.
Planks are also an amazing multi-tasker exercise. In addition to working your abdominal and back muscles, planks can tone your glutes, shoulders, arms, and chest, especially as you expand beyond the traditional plank into different variations.
Planks are so incredibly effective because they build both strength and stability in your core. For runners, a strong core helps you run faster and prevent injury by maintaining better form. A stable core helps you keep an upright posture when you run, especially when you run long distances, which prevents fatigue later in your run. If you run a lot of hills or are racing on a hilly course, planks will strengthen the core and back muscles that will help you keep a strong and upright running form to power up inclines.
Planks are also great for preventing lower back pain. Planks help build strength and stability in the muscles that support your spine and pelvis. By strengthening your lower back, you will experience less pain and discomfort and be less likely to strain your lower back. Normal crunches add additional flexion and stress to your spine, while planks work your abs while maintaining a neutral spine, which is ideal for people who suffer from back pain. For runners prone to poor posture or lower back injuries, planks can help make running and everyday activities much more comfortable.
Many runners, including myself, often stick to the traditional plank and try to see how long they can hold it. However, there are so many plank variations out there that you can get a total body workout from just doing different types of planks!
I recommend doing these planks for runner’s total body workout immediately following a run. By doing your plank workout after a run, your muscles are warmed up and less likely to strain. Your muscles are also slightly fatigued from your run, which means they will have to work a bit harder to hold the planks. This will build muscular endurance. After you complete this workout, do a few side bends, seated twists, or similar exercises to stretch your muscles and begin recovery.
Forearm Plank with Leg Lift: Get into a push up position, and then lower yourself down so you are resting your forearms on the floor. Keep your knees and feet close together and engage your core while keeping your back straight. Raise your left foot up off the ground and hold for 30 seconds; lower and repeat with your right foot.
This works your abs, especially your transverse abdominus, your lower back, and your glutes.
Side Plank: Begin in forearm plank position and rotate onto your right side. Your shoulders, hips, knees, and feet should be stacked, and your back should be straight. Engage your core and hold for 60 seconds. Return to forearm plank and then repeat on your left side.
This works your abs, especially your obliques, your hips, and your glutes.
Reverse Plank: Sit on the ground, extend your legs straight out in front of you, and place your hands on the ground directly beneath your shoulders. Push through your hands and raise your hips so that a straight line is formed from your shoulders to your feet. Keep your arms straight and engage your abs. Hold for 45-60 seconds.
This works your arms, especially your triceps, your back, your abs, and your glutes.
Plank with Shoulder Tap: Get into a raised plank (push up position) with your arms straight below your shoulders. Engage your abs and keep your back straight. Raise your right arm up and tap your left shoulder, pausing to hold for a couple seconds, and then return. Raise your left arm up and tap your right shoulder. Try to avoid shifting your weight by keeping your hips level. This is one rep; repeat for number of desired reps.
This works your arms, core, shoulders, and back.
Plank with Row: Get into a raised plank position and hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. Your feet should be about hip width apart to provide a strong base of support. Pull the right weight up and to your shoulder while maintaining flat back and strong abs; hold, lower to the ground, and repeat on your left. This is one rep; repeat for desired number of reps.
This works your arms, back, shoulders, chest, abs, and glutes.
Why planks are important:
A strong core is essential for good running form and injury prevention.
Adding these five important strength exercises will help make you a better, stronger, less injury-prone runner.