You made the commitment.
You’re ready to tackle that training plan and put in the miles to reach your goal, whether it’s a race or just getting in shape. But if you haven’t included any strength exercises, that’s a mistake: strength work can help you prevent injuries so you can keep working toward your goal.
You might worry that strength training will take too long, but runner-specific strength can be time efficient. All you have to do is focus on exercises that will give you the most bang for your buck. These exercises strengthen the muscles used most for running and involve compound movements that train multiple muscle groups at one time.
Why Strength Exercises?
Since many of us lead pretty sedentary lives aside from running, it’s essential to include strength work in our routine. This builds a foundation essential to running healthy, without lengthy layoffs from injuries like iliotibial band syndrome or Achilles tendonitis.
Hip and glute strength should be a focal point for runners – weaknesses here can lead to a multitude of injuries. But don’t neglect your core and upper body strength either! These muscles help you maintain good form, especially in longer races when fatigue starts to kick in.
The five exercises listed below target these critical areas. Except for the deadlifts, beginners can do all of these using their bodyweight for resistance.
1. FORWARD LUNGE
Lunges help strengthen your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
Take a step forward so your knee is positioned over your ankle. Lunge down so your knee lightly touches the ground, then step back and repeat with the opposite leg.
Start with 10 per leg, and increase repetitions and/or add weights as you get stronger.
Like lunges, squats work a variety of muscle groups used for running.
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing forward. Sit back like you’re sitting in a chair until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Drive your heels down and return to the standing position, ensuring your lower back stays in a neutral position.
Start with 8-12 bodyweight squats, and add weights/increase reps as you get stronger.
Planks are a classic exercise that work your entire core – not just your abdominal muscles.
In a prone position, prop your weight on your forearms and toes. Keep a straight line from your head to your feet and brace your abs to maintain a neutral position.
Start with a 30-second plank and gradually increase the length of time you hold the position.
Step-ups get your quads firing as they work to straighten your leg, as well as strengthening your hamstrings and glutes.
Stand in front of a platform about 1-2 feet high. Step up, driving your heel into the platform. Maintain a tall posture, then step down and repeat.
Start with 10 per leg using just your bodyweight.
Simply put, deadlifts are one of the best exercises to improve your running and overall strength. They’re an incredibly effective compound movement that work a vast array of muscles.
Stand with your feet hip width apart and your toes pointed forward. Squat down and grab a barbell at about shoulder width. With your lower back in a neutral position (not rounded), drive your heels into the ground and lift the bar straight up, clenching your glutes at the top of the movement. Bend at the hips and knees to lower the bar to the level of your shin, maintaining a neutral back, shoulder, and chest position.
Start with 8 – 12 using a barbell with no weights. Once you perfect your form, build the weight up gradually.
Putting it all together
Once you get your form perfected and are comfortable with these exercises, complete each set of repetitions twice, 2 – 3 times weekly. It’s ideal to do strength work after moderate or harder runs, and keep your easy days truly easy.
Strength exercises are the best form of cross-training for runners. Just 15 minutes a few times per week is all you need to get started on improving your running.
About Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald is a USA Track & Field certified coach who helps runners set monster personal bests and prevent injuries. He’s the founder of Strength Running, one of the largest virtual coaching businesses in the United States and his work has appeared in Runner’s World, Competitor, Lifehacker, and USA Today.