To reduce the chances of an injury every runner should regularly include strengthening exercises to their training schedule. For many runners (like myself) it’s not their favourite session of the week though.
Good news! These basic strength exercises for running can be done in just half an hour! Try to fit in at least one strengthening session per week to maintain your current strength. If you have the time, then twice a week will definitely improve your muscle strength.
Getting your muscles strong for running can be done anywhere and without expensive gym equipment. I’ve scheduled half an hour strength exercises once a week in between my running days. In these 30 minutes I just do four basic strengthening exercises. They focus on strengthening the most important body parts for running and improving balance.
1. Major muscle groups legs
- glutes (i.e. muscle groups in your buttocks)
- hamstrings (i.e. muscles in on the back side of you upper leg)
- quadriceps (i.e. muscles on the front side of your upper leg)
2. Core & Lower back muscles
In case you are injured or suffering from some physical limitations, please consult your doctor or physiotherapist first, before starting these exercises.
Training intensity to start with
Don’t push the strength training too hard, especially not if you are preparing for a race. During race preparation just aim for maintaining your current strength. During off-season you can work on increasing your strength again. The number repetitions to start with, for each exercises, depends on how strong your muscles already are at the moment.
- So first test your current endurance number for each exercise: How many repetitions can you do until you get too tired to keep good form (i.e. when your muscles start shaking and/or you are not keeping the right balance/pose)?
- Now subtract 4 from your “current endurance number”. This is the number of repetitions that you’ll start with.
- The aim is to do sets of 15 repetitions.
- Do 3 sets of each exercise. Rest for at least 1 to 2 minutes between the sets.
- If the exercise is too light for you (which means you can easily do three sets of 15 reps) then make the exercise harder.
Increase training intensity
To progress your training intensity, you can increase the number of repetitions or slowly increase the difficulty of the exercises over time. To make an exercise harder you could hold some (extra) weights or adjust the form. Just don’t overdo it and do not over-train your body by shifting gear to soon. Especially when your are training for a race.
Increase your training intensity safely to avoid injuries. When you make the exercise harder, then lower the number of repetitions. Perform a new endurance test at the harder level and work out how many repetitions you should start with.
Four basic strength exercises for running
1) One leg sit – stand-up -sit
This exercise helps to develop balance and it strengthens your glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps.
Take a chair that you can manage to get up from using only one leg. The chair height should place your knee in 90 degrees angle when you sit on it. Sit on the edge of the chair with your one leg on the floor and the other one lifted up, off the floor. Slowly stand up using only one leg. Don’t assist by pushing up with your hands; just use the power of that one leg. Make sure that your pelvis stays level and your knee moves in line with the middle of your foot. Then slowly sit down again, don’t let yourself fall down back onto the chair.
If getting up on one leg is too hard, or you feel that instead of a slow sitting down movement is too difficult, then just use a higher surface or place a pillow on the chair to make it easier. If needed, you can hold on to the back of another chair to assist your stability and stay in control of the right movement.
Aim for 3 sets of 15 repetitions from a normal chair height (90 degrees knee flex) with 2 minutes rest between the sets. Initially you might need something to hold on to keep balance and you might need to use a higher surface as well.
Once you are able to perform the three sets of 15 reps “handsfree” , then you can lower the seat height to increase the intensity. You will build up your strength at this new height until you are doing it from a normal chair’s height. Don’t increase the intensity too much at once, just one step at the time only. If you want to progress this exercise your can do this by holding a small dumbbell in your hands.
2) Toe taps
This exercise strengthens your core muscles.
Lie on your back, bend your knees and place both feet on the floor. Press your lower back flat onto the floor by turning your pelvis backwards. Your chest and neck should be totally relaxed. Make sure your pelvis does not twist or turn to the sides and your back stays flat on the floor throughout the whole exercise.
Now lift one leg up to a 90 degrees hip flexion, keeping the knee bent. Then lift the other leg up to join the first. Slowly lower the first foot down and tap with your toes on the floor and then bring back up again. Then switch legs moving down, tap with the other toes on the floor and lift up again.
Aim for 3 sets of 20 reps (alternating legs). Rest for 2 minutes between sets.
Once you can achieve this, you can increase the intensity of the exercise by tapping your toes further away from your bum. You must still be able to keep your lower back flat on the floor at all times.
3) One leg bridge on chair/step-up box
This exercise will strengthen your abs, lower back muscles, glutes and hamstrings.
Lie on your back with your one heel on a stationary object such as a chair or step-up box. You could also use a bench or your bed, as long as the object you use can’t slip away from you.
Keep your other leg bent up towards your stomach. Make sure that your buttocks are close to the chair/step-up box (90 degree knee angle) .
Now raise your hips and pelvis of the ground. Squeeze your buttocks and squeeze your abdominal. Keep those muscles activated and lift your buttocks up so that your body forms a straight line. Keep your pelvis level. If you feel strain in your lower back, check if you are squeezing your abs and glutes enough and make sure you are not arching your back. Slowly lower your buttocks back to the floor. If you sense a cramp in the hamstrings, you should move your buttocks closer to the chair.
Perform 3 sets of 15 reps for each leg. Rest 2 minutes between sets.
If you want to increase the intensity of this exercise you can move your buttocks further away from the chair / step-up box so your hamstrings will need to work harder.
4) One leg heel raise using a step
This exercise strengthens the calf muscles and Achilles tendons.
Stand on one leg on the edge of a step, whilst holding on to something for stability (this exercise is not for balance improvement). Keep the other leg lifted up a bit. Slowly use your standing foot to stand up onto your toes. Then lower yourself down so that your heel drops below the level of the step. Do not hang there to long, as we are not stretching our calves), but strengthening them. Once down, immediately lift yourself back up onto your toes of the standing foot. Perform this exercise slowly, especially moving downwards.
Aim for 3 sets of 15 reps on each leg. Rest 2 minutes between sets. You can increase the intensity of this exercise by holding dumbbells in your hands.
And that’s it for basic strength! Ofcourse there are many more, different exercises that you can do. But these four cover all major running muscles and can be done in rather short time.
There’s more to it!
Honestly: doing these strengthening exercises is not the most favourite part of my training. But after my stubborn and very painful plantar fasciitis injury, which took me so frustratingly long (1.5 years) to recover from, I prefer to reduce the risks on re-injuring myself. So I’m trying my best to get in better shape for running.
To prepare for a race, “running only” is not enough, so I’ve learned. There’s so much more to it! Many aspects can influence your running achievements. At this stage of my “running career” (moderate runner), I have chosen to focus on those types of training, that are most important to improve my overall fitness level, my flexibility and strength. When I will get more advanced, my the focus might change to other aspects, for example forms and drills to improve my running technique.
Recently I have signed up for another half-marathon and since the date is in approximately 3 months, my race preparation training has started! At the moment I run three timers per week at different intensities (a tempo-run, an interval training and a long run), always starting with a warming up and finishing with a cooling down & stretching session. Once per week I do my “basic strength exercises for running” programme and usually just these 4 exercises that I’ve described in this article. Sometimes I change to other workouts, just for a change. And once per week I’m doing runners yoga focussing on core stability and flexibility.
Part from all the training I’ve learned that getting enough rest to recover is just as important as all the training. So at some days I simply don’t do any training at all. I might just put my legs up and do nothing or go to a pedicure or spa for a relaxing massage.
I do not need to be a gold medal champion. Most important to me is to enjoy my runs and stay healthy and injury free!
I hope this article was useful to you. If you have any questions, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment at this page and I will get back to you.