Although many runners’ training programs exclude strength training or treat it as an occasional cross-training activity to be done on non-running days, it is the foundation of great endurance training. Have you ever wondered what are the best strength running exercises?
Benefits of strength running exercises
Strength training isn’t just for bodybuilders and gym rats. Simple (and consistent) strength training and weightlifting routines can also help runners improve their performance significantly.
There are plenty of great strength training exercises for runners that will help you topple PRs or just run easier, whether you have access to a full gym with weights or you do bodyweight workouts in your living room.
Strength training can help you improve many aspects of your running, such as:
- Injury prevention
One concern that runners have is that strength training will lead to muscle gain and an increase in body weight. However, with the right strength and resistance workouts for runners, you’ll gain lean muscle that will boost your efficiency without weighing you down.
Rather than doing heavy sets of bench presses or preacher curls until you’re exhausted, these strength-training moves for runners target the key muscle groups that will make you stronger and faster.
Running also does not work single muscles in isolation; instead, it recruits a large number of muscles that must work together to propel you forward.
Start your strength training routine by doing these workouts twice a week, either on your off days or after your runs if you have some energy left.
Essential strength running exercises for all runners
The best strength running exercises for runners have two characteristics:
- They prevent injuries by focusing on the specific needs of runners (hip and glute strength)
- They are compound, multi-joint movements like squats (while machines in the gym count, they are not ideal)
The most significant benefit of strength training for most runners is a reduction in running injuries. You will be less likely to be injured if you have stronger muscles, connective tissues, joints, and a higher resistance to fatigue. You can enjoy running instead of sitting on the sidelines.
Here are the top ten running exercises you should include in your weekly training plan. The icing on the cake? The majority of these body-weight exercises do not necessitate the use of any equipment. That means you can still work out in the park while avoiding the smelly, bro-filled gym!
Burpees are undoubtedly everyone’s least favorite exercise. But here’s the thing: they’re also one of the best exercises for runners—after all, “no pain, no gain,” am I right? Burpees will bust your buttocks, but that’s because they work almost every muscle group in your body, including your quads, calves, core, and even your arms (which also help with proper running form!).
- Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Lower your body into a squat with your arms positioned in front of your chest to perfect your center of gravity
- Jump your legs back into a push-up position, making sure to utilize your core strength in the plank
- Using controlled movement, bend your arms at the elbows to lower your body to the ground—no sloppy, worm-like motions!
- Push back up to the plank, jump back into a squat, and swing your arms overhead as you hop up. Aim to get at least 6 inches off the ground.
- Land, and repeat from the beginning
There’s no doubt it’ll be a love-hate relationship, but once you see how effective they are, you and the burpees might just become BFFs.
Squat as if it’s hot! There appear to be a million different types of squats: sumo squats, single-leg squats, pulsing squats, and so on. While they all differ slightly, the goal of this running exercise is to activate the glutes (get those booty gains!). Most of us have glutes that have “fallen asleep” due to inactivity, especially if we sit in a chair all day at a desk. However, your gluteus maximus is one of the largest muscles in the human body—and the main extensor of the hip muscles—making it a key player in your running performance.
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart directly under your hips
- Engage your core muscles, as if someone was drawing a string inward from your belly button
- Bend at the knees and lower down as if you’re about to sit in a chair
- Drive your weight through the backs of your heels and be sure that your knees do not extend over the front of your toes
- With explosive energy, straighten your legs to stand back up, making sure to squeeze your butt muscles when you reach the top
- Relax the contraction and repeat the motion
Don’t forget that strong glutes help prevent your quads from taking over on your run, so don’t skimp on this running exercise.
Do you want to strengthen your calf muscles so you can sprint faster? Your best bet is to do lunges. However, keep in mind that knees are a particularly weak and fickle joint, so take it easy on them to avoid stress from overexertion.
- Begin standing with your feet beneath your hips, shoulder-width apart
- Take a big step forward and bend 90 degrees at the knee, making sure to engage your abs as your back knee lowers, hovering just barely an inch above the ground
- Take care that your front knee is aligned with your ankle and does not extend past the front of your foot
- Using your glute muscles, squeeze and drive your leg up and back
- Return to your starting position and repeat on the other side
These can be done standing or walking with alternating lunges by pacing 20 yards back and forth. It’s finally time to go low!
4. Backward Lunges
You guessed it—these are regular lunges done in reverse. By shifting your body mechanics backward, you will put less strain on your knees by directing the exercise emphasis to your hip flexors and anterior tibialis.
- Stand balanced with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Take one leg and make one large step backward
- Lower your hips so that your front thigh becomes parallel to the ground and the back knee points to the floor with your heel lifted
- Drive the weight into your front heel to bring your leg back up and forward
- Return to a standing position and alternate legs
Planks may appear to be a simple exercise, but they are one of the best core exercises for runners. They should have your entire body shaking after a 45-second hold if done correctly. We dare you to keep it for as long as you possibly can!
- Begin in a push-up position with your hands on the floor, directly beneath your shoulders with your feet in-line with your hips
- If necessary, modify by dropping to your forearms or knees
- Imagine one straight line running through the crown of your head to the heels of your feet, with energy actively driving out through either end
- Contract all the muscles in your body and hold for at least 30 seconds
- Release, and work your way up to holds lasting from 45 seconds to over 1 minute
Core exercises for runners help to stabilize your torso and improve the efficiency of all your movements. When you have a strong core, you can breathe more easily during exertion, power up steep hills, and maintain your balance on slick sidewalks.
6. Side Plank
You’re in for it now, runner. Take your standard plank and flip it on its side to target your oblique abs, which feed into your hip flexors!
- Place your forearm directly beneath your shoulder with your feet stacked on top of one another
- Contract your core and raise your hips off the ground, forming a straight line from your head to your feet
- Hold for a designated period of time before dropping back down and switching to the other side
Lift your upper arm and leg into the air to form a “star” position to make this core exercise for runners a little more difficult.
7. Mountain Climbers
Mountain climbers not only strengthen your core muscles, but they also increase your metabolism and burn calories, making them an excellent fat-burning running exercise.
- Begin in a traditional plank position
- Engage your core and bring your right knee into your chest with your toes hovering just slightly off the ground
- Keeping your arms and torso in place, drive your right foot back and kick your left knee into your chest
Continue to alternate legs until you feel like you’re running in place, but you’re in a plank position, for a set number of reps or seconds (50 seconds is a solid goal).
8. Long Jumps
Long jump running exercises do not require you to be a track star to reap their benefits. Whether you’re a casual jogger or an ultramarathoner, mastering the long jump will improve the efficiency of every toe-off.
- On a safe, soft surface, get a running head start and leap toward a measured marker by jumping off one leg
- Drive your knee forward to carry your momentum and bend your knee softly upon landing to protect the joint
- Alternate legs and increase your targeted distance, or perform box jumps using both legs instead
Although you may feel like an oversized frog, this exercise is excellent for strengthening your hip flexors and developing a strong stride.
9. Side Shuffles
Side shuffles, while unlikely to be used on the dance floor, put your body in lateral motion by shuffling your feet side to side. Going sideways, as opposed to forward-facing, changes your muscle movements and works your outer quads.
- Start by standing with your knees slightly bent, spread slightly wider than your hips
- With your chest held high but your body crouched low, extend your right leg to the side
- Shuffle your left leg towards your right and crunching at your oblique, reach with your right hand to tap the ground on the outside of your right foot
- Use your core to straighten back up, stay low to the ground as you repeat on the other side, shuffling back and forth
Remember that speed isn’t everything (as tempting as it is). Maintain proper form at all times to get the most out of this movement!
10. Speed Skaters
Last but not least, speed skaters are an excellent running exercise if you want a total body workout with a little cardio thrown in. These bad boys combine squats, lunges, and running in place for a full-body, strength-building, fat-burning workout.
- Start by standing straight up, and make a big hop-step out to the right
- Sweep your left leg back behind you, bringing your left arm in front of your body
- Switch, and hop-step outwards using your left foot, sweeping your right arm and leg across your body
- Continue alternating side-to-side, staying on the balls of your feet the entire time
This is a traditional cardio move and one of the best exercises for runners looking to improve their speed, footwork, and agility.
With all of these running exercises under your belt, you’ll be ready to take on any strength-training routine that comes your way. As you cross-train your way to the finish line, you’ll build muscle, burn fat, and transform your body into a lean, mean running machine. Have fun sweating!