Running workouts: 7 essential strength exercises for runners

Go the distance and minimise injury with this simple training guide for your next race
7 strength workouts for runners

The days of viewing strength work as something reserved for people trying to pack on rippling muscles are long gone. Nowadays, people understand that building strong and functional muscles are fundamental in any fitness goal.

Instead of making you big and bulky, correct and specific strength training can have a massive range of benefits, from protecting your bones and muscles against impact and injury to giving you a much-needed speed boost in races – there’s a reason you’ll find all professional runners spending a large amount of their training week in the gym.

In our Real Workout series, we work with fitness professionals around the world to find the best workouts being used in gyms and studios to train real people. We’re not looking for quick fixes like ‘how to get killer abs’, instead we want to give clear honest advice on functional exercises that can be done by anyone, with a focus on developing the body in the right way.

About the Expert

Beatrice Schaer is an experienced running coach who has competed in marathons, duathlons and an Ironman, as well as trained athletes in sport, powerlifting and injury rehabilitation. Bea teaches personal training and coaching at MYPTstudio in Croydon.

Best strength workouts for runners

Goblet squat

Strength Training for Runners

Squats and their variations are one of the key exercises to improve leg strength. The fact they can be modified easily from bodyweight to a selection of different types of equipment makes them a great exercise for people at different levels of training and strength. You need to do them correctly though; weighted exercises, especially ones as complex as the squat, can cause major issues if done wrong.

Muscles worked: Legs, glutes, hamstrings, calves

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and, keeping your heels firmly placed on the ground, place a weight (pictured using a kettlebell) between your palms. Lower yourself so that your thighs are parallel with the floor, maintaining throughout the movement, then push back up to a standing position, tensing your glutes as you come to the top.

Alternatives: Bodyweight squat, dumbbell squat, hold two kettlebells either side, hold two dumbbells either side, heel raised squats, split squat, Bulgarian squat, barbell squat

Forward lunge

Strength Training for Runners

As well as being a very powerful exercise for improving leg strength, lunges will all have a massive impact on balance and stability, which is extremely important in running and injury prevention. There are also a wide range of modifications that can be made to target different muscles as well as focusing on balance and coordination.

Muscles worked: Glutes, thighs, hamstring, calves, core, back

How to do it: From a standing position, feet hip-width apart and dumbbells held by the sides, step with one foot forward landing firmly on the heel, making sure that the knee doesn’t go significantly further forward than the toe. From there, push through the heel until you return to a standing position and repeat the exercise with the alternate leg.

Alternatives: Static lunge, reverse, lunge, curtsy lunge, walking lunge, step-ups

Static lunge

Strength Training for Runners

The static variant of the lunge is perfectly designed for beginners as it minimises impact. The lack of movement makes it easier to focus on technique without worrying about balance or coordination. It also acts as a great option if you want to focus on the weight aspect of a lunge.

Muscles worked: Glutes, thighs, hamstring, calves, core, back

How to do it: From a standing position, feet hip-width apart and the front foot placed six inches from the back toes. Hold weight either side of the body (or one or two kettlebells at the chest) and lower into a lunge position. The heel of the front foot should remain in contact with the ground and the knee should not significantly pass the position of the front toes.

Curtsy lunge

Strength Training for Runners

The curtsy lunge is a variant that places more emphasis on the glutes, an extremely important muscle that not only supports the core but assists with a range of exercises and compound movements, as well as helping to avoid muscle imbalances which can lead to decreased mobility.

Muscles worked: Glutes, thighs, hamstring, calves, core, back

How to do it: From a standing position, feet hip-width apart and dumbbells held by the sides, lift your right foot and step it to the left-hand side of the body. It should land about six inches diagonally behind the front foot. The key here is balance. If the movement is too shaky then remove the weight and make sure that the knee doesn’t go significantly further forward than the toe. From there, push through the heel until you return to a standing position and repeat. Once the exercise set is complete, move on to the alternate leg. The full exercise should be carried out with the back as straight as possible.

Box step-up

Strength Training for Runners

The step-up is a variation of a lunge with places greater emphasis on the quads, a muscle used in running that doesn't get anywhere near the attention it needs when pounding the pavement. The inclusion of the heightened distance also makes the movement significantly harder than a floor-based lunge, so weights need to be modified accordingly.

Muscles worked: Quads. hamstrings, calves, glute, core

How to do it: From a standing position, feet hip-width apart and a kettlebell held in front of the chest, step with one foot forwards and upwards, landing firmly on the heel. Make sure that the full foot lands firmly on the box and the heel doesn't drop over the edge. With this foot, drive upwards until the body is full on the step, maintaining fully straight back. From this position, lower the same leg in a controlled way until the full foot rests on the floor and repeat the movement.


Strength Training for Runners

Deadlifts are by far one of the best and most fundamental compound exercises you can do to build strength. They’re not easy to get right though and people spend years working on their form to perform them safely and effectively. A deadlift mainly works the hamstrings and glutes, however, it will target the upper back and core when done correctly – not only will it benefit your leg strength, but it can also help with running posture.
Muscles worked: Hamstrings, glutes + upper back, core

How to do it: Place a kettlebell on the floor and stand with the feet about shoulder-width apart. Reach down by pushing your bottom and legs backwards (it’s not a squat), whilst keeping your upper body straight, and grab the kettlebell. Pushing the hips forward, lift the kettlebell as your body straightens to a standing position. Hold for a second then lower down into the start position again.

Alternatives: Dumbbell deadlift, one-armed dumbbell deadlift, banded deadlift, sumo deadlift, stiff-legged deadlift, single-leg deadlift

Glute bridge

Runner's workouts: 7 strength exercises to improve your running

The main focus of the glute bridge, as you may have guessed from the name, is the glutes. The exercise is not only one of the best to target the area, but can also work as a great alternative for those suffering from injury who are unable to carry out some of the more complex leg movements.

Muscles worked: Glutes, abs, lower back, hip flexors

How to do it: Lying with your back on the floor and using a strap to maintain the position (if necessary), bend your knees and put your feet underneath them – you should be able to touch your heels with your hands. With your feet hip-width apart, raise your hips into the air whilst maintaining a straight slope all the way down the body. Control the movement downwards and repeat. To advance the exercise lift one leg off the floor when performing.

Note: If you feel the exercise more in the hamstrings, drop the weight or refocus on squeezing the gluts

Alternatives: Barbell glute bridge

Tags:    Running
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