Strength Training for
Courtesy of Runner's World
by Owen Anderson, Ph.D.by Walt Reynolds
Strength-training can improve power, reduce risk of injury and
increase your speed. Check out this program designed especially
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
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
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 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
3. Toe Presses
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Muscles of the calf and Achilles tendon
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
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.
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 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 muscles
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.
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Lower-back and
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.
10. Resisted Ankle
MUSCLES EXERCISED: Shin muscles (front of the lower leg)
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 leg.
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.