Strength Training for RunnersBy Owen Anderson Ph.D. -
and Walt Reynolds - certified strength and
Strength training for running can improve power,
reduce risk of injury and increase your speed. Check out this program designed
especially for runners. We've put together the 10 best strengthening exercises
in a program that will specifically enhance your running performance. They can
be done in a gym or at home. For two of these exercises, you'll need a piece of
resistive tubing, available from pharmacies with extensive home-therapy
sections or from companies that sell sports-medicine products
should be able to complete all 10 exercises in 20 to 25 minutes or less.
For maximum benefit, do them before you run. These exercises will not tire
you so much that you can't run well afterward. In fact, they may "wake up" your
muscular and nervous systems and lead to higher-quality training.
you practice these 10 exercises faithfully, within a few weeks you'll notice
improved coordination during running and more explosive push-offs whenever your
feet strike the ground. As your muscles become more powerful, risk of injury
should decrease, and your running speed will improve significantly. Best of
all, you'll have some PRs to show for your efforts.
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Buttocks and muscles that
control the hip joint
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: The buttocks and hip
muscles control and stabilize the pelvis and hip joint during the touchdown and
takeoff phases of the running stride. Hip hikers strengthen these muscles and
ultimately prevent unnecessary hip motion, improving your running economy.
TO DO THE EXERCISE: Stand sideways on a step or low bench with your weight
on your left leg and your right leg unsupported over the edge of the step. Keep
both knees locked so that your legs are perfectly straight throughout the
exercise. Lower your right heel toward the floor by tilting your right hip
down. Don't bend your left leg at the knee! Then raise or "hike" your right hip
as high as it will go. Lower and raise the right hip 12 times before switching
to the left hip. Perform two sets with each hip twice weekly, on nonconsecutive
2. Resisted Leg Swing
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Hamstrings
TO RUNNERS: The hamstrings stabilize the hip and knee joints when the foot is
in contact with the ground, provide propulsive force during push-off and
control the forward swing of the leg as the knee drives forward. Resisted leg
swings will strengthen the hamstrings.
TO DO THE EXERCISE: Anchor one
end of a piece of resistive tubing to an immovable object. For best results,
the attachment point of the tubing should be at hip height. Place the other end
of the tubing around your left ankle and stand about 4 feet from the attachment
point (facing it) so that the tubing is stretched. Shift all of your body
weight to the right leg and stand on your right foot only. Raise your left
thigh so that it is parallel to the floor.
While keeping your left knee
flexed, move your left leg through what feels like a normal running motion for
a set of 10 repetitions. Your left foot should not touch the floor at any point
during the cycle, and you should maintain full weight on the right foot.
Perform two sets per leg, two days each week on nonconsecutive days.
3. Toe Presses
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Muscles of the calf and
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: The calf muscles absorb shock
during footstrike and stabilize both the ankle and knee during the
ground-contact phase of running. The calf muscles and Achilles tendon also help
to rock the foot forward just prior to toe-off. Toe presses build up this whole
area of the leg.
TO DO THE EXERCISE: Stand on a step or low bench
with your weight on the ball of your right foot and your right heel hanging
down below the edge of the step. Your left leg should be bent and unsupported.
Hold onto a handrail or wall to maintain balance, and rise up on the toes of
your right foot as high as you can, keeping the right leg straight. Then lower
your right heel below the level of the step until you feel a stretch in your
right calf. Repeat the exercise 15 times before switching to the left leg. Do
two sets of toe presses per leg, three days a week on nonconsecutive days.
4. Toe Pulls
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Muscles of the feet and toes
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: The muscles of the feet and toes maintain the
strength and resiliency of the arch and provide a strong base of support during
the ground-contact phase of running. Doing toe pulls regularly should lower the
risk of plantar fasciitis and decrease your ground-contact time during
footstrike, boosting your stride rate.
TO DO THE EXERCISE: Stand
barefoot or in socks with your feet about 2 inches apart. Shift your weight
slightly onto your left foot while flexing the toes of your left foot upward
and pulling the toes of your right foot downward and back. Your right foot
should slide forward 1 to 2 inches as you pull strongly with your right toes.
Next, shift your weight slightly to your right foot, and flex your right toes
upward while pulling down with your left toes, causing your left foot to creep
forward. Starting slowly and gradually increasing the tempo of movement, repeat
this right-left cycle until each foot has pulled you forward 30 times. Complete
two sets of toe pulls, three times a week on nonconsecutive days.
5. Bench Sit-Ups
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Buttocks and hamstrings
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: The buttocks muscles and hamstrings stabilize the
hip and knee joints and help to propel the body forward during running.
Performing bench step-ups intensifies this propulsive action.
THE EXERCISE: Begin from a standing position on top of a bench of about knee
height, with full body weight on the left foot and weight shifted toward the
heel. Let your right foot hang freely, slightly behind your body. Lower your
body in a controlled manner until the toes of the right foot touch the ground,
maintaining all of your weight on your left foot at all times. Return to the
starting position by driving downward with the left heel and straightening the
left leg. Maintain an upright posture throughout this exercise, and keep your
hands at your sides. Repeat 10 times before switching to the right
Do three sets with each leg twice a week on nonconsecutive
6. One-Leg Squats
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Quadriceps muscles, or "quads"
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: The quads stabilize the knees, help to swing
the leg forward during running and are especially active during hill running.
TO DO THE EXERCISE: Stand with your right foot forward and your left
foot back, with your feet one shin-length apart from front to back and
hip-width apart from side to side. Place the toes of the left foot on a block
or step that is 6 to 8 inches high, and keep most of your weight on the heel of
the right foot. Bend the right leg, and lower your body until the right knee
makes an angle of 90 degrees between the thigh and lower leg. Return to the
starting position, keeping your trunk upright and your hands at your sides.
Repeat the exercise 10 times before switching to your left leg. Complete three
sets on each leg twice weekly on nonconsecutive days. Compared to traditional
two-leg squats, this exercise is much better for runners because only one leg
is weight-bearing at any one timethe same as during running.
7. One-Leg Hops
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Muscles of the hip, thigh,
lower part of the leg and foot
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: These muscles
stabilize the body and push it forward during running. Performing one-leg hops
will make you a more explosive runner and increase your stride length.
TO DO THE EXERCISE: Start from the same position used for one-leg squats,
with the toes of the left foot supported on a 6- to 8-inch block or step. Hop
rapidly on the right foot at a rate of 2 to 3 hops per second (25 to 30 foot
contacts every 10 seconds). Force the right foot to strike the ground in the
midfoot region and then spring upward rapidlyas though your foot were touching
a red-hot stove. The right knee should rise 4 to 6 inches as the left leg and
foot remain stationary throughout the exercise, and your hips remain level and
virtually motionless, with very little vertical displacement. The motion should
come from your right leg. Perform 30 hops on the right leg before switching to
the left. Begin with one set of hops on each leg twice a week on nonconsecutive
days. After three weeks, increase to two sets per leg.
8. Abdominal Stabilizers
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Abdominal and oblique trunk
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: The abdominal muscles stabilize the
trunk during running. Abdominal stabilizers will eliminate energy-wasteful
movements of the upper body and may reduce the incidence of side stitches.
TO DO THE EXERCISE: Sit on a bench or chair with your legs extended in
front of you and your knees slightly bent. Recline your upper body from the
hips about 45 degrees, keeping your chest up and your shoulders back. Raise
your right arm to an overhead position while lowering your left arm, and
alternate back and forth until each arm has been raised 30 times. Maintain a
rigid position with your upper torso and legs at all times. Only your arms
should move during this exercise. Do three sets two times a week on
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Lower-back and buttocks muscles
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: The lower-back and buttocks muscles maintain
proper trunk position during running, prevent excessive forward lean and limit
unnecessary rocking movements of the trunk. Glute-lumbar stabilizers will
strengthen these key muscles and make you a more efficient runner.
DO THE EXERCISE: Lie face down on a bench, padded table or bed. Extend your
legs straight behind you and position yourself so your hip bones are at the
edge of the table and your upper body extends beyond the table. Brace your feet
under an immovable object or ask someone to hold your ankles while you do this
exercise. With your upper body extending straight out beyond the table, raise
your right arm while lowering your left arm. Alternate back and forth until
you've raised each arm 30 times while keeping your legs and upper body in a
rigid position. Do three sets of glute-lumbar stabilizers two to three times a
week on nonconsecutive days.
10. Resisted Ankle Pulls
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Shin muscles (front of the
IMPORTANCE TO RUNNERS: The shin muscles stabilize the
lower leg, ankle and foot during both the swing and ground-contact phases of
the running stride. Strengthening these muscles with resisted ankle pulls will
produce a more powerful toe-off. It should also minimize the occurrence of
shinsplints and decrease the risk of stress fractures in the lower part of the
TO DO THE EXERCISE: Anchor one end of a piece of resistive
tubing to an immovable object, and attach the other end to your left foot just
above the toes. Sit with your left leg extended in front of you (on a line with
the tubing) and your left foot about 4 feet away from the attachment point of
the tubing. The tubing should be stretched at all times during the exercise.
Alternately flex and extend your left ankle 20 times while keeping
your left leg straight. Repeat the exercise with your right leg. Do three sets
of ankle pulls for each leg, three to four times a week on nonconsecutive days.