Strength Training for Runners
Strength-training can improve power,
reduce risk of injury and increase your speed. Check out this program
designed especially for runners
by: Owen Anderson Ph.D. &
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. (Saunders Sports is one such company; call
800-770-8920 for a catalog or to order resistive tubing.)
You 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.
If 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.
1. Hip Hikers
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 days.
2. Resisted Leg Swing
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Hamstrings
IMPORTANCE 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
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
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
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
TO DO 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 leg.
Do three sets with each leg twice a week on
6. One-Leg Squats
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Quadriceps muscles, or
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
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 nonconsecutive days.
9. Glute-Lumbar Stabilizers
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.
TO 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.