A couple of weeks ago, I covered the importance of strength training for runners both in terms of injury prevention and performance improvement.
So now it’s time to talk about exactly which exercises are going to give you the most bang for your buck.
Spoiler alert: they’re all simple, easy and functional movements. Nothing crazy. Nothing involving equipment. Nothing that will cause injury.
In saying this, there are some really great, advanced exercises out there that will also help with your running performance. But if you haven’t done much in the way of strength training (or running, for that matter) I would suggest starting with the basics.
Each exercise can be;
The squat is a simple, functional exercise that, when done properly, can strengthen your low back, glutes and quads. I consider the squat a “non-negotiable” part of all exercise programs as it is one of the exercises that form the foundation of human movement and athletic development.
The squat is how children go from crawling to walking and how parents bend down to scoop up that same toddler before they run into trouble. It is also how a grandparent will get in and out of a seated position safely. It is an innate movement pattern and one that should be carried out regularly.
- Startup tall, feet hip-width apart and 80% of your weight on your heels
- Slowly lower your buttocks behind you and hands out in front of you, keeping most of your weight on your heels
- As you squat further down, don’t let your knees go further forward than your toes
- Keep your low back flat and chest up
- If you can, thighs to horizontal (no lower just yet!)
- Slowly move back up
3 sets x 15 reps
Want a challenge? Try single leg squats
Each time our foot strikes the ground, we need our gluteus medius to activate and stop our hip dropping out to the side. Liberties are a great way of strengthening this really important muscle
- Stand next to a wall, then turn in towards the wall about 10°
- Put your shin on the wall, as shown
- Arms above your head, and don’t let your hip drop out to the side
- You should feel this working your glutes (in your butt, behind the bony part of your hip)
6 x 10 sec holds each side
Want a challenge? Imagine you are trying to rotate your stance leg away from the wall, without moving your foot position
3. Calf raises
Our calves propel us up and forward as we run, so strengthening them is a must. Start with a double leg calf raise, and if you can do 30 without difficulty, progress to a single leg
- Start with feet flat on the ground
- Without pitching your body forward, roll onto your toes and go straight upwards
- Take your weight evenly through your first and fifth toes as you go up
- Hold for a second, slowly back down
3 sets x 15 reps (and increase as you feel stronger)
What a challenge? On your last set, do as many as you can until you can’t do more.
4. Hamstring bridges:
Strengthen your hamstrings and glutes with this exercise. Strength in these muscles helps to pull our body over our foot as we run.
- Starting position: knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms crossed
- Weight through your heels, lift buttocks up off the floor until your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line
- Lower back down
3 sets x 10 reps
Want a challenge? Lift one leg off the ground and do single leg bridges
Also known as the drinking bird or golfer’s pick up, this is a great exercise for hamstrings, glutes and also general balance
- Start with a very slight knee bend
- As you tilt forward, slowly lift your back leg so that your low back stays neutral
- Keep hips facing forward
- Once you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh, slowly return to the starting position
1 set x 10 reps
Want a challenge? Hold a 2-3kg weight in one hand as you do the exercise.
So the legs have been taken care of, now we turn our attention to the low back, which is constantly being worked as we run. So strengthening it is super-important!
- Start in six-point kneel
- Imagine you have a spirit level across your low back that needs to stay horizontal at all times
- Extend your right leg back and left arm forward at the same time
- Return to the start, and repeat on the other side
2 sets x 10 reps (each side)
Want a challenge?
Hold a 1kg weight in each hand
How often should you do strength training for running?
Twice a week is good, three times a week is better. You will even get some benefit from doing this exercise routine once a week.
Before or after a run?
Either is fine. The first few times you do these exercises, I would do it post-run but as your body becomes accustomed to the exercise, you will be able to do it pre-run as well.
Remember from Part 1: Proceed with caution…
As always, a slow start is best when introducing new exercise/s to your body. Don’t be surprised if you experience some DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) 24-48 hours after doing these exercises the first couple of times. This is really normal but might have a small impact on your training for a few days.
Strength and endurance training are both really important for most of your running goals. Adding strength exercises to a running program is beneficial to a runner wanting to improve running economy. Good luck and RUN STRONG.