The truth is there is not one, five, or even ten exercises that are the best for every runner. Your individual needs and goals as a runner will dictate what is best for you. One thing is for certain. In order to be the best runner you can be, and stay injury free, you must incorporate strength training into your regimen.
Use the information below to get started today. If you want more specific exercises and guidance, reach out and we can set up an in-person or online personal training session.
Physical Demands of Running
Before I explain some of the best exercises for runners, let’s think about what running actually involves.
I think the movement is something we take for granted because we instinctively began running when we were 2 or 3. At that time we would run after a ball, chase a firefly, or just be the first to the ice cream truck (those still exist, right?).
We were also 30 pounds, only running a few hundred feet at a time, and didn't spend 40 hours a week sitting at a desk. Running is a complex and highly variable task that deserves our thought and appreciation.
Running is basically a series of single leg jumps with the goal of moving your body forward in a horizontal direction.
Your single leg must control your entire body weight when it hits the ground, while simultaneously pushing/pulling your entire body forward, to then leave the ground with forward propulsion, to then do this again on the opposite leg.
You will do this 180 times in a minute or almost 5000 times when running 3 miles (assuming you run a 9 minute pace).
That is an incredible physical demand on your muscular system, not to mention your nervous system to plan and prepare for each step to keep you safe and on task.
Wow, Okay. So What Exercises Should I Do?
The following exercise are a great start or addition to your strengthening regimen.
They can all be started right now, at home without the need for any equipment. I recommend 2-3 sets of 10-12 repetitions with each exercise performed as a circuit, 2-3 days/week.
So stand up, and get after it.
Single Leg Heel Raise
Using a wall or chair for balance support if needed, raise your heel of the ground.
Be sure you your weight is equally distributed through all your toes at the top (common to roll your foot out to the pinky toes, but be sure to keep weight even through the foot).
Perform all 10-12 on one side before switching feet.
March Lunge - Walking
This is a great exercise for not only lower leg strength but also core stability.
Start in standing and march one knee up so that your thigh is parallel with the ground. Then fall forward landing on the leg that was previously elevated off the ground.
Control the motion as you land, lowering your back knee towards the ground. Be sure to keep your torso tall and your core engaged the entire time.
Next stand up, driving through the heel and repeat on the other side.
Continue this pattern while “walking” forward until you have performed 10-12 on each leg. If in a smaller space just turn around as needed but try to keep your movement continuous to build endurance.
Single Leg Deadlift
This is a fantastic exercise but can be difficult to master.
Stand on one leg with your knee slightly bent. Reach towards the floor, raising the same side leg off the ground. The goal of this exercise is to keep your shoulder, hip, and ankle in alignment as you tip forward.
Additionally focus on keeping your pelvis square and ultimately your hips will be pointing towards the floor. Continue moving towards the floor until you feel tension in the hamstring on your standing leg. The purpose of this exercise is not to reach the floor but to keep your hips, pelvis, and torso square as you progress through the movement.
Return to standing maintaining good control and balance. Perform all your reps on one side before switching legs.
This is just fun. With weight equally distributed between sides, hinge your hips back then powerfully jump forward. Goal is to land quietly with weight equal between left and right sides.
Single Leg Squat
Remember a moment ago when I said running was basically a series of single leg jumps. If that's the case, we better work on some single leg strength that is similar to jumping
Standing on one leg with a chair, arm rest, or bed behind you as a target (and as a “safety net” if you lose your balance). The goal of this exercise is to keep your shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle all in a vertical line.
Push your hips back and squat through the leg in a controlled manner towards the target behind you. If possible stop just above the target and return to standing. Find a depth where you control your body and keep your body in alignment. As you get stronger you will be able to squat further down.
Posterior Medial Taps (Curtsy Reach)
This a great exercise to strengthen your hip in multiple planes of movement simultaneously.
Standing on one leg, reach behind with your opposite leg in a diagonal direction. My favorite cue for this exercise is to “imagine you are on a rock in the middle of a river, and tap your toe in the water, do not fall in.”
The purpose is to keep all your weight in your standing leg and not rely on your other leg. Similar to the single leg squat, be sure to keep your knee over your ankle. You should feel the majority of the effort come from the outside of your hip.
Get Individualized Instruction
If you still feel lost or need more personalized recommendations, let me know. With just 1-2 personal training sessions, you can have a personalized strengthening plan that meets your needs and will help keep you injury free.