There are countless exercises that a runner can do to improve their performance – the above image is NOT one of them! 😉 It should be noted that what constitutes, a “best exercise” is largely based on the individual. That being said, the exercises noted below represent areas that are critical for runners both in regard to performance, running economy and injury prevention. Additionally, most are compound exercises that focus on more than one body part at a time – thereby, making them quite time efficient.
It is important to point out that the effectiveness of an exercise is highly correlated how well it is executed. For example, in the ‘Standing Hip Hike’ exercise noted below – if the standing leg is not at, or near vertical, the effectiveness of the exercise will be diminished via reduced glute medius activation.
WHY: This is a full body exercise! First off, it’s a squat so it develops all of the leg muscles, especially the glutes. However, by having the arms locked overhead, it places a greater emphasis on the deep core stabilizers and back musculature to maintain this form throughout the exercise – especially at the bottom range of motion.
ps. It’s a lot harder than it looks!
FORM: Keep weight over heels, look straight forward, arms locked out and fully extended overhead. The back should be as straight as possible.
PROGRESSION: Hold a dowel rod overhead – progress to weights, more repetitions.
SINGLE LEG DEADLIFT
WHY: Like the Overhead Squat, this is a full body exercise. It trains the glutes, hamstrings (eccentrically) and deep core musculature.
FORM: Keep the back as flat as possible, weight over the midfoot to rearfoot and most importantly – keep the hips as horizontal as possible. The more the hips rotate side to side, the less eccentric stress is placed on the hamstrings of the standing leg.
PROGRESSION: More repetitions. Let arms hang and hold weights.
WHY: This exercise focuses on the glute medius (GMed). In respect to running, this muscle helps minimize internal rotation of the upper leg (femur) when running, as well as maintaining the level hips.
FORM: Keep the leg on the ground as vertical as possible with the knee locked. All of the hip movement should come from the glutes, not from the oblique muscles on the opposing side of the standing leg.
PROGRESSION: More repetitions
STEP BACK LUNGES WITH ROTATIONS
WHY: When running (or walking), the spine rotates in opposing directions. This exercise exaggerates this movement as well as activates the legs and deep core musculature. It also helps with mobility in the transverse plane.
FORM: Step back with one leg while rotating the upper body to the opposite side of the leg stepping back. Maintain as upright as possible upper body position. On the forward leg, focus on keeping the weight over the heel when stepping back.
PROGRESSION: Hold weight, increase repetitions.
WHY: There are three main reasons for this exercise. First, it focuses on the glute muscles (especially the GMed). Second, as it is a ballistic movement (like running), it strengthens the foot arch, calves and Achilles tendon – all of which are critical for providing elastic energy to runners to increase running economy. Lastly, it works the body in the frontal plane (side to side), which many runners do not do on a regular basis.
FORM: Keep the upper body as upright as possible. Jump from side to side. Focus on landing with a slight bend in the knee and exploding up and over to the opposite side.
PROGRESSION: More repetitions and, or more distance between jumps
THORACIC SPINE ROTATIONS
WHY: Increase mobility of the mid-back (thoracic spine). This region is often quite tight and restricted on both runners and non-runners. Counter-rotation of the spine is an energy source for runners, as well as a key element of correct running form both in regard to the upper body and legs. As such, this exercise helps to increase running economy.
FORM: Place the knees about shoulder width apart, with the knees directly below the hips. Only the mid through upper back should rotate. Keep this hips stationary. Place your hand behind your head and rotate the arm downward so that the elbow is underneath your torso. Rotate your torso back up until you feel tension throughout your mid back.
PROGRESSION: Increase repetitions
WHY: Despite the leg-only appearance of this exercise, when done properly, it’s a full body exercise. It trains all of the legs and the deep core musculature. While this exercise is great for running in general, it’s very applicable to running up hills.
FORM: Step up with most all of the effort coming from leg on the bench – try not too push off of the trail leg too much. Keep the upper body as vertical as possible, especially while stepping up as the upper body has a tendency to fall forward. On the foot on the bench, keep the weight through the middle to back of the foot.
PROGRESSION: Increase repetitions, hold arms overhead, hold a weight, make the exercise explosive by adding a small hop at the top range of motion.
As noted previously, there are countless exercises that will help your running, and deciding which ones to implement should largely be based on your individual needs. However, these seven exercises are great foundation exercises that will no doubt improve your strength and running economy. Enjoy and happy (and strong) running!
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