To get better at running you just need to run, right? Technically yes, but if you want to run faster then just endlessly running more and more miles may not be the most efficient use of your time. Instead, you should complement your pavement pounding with strength and mobility workouts.
Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research claimed a programme of high-intensity resistance training combined with plyometric exercises performed two to three times each week was enough to significantly improve the running economy of high-level middle and long distance runners.
But putting in the hard work at the gym will do more for you than just improve your running economy. As Omar Mansour, Royal Parks Half Marathon ambassador and co-founder of running club Track Life LDN, says: “Lifting weights increases running economy, neuromuscular function, time-to-exhaustion and can help prevent injury. All in all, making the body more resilient.”
With Mansour’s help, we’ve come up with five strength-building exercises no proper running programme is complete without. But, before you head off to the gym to get started on your Bulgarian split squats, remember that strength work isn’t the only thing you should be working on to make you a more efficient runner.
“Good mobility can aid runners to move freely with a full range of motion. This can help runners maintain efficient running technique and again, reduce the risk of injury. Mobility drills can be incorporated into a warm up before a run or alternatively, used as an active recovery session,” says Mansour.
So in addition to our advice on strength-building exercises we’ve also tapped Mansour up for five mobility-increasing drills. Work through these exercises and you’ll be a stronger, faster and more efficient runner. See you at the finish line.
5 Best Strength Exercises for Runners
#1 Kettlebell Deadlift
- Place the kettlebell between your feet. Remember, this is not a squat so don’t bend at the knee to reach the kettle bell handle.
- From standing, push your hips back while keeping a soft knee. Come into a position, remembering to keep you back flat, where your shoulders are just above hip height and your hips are above your knees.
- From here, drop your hips slightly to reach and grab the kettle bell handle. While holding the handle rotate the shoulder blades back. Keep your back flat and chin tucked in.
- Lift the kettlebell off the floor, driving the hips forward and squeezing the glutes.
- From the top down, hinge forward keeping your back straight and return the kettlebell to floor.
Repeat 8-12 reps depending on the weight focusing on really working the posterior chain. Aim for 3 sets with a 90 second recovery.
#2 Bulgarian Split Squat
- This exercise is performed with your back leg elevated onto a bench which increases the load on the front leg, tests balance and recruits the core muscles.
- Stand with the bench behind you and place you left foot on it.
- Step your right leg forward until you are in a position similar to a forward lunge. Keep your torso upright, core engaged and hips square. Your right leg should be about half a metre in front of the bench.
- From here, lower down until your right thigh is almost horizontal with the floor.
- Make sure your right knee does not move past your right toes and lean slightly forward so your weight is over your front leg.
- Drive up through the front heel. repeat 10 reps on each leg. Rest 60 -90 seconds.
How many: Repeat 10 reps on each leg. Rest 60 -90 seconds. Total of 3 sets.
#3 Hamstring Curl on Swiss Ball
- Lie on your back and place your calves and heels on a swiss ball. Move your hips upward until your body is straight.
- Engage your glutes, keep your hips lifted and slowly bend your knees.
- Extend your knees and lower your hips and back to the floor.
How many: Complete 12 to 15 reps working the hamstrings. Have a 60 second rest and repeat 2-3 sets.
#4 Bodyweight Single-leg Hip Thrusts
- For this exercise you will need a bench. Start with your upper back (around shoulder blade area) on a bench.
- Hold your left leg at a 90 degree angle at the hip. With your right foot flat on the floor, drive your hips upwards while squeezing your glutes.
- Lower your hips back to the starting position keeping your spine in neutral.
How many: Do 10-15 reps then change legs and repeat on other side. Have 60 second recovery. Aim for 2-3 sets.
#5 Calf Raises
- Begin in a standing position, on the edge of a step or bench. If you struggle with balance find something you can hold onto to keep you steady.
- From your standing position, raise your heels by a few inches so that you are on the balls of your feet.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds and then lower your heels below the platform, feeling a stretch in your calf muscles.
How many: Aim to complete 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps. Have a 60 to 90 second recovery.
When you feel ready, after a few weeks or so, you can begin to progress this move by adding weight. Muscles working here are the gastrocnemius, tibialis posterior and soleus muscles of the lower leg. When running the lower legs take a lot of impact and force so it is beneficial for runners to make these muscles as resilient as possible.
5 Best Mobility Drills for Runners
#1 Straight Leg Walk Outs
- Start in the standing position.
- Push the bum back and hinge from the hips keeping the spine straight. Walk your hands out into a high plank position. Squeeze glutes and core.
- Return to standing aiming to keep the legs straight throughout the whole movement.
Why: Here we are able to get a dynamic stretch in the hamstrings with an added bonus of activating core and glutes. All key muscles used when running.
How many: Aim to complete 8-10 reps.
#2 World’s Greatest Stretch
- Begin in the high plank position. Bring the right leg forward so the foot is flat on the floor and in line with your right hand.
- Keep you right knee bent at 90 degrees while the left leg remains extended behind, with the ball of your left foot on the floor.
- Rotate your torso to the right, pressing through the left palm and lifting right hand to the ceiling. Allow the head to follow the leading hand.
Why: This drill opens up the hip flexors, thoracic spine, shoulders and chest. This helps runners to stay tall when running and to maintain good form.
How many: Hold for 5 seconds take a deep breath and return to the starting position. Repeat on your left side. Alternate legs and aim to get a total of 10 reps.
#3 Lunge with Reach
- Lunge forward with the right leg bending the knee to 90 degrees.
- With your left arm reach over your head towards your right side, feeling the stretch from the left hip.
- Come back to centre and then to standing and repeat this movement on the opposite side.
Why: This mobility drill can help free up the lower back, hip flexor, ITB band and latissimus dorsi.
How many: Alternate sides and aim for a total of 16 reps.
#4 Sumo Squat into Lateral Lunge
- With your feet wider than shoulder width apart and your feet pointing at 45 a degree angle, sit back and drop down into a squat.
- Push back into a standing position and from here, step your right leg out into a lateral lunge shifting your body weight over your right leg.
- Step your right leg back to centre and drop down into a squat. Repeat the lateral lunge on the left side.
Why: This is a great combination for firing up the glutes and abductors.
How many: Aim for 10 reps keeping the chest high and the spine straight.
#5 Quadruped Thoracic Spine Rotation
- Position yourself on all fours, with the knees lined up under the hips and the hands lined up under the shoulders.
- Keep the spine in a neutral position. Place your left hand on the back of the neck, remembering not to put pressure on the neck with your hand.
- Rotate the left elbow up to the ceiling, leading with the eyes, head and shoulder as far as possible.
- Then reverse the motion and rotate the elbow to the opposite hand as far as possible.
How come: This exercise increases thoracic spine mobility with minimal low back effort.
How many: Aim to complete 8 reps on both sides.
The Royal Parks Half Marathon takes place on Sunday 13th October. For more information please visit royalparkshalf.com