Being a strong runner isn’t all about the miles you put in, strength matters too. And while many runners avoid strength training because they worry it will make them bulky and run slower, the reality is anything but. Strengthening exercises should be a big part of all runners’ training as they can help prevent bone loss while reducing joint pain and running injuries.
Below are five strength-focused exercises that are key to staying fit and healthy enough to run. To help you decide which ones to include in your running cross-training, we’ve included information on each exercise’s benefits.
Most of these exercises can also be performed while you are recovering from a running injury. So don’t wait to start adding these exercises into your workout routine—unless your body tells you not to do so.
Overall, by adding these strengthening exercises to your running routine at least three times a week, you’ll see improvements in your endurance, strength, and a drop in the strains most runners are accustomed to.
1. Side Lunges/Squats
- Muscles actively engaged – Hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, calves
- Effects on running – Loosens hip flexors, stretches IT bands, engages leg muscles differently than running alone, strengthens muscles supporting the knee to relieve pressure on joints.
- To perform a side lunge, you will need to take a stance slightly wider than hip-width apart.
- Shift your weight to your right side while bending your right knee to create a 90-degree angle.
- Make sure your back is straight, even if you’re leaning forward.
- Also, make sure your knees are NOT extended in front of your toes.
- Sit deep into your squat, then press back up using your glutes, while maintaining a flat back.
- Do two sets of 10 repetitions to receive the full benefits of this exercise.
2. Hip Bridge
- Muscles actively engaged – Core, glutes, and hamstrings
- Effects on running – Loosens back muscles connected to glutes allowing greater movement, stretches hip flexors for easier movement, loosens IT bands.
- With your back on the floor and your arms by your sides, place your feet on the floor so there is a foot of space between your heel and your rear end.
- Raise your hips to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Hold this position for 60 seconds, squeezing your glutes and core.
- Do this exercise 12 times for a full set.
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3. Hip Extension
- Muscles actively engaged – Deltoids, biceps, triceps, all back muscles, core, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps
- Effects on running – Loosens hip flexors, stretches out calves to prevent cramping, strengthens lower back muscles to support glutes and hips.
- Start in a plank position.
- Raise your right leg behind you.
- Keep a straight leg and both hips level with the floor.
- Your natural inclination will be to open your hips to the wall but focus on keeping them straight and parallel to the floor.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds then repeat on the left side.
- Alternate legs for a total of 10 reps (five reps on each leg) for a complete set; do two sets.
- This exercise can also be performed when using the modified plank position.
4. Kneeling Back bend
- Muscles actively engaged – Quadriceps, deltoids, hamstrings
- Effects on running – Stretches hips for freer movement, strengthens quadriceps and hamstrings for greater endurance, releases shoulder tension.
- From a position with your hands and knees on the floor, raise your arms and bend back.
- Since you likely cannot complete a back bend from this position, move your arms behind you to rest on your feet or the floor beside your feet.
- Arch your back and hips so your body creates a curve and hold for 30 seconds.
- Do two sets of 10 repetitions.
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5. Quarter Squat Crunch
- Muscles actively engaged – All trunk muscles, glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings
- Effects on running – Loosens back muscles connected to glutes allowing for greater movement, strengthens core to support breathing, improves balance when running.
- From a squat position with your hands clasped behind your head, you will move up out of the squat while raising your right leg.
- Touch your right knee to your left elbow for a cross body crunch, then lower back into the squat.
- Alternating sides, do two sets of 10 repetitions for each leg.