Recently, I covered the importance of strength training for runners both in terms of injury prevention and performance improvement. Now, let’s talk about which exercises will give you the most bang for your buck.
Spoiler alert: They’re all simple, easy and functional movements. Nothing crazy. Nothing involving equipment. Nothing that will cause injury.
While there are some really great, advanced exercises out there that will also help with your running performance, if you haven’t done much in the way of strength training (or running for that matter), start with the basics.
1. Squats (3 sets x 15 reps): The squat (a “nonnegotiable” part of all exercise programs) is a simple, functional exercise and when done properly can strengthen your low back, glutes and quads. The squat is one exercise that forms the foundation of human movement and athletic development. It is how children go from crawling to walking and how parents bend down to scoop up that same toddler before they run into trouble. It is also how a grandparent will get in and out of a seated position safely. It is an innate movement pattern, and one that should be carried out regularly.
Start standing up tall, feet hip width apart and 80% of your weight on your heels
Slowly lower your buttocks behind you with your hands out in front of you, keeping most of your weight on your heels
As you squat further down, don’t let your knees go further forward than your toes
Keep your low back flat and chest up
If you can, thighs horizontal (no lower just yet!)
Slowly move back up
Want a challenge? Try single leg squats
2. Liberties (6 x 10sec holds each side): Each time our foot strikes the ground, we need our gluteus medius to activate and stop our hip dropping out to the side. Liberties are a great way of strengthening this really important muscle.
Stand next to a wall and turn in towards the wall about 10°
Put your shin onto the wall, as shown
Arms above your head, and don’t let your hip drop out to the side
You should feel this working your glutes (in your butt, behind the bony part of your hip)
Want a challenge? Imagine you are trying to rotate your stance leg away from the wall, without moving your foot position
3. Calf raises (3 sets x 15 reps): Our calves propel us up and forward as we run, strengthening them is a must. Start with a double leg calf raise, and if you can do 30 without difficulty, progress to a single leg.
Start with feet flat on the ground
Without pitching your body forward, roll onto your toes and go straight upwards
Take your weight evenly through your first and fifth toes as you go up
Hold for a second, slowly back down
What a challenge? On your last set, do as many as you can until you can’t do more.
4. Hamstring bridges (3 sets x 10 reps): Strength in both the hamstrings and glutes helps to pull our body over our foot as we run.
Starting position: Knees bent, feet flat on the floor
Weight through your heels, lift buttocks up off the floor until your shoulders, hips and knees are in a straight line
Lower back down
Want a challenge? Lift one leg off the ground and do single leg bridges
5. Arabesques (1 set x 10 reps): AKA the ‘drinking bird’ or ‘golfer’s pick up’, is great for hamstrings, glutes and also general balance.
Start with a very slight knee bend
As you tilt forward, slowly lift your back leg so that your lower back stays neutral
Keep hips facing forward
Once you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh, slowly return to the starting position
Want a challenge? Hold a 2-3kg weight in one hand as you do the exercise
6. Supermans (2 sets x 10 reps- each side): With the legs taken care, let’s turn our attention to the lower back, which is constantly being worked as we run. So strengthening it is super-important!
Start in six-point kneel
Imagine you have a spirit level across your lower back that needs to stay horizontal at all times
Extend your right leg back and left arm forward at the same time
Return to the start, and repeat on other side
Want a challenge? Hold a 1kg weight in each hand
How often should we do strength training for running? Twice a week is good, three times a week is better. You will even get some benefit from doing this exercise routine once a week.
Before or after a run? Either is fine. The first few times you do these exercises, I would do it post-run but as your body becomes accustomed to the exercise, you will be able to do it pre-run as well.
Remember from Part 1: Proceed with caution… As always, a slow start is best when introducing new exercise/s to your body. Don’t be surprised if you experience some DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) 24-48 hours after doing these exercises the first couple of times. This is really normal, but might have a small impact on your training for a few days.