Strength Training Exercises for Runners
Why should runners train for strength?
Strength training is essential for runners because it strengthens the muscles as well as joints which can increase race times and decrease the risk of injury. Scientific research backs up this statement as strength training has been shown to increase your VO2 max and your speed, and the reason for this is that your muscles don't have to expend as much energy and work as hard to hit a certain pace.
Which muscles are most important when running?
The most important muscles used when running are in the lower body therefore meaning that it's important to make sure that they are as strong as possible. The diagram below shows the leg muscles and the functions they have when we are running which give us an idea of which are the most important to train. The diagram shows that the gluteals, hamstrings and quadriceps all work together in pulling back, stabilising and pushing the leg forward which mean that these muscles are the most important to strengthen in order to optimise running speed. Another important, and occasionally overlooked muscle group for runners is the core, as it's key role is stability and a strong core also helps with balance, posture and overall control.
Exercise 1: Hip thrust
The first exercise is the hip thrust, this exercise uses the gluteals as well as the hamstrings and quadriceps. This exercise helps to improve strength and power as well as speed which is essential for runners.
How to perform the hip thrust
In order to perform this exercise you will need a box, or bench to rest your upper back on and a barbell with weights.
- You should then position yourself under the bar, with your feet set up a little wider than shoulder width apart (or whatever width feels most comfortable for you) however if your feet are too close together it will shift more tension onto the quadriceps than the glutes.
- Next, make sure that the bar is resting comfortably on your hips, and that your back is resting comfortably on the bench.
- And finally, to execute the exercise you should push your hips up towards the ceiling, and squeeze your glutes until your hips are in line with your knees, before lowering the bar down.
Exercise 2: The Farmers Carry
The farmers carry works on your core stability as well as improving strength in the hips, back, legs and shoulders. Farmers carries also massively improve your posture, which is vital for running because when you become fatigued on a long run for example your posture would begin to fade and you may lose the ability to correctly run, the farmers carry will fix this problem.
How to perform the farmers carry
The farmers carry can be done with either dumbbells or kettlebells (some gyms may even have special farmers carry handles which you can load more weight onto).
- In order to perform the farmers carry, stand tall with the weights in each hand (choose a relatively heavy weight) whilst bracing your core and keeping your shoulders tight and back straight.
- Take small, quick steps for a distance of around 30 yards (which could be limited to 15-20 yards depending on the size of your gym). To make the exercise more challenging either make the walk length longer, use heavier weights or perform more sets of the exercise!
Exercise 3: Box Jumps
Box jumps are excellent for building explosive strength in your lower body, which is important for the final miles of a long run and also helps to prevent injuries.
How to perform a box jump?
All you need in order to perform this exercise is a platform for you to jump onto, this can be anything from your stairs at home, a park bench or a plyo box at a gym.
- Stand 12-18 inches away from the platform you will be jumping onto with your feet shoulder width apart and flat.
- Bend at the hips, keep your back straight and swing your arms forward as you jump onto the box. Make sure that your heel isn't hanging off the platform when you land, and make sure your feet are flat when landing. Also make sure to keep your head, neck and and shoulders relaxed during the jump and just use your arms for momentum.
- Make sure to step down from the box rather than jumping to prevent injury and perform 3 sets of 6-8 reps whilst progressing in box height.