Once I started strength training regularly, I became a much more efficient and injury resistant runner.
And I believe the same could happen to you if you only just heed the advice I’m going to share with you in today’s post.
In fact, increasing total body muscular strength should be a part of every runner’s cross-training fitness plan.
Backing your road miles with off-road strengthening exercises will not only assist in injury prevention, but also turn you into a stronger, and more efficient runner.
And that’s a good thing if you ask me.
In other words, strength training is the backbone of great running training—no matter what your goals are.
8 Simple Strength Exercises to Improve Your Running
Without further ado, here are the exercises most appropriate for runners.
1. Forward Lunge
This asymmetrical standing exercise is among the most running friendly exercises out there—and for many reasons.
Lunges are convenient, versatile, and focus on the muscles runners use the most: glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
Plus, they also increase the range of motion and improve balance and coordination—key running skills.
Begin by assuming a feet shoulder-width apart while holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Next, step forward with your right foot, shifting your weight to that foot’s heel.
Step far enough forward that both of your knees are bent at about 90-degree angle.
Lower your body until the front knee is positioned over the ankle and the back knee is a few inches off the ground. Make sure to remain as stable as possible with spine neutral throughout the movement.
Then step back to starting position, and repeat on the other side.
Perform 12 to 16 reps to complete one set. Aim for three sets.
One of my favorite core exercises of all time!
Your core muscles, including the lower back, glutes, rectus abdominis (the six-pack), transverse abdominis (the “deep” abs), and obliques, work together to maintain pelvis neutrality and hold proper form when you run.
Plus, a strong core also reduces energy waste, preventing a litany of injuries and boosting your stride power. As you already know, runners are all about preventing injury and improving performance.
Begin by propping yourself on your elbows with the feet slightly apart.
Keep your abdominals engaged, back straight,
and shoulders directly above the elbows down and back, arms parallel to the body.
Instead of locking your knees, make sure to keep them slightly bent.
Hold this position for one full minute to complete one set.
Gradually add time (or weights!) as your gets stronger.
Just because you’re a runner does not mean that upper body strength is trivial.
The fact is, as already stated in this post, proper upper body strength is key for both efficient running and proper form. No doubts.
Not only that, but it also helps take the pressure off your hips, knees, and ankles as fatigue sets in.
And when it comes up building upper body strength and power, you cannot go wrong with pushups.
This symmetrical exercise helps develop upper body and core strength and endurance like nothing else.
More specifically, pushups target the pectoralis muscles of the chest, but they also train the triceps—the muscles at the back of the upper arms, and the shoulders.
Assume a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart, back flat, and feet slightly apart.
Next, lower your body by bending your elbows to a 90-degree angle, keeping them relatively close to your torso, until your chest hover the ground.
Keep your glutes engaged and torso rigid throughout the exercise—hiked, or sagging hips is a sign that you lack enough strength to perform the exercise properly.
Then press back up to starting position and repeat.
Do as many push-ups as possible with good form to complete one set. Aim for three sets.
4. The Twisting Lunge
This lunge variation is a great core exercise that also increases lower body strength, coordination, and balance.
Also, the twisting motion forces the glutes to contract more fully while it engages the core.
Assume an athletic position while holding a dumbbell or a medicine ball in front of you with elbows bent at approximately 90-degree angle.
Step forward with your right foot into a lunge position.
Then, while keeping your knee on the right foot, twist your upper body to the right.
Maintain a 90-degree angle bent in the front knee, then straighten and engage your rear leg.
Last up, slowly press back to starting position.
5. Russian Twists
These are one of the best exercises for working the obliques—the muscles that help rotate the torso and stabilize the spine.
Plus, Russian twists can also target the hips, back, arms, and shoulders, depending on the weight apparatus used and/or loading of the movement.
Begin by sitting down on the floor while keeping your back at 45-degree angle, both feet either flat the floor (easy) or in the air (more advanced) so your body is forming a V shape.
Make sure to keep your back flat at this angle throughout the movement. Do not hunch your shoulders forward.
Next, twist your upper body to the right, hold for a count of three, then slowly rotate back to starting position.
Repeat on the other side.
For more challenge, hold a dumbbell in each hand as you twist.
If I had to pick one exercise that fits perfectly with the demands of running, then it would be squats.
This fantastic exercise boosts leg power, improves knee stability, increase the range of motion—all of which can prevent a plethora of overuse running injury.
For the full guide to squat variations, check my post here.
Assume an athletic position with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing ahead, while holding dumbbells at shoulder-height.
You can also perform this without weight while holding your arms extended in front or overhead.
Next, lower down by sitting back as if there is a chair behind you.
Lower your hips down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, forming a 90-degree angle. Just do not let your knees go past your toes.
Then press back up to starting position.
7. The Bridge
This is one of the best exercises for strengthening the core stabilizer muscles, specifically the transversus abdominis and multifidus muscles.
The bridge also helps prevent lower back pain.
Not to mention that it’s the go-to move for toning the gluteus medius muscle—one of the three muscles responsible for creating the ever coveted lift.
Begin by lying down on your back with arms to the side, palms facing down, knees bent, and heels on the floor.
Next, raise your hips until knees, hips, and shoulders are in straight line. Squeeze your abs and glutes as you reach the top of the movement. Do not overextend your back during the exercise.
Hold the bridge post for a couple of seconds before easing back down.
Last up, slowly lower your hips back to the floor and allow to briefly touch the floor before completing another rep.
8. Wall Sits
This isometric exercise is one of my favorites!
It’s an impressive lower body move that builds strength and endurance in the calves, glutes, and more importantly, the quadriceps.
Walls sits are also easy on the knees and can be performed by almost anyone.
Stand roughly two feet away from a wall.
Next, press your back against the wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and slide down the wall until you end up in a sitting position. Imagine there is a chair under you.
Keep your thighs parallel to the ground and feet firmly planted on the ground throughout the hold.
Hold the position for as long as you can. And remember to engage your legs and core muscles, while keeping the back flat throughout the hold.
Last up, slide up the wall to starting position to complete one set.