Many new runners believe that you only need to run to become a better runner. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While running itself is a form of training, it’s essential to also do strength training to continue running pain-free and have longevity in the sport. Strength training can also improve your endurance and speed as a runner.
In this article, we’ll discuss why strength training is an important piece to implement into your routine, as well as some of the best strength exercises for runners.
Why Do Runners Need Strength Training?
Consider the scenario of equipping your car with four tires, each having uneven tread, and then embarking on a long journey without ever rotating them. It's highly improbable that your vehicle will perform optimally. This analogy mirrors the impact of running without incorporating strength training into your routine. Without a varied range of motion, your body is unlikely to move in the most efficient manner, resulting in imbalances.
When you're fatigued, your brain and body naturally seek the path of least resistance. If you fail to challenge specific muscles or only engage in repetitive forward motion without introducing new challenges, the risk of muscle pain and injury significantly rises. Moreover, as your body becomes less efficient, its natural response is to reduce endurance and speed as a protective measure.
Integrating strength training into your regimen enhances neuromuscular coordination and power for runners, ultimately improving the efficiency of your stride. With enhanced stride efficiency, the likelihood of experiencing injury and pain decreases, while your speed and endurance improve. Additionally, achieving greater symmetry in your body can have a substantial positive impact on your maximal oxygen consumption (Vo2 max), resulting in multiple benefits across the board.
3 Strength Training Exercises to Help New Runners
These three strength training exercises are fantastic to add to your training routine. They can be done in your home gym, need minimal equipment, and can take as little as 15 minutes in your workout! Remember to warm up before you begin these strength exercises.
1. Heel Taps
Physical therapists use heel taps as a bodyweight rehab drill for knee pain, but it can be an excellent prehab drill for runners. With this movement, the goal is to strengthen your glutes, quads, and overall knee stability. Heel taps are great mobility exercises for athletes at any fitness level, but are especially critical for runners.
How To Do a Heel Tap:
- On a riser or stairs, face sideways so that your right leg is on the step and your left leg is hovering off.
- To initiate this movement, sit your hip back while keeping the weight of your body through your right heel, and lightly tap your hovering left heel on the ground.
- crucial only to tap your heel and keep the tap light.
- Use your gluteal and quad muscles in your right leg to raise your left leg back up to the step. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 15 reps on each side.
Be Mindful of These Corrections:
Keep the proper form in mind: Your hips should be pointed forward without tilting and your left knee as stable as possible over your midfoot. If the balance is a challenge, your knee will try to cave in or out. Should that happen, lightly hold on to something to ensure your focus is on the strength and coordination of this movement.
As you master this movement at stair height, you can make it progressively harder by adding height to your step (such as standing on a textbook on top of the step) or holding free weights.
2. Weighted Glute Bridges
Exercising and using your glutes can make you a more efficient runner. They’re often offline for most new runners, but that can cause huge issues in the gait cycle and can make your stride inefficient. Glute bridges are great for fixing this, ultimately helping to increase your running economy for a smoother stride.
I recommend trying them unweighted first. When you feel comfortable with the movement, you can add a 5 to 15 lb weight (YBell Arc or XS and S YBell Neo).
How To Do a Weighted Glute Bridge:
- Lye on the floor face up, with your knees bent hip-width apart. Your feet should be under your knees so that your shins are perpendicular to the ground.
- Using a double grip, hold a YBell on your lower abdomen.
- Pushing through your feet (with a large percent of the weight on your heel), drive your hips up while squeezing your glutes. As you contract your glutes, your pelvis will tilt forward, which is what you want.
- Your shoulders, hips, and knees should form a diagonal line. Hold at the top for 2 to 3 seconds, squeezing your glutes as hard as possible.
- Slowly lower your hips back down to the ground. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 15 to 20 reps.
Be Mindful of These Corrections:
The goal is to feel your glutes fire. If you feel your hamstrings, try to squeeze the glutes harder or lower your hips slightly. Try using an exercise mat if lying on the floor with weight is uncomfortable.
As you master this with weight, you can increase the difficulty by doing an adduction glute bridge. In other words, bring your feet and knees together, performing the same motion while also keeping the knees squeezed as hard as possible throughout the entire movement. Weak adductor muscles are common, and strengthening them can improve your stability and running efficiency.
3. Wood Chops
Wood chops are great for challenging your body to move in other planes of motion, making them an excellent functional fitness exercise. Not only is it a fantastic synergy of coordination and stabilization, but it’ll also strengthen your core and back without straining the knee, a common problem for avid runners.
I recommend using a 5 to 10-lb weight (YBell Arc or XS YBell Neo).
How To Do a Wood Chop:
- Holding a YBell in both hands, start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the YBell with a double grip.
- With a slight bend in your arms, pull the YBell over your right shoulder. Keep your eyes on the YBell throughout the movement.
- Perform a diagonal chopping motion while lowering yourself into a squat, chopping the weight down towards your left knee. Twist your torso with the weight as you move, engaging your core muscles to control your movement.
- As you rise out of the squat, swing the weight back to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 10 to 12 reps on each side.
Be Mindful of These Corrections:
Keep your trunk and head tall as you perform the chopping motion. Pause between each rep to decrease the momentum, which will allow you to keep control over the movement.
Weightlifters typically perform wood chops as a high to low chop. If this movement feels uncomfortable, try starting it in reverse order, going from low to high. As you master this exercise in the twisting and chopping movements, you can increase the difficulty by using a half-kneeling position to challenge your core stability.
I recommend performing these movements for 2 to 3 sets, at least three times per week. You’ll quickly develop more muscular strength and have to either increase the weight, reps, sets, or dial up the complexity of the movement. Remember, for your body to excel at any sport, you need to challenge your whole body by working all your muscle groups. That’s why strength training is an excellent complement to cardio exercise.
Build these strength training exercises into your routine consistently, and you’ll soon see and feel the change in your body when you run!