20+ Key Strength Exercises for Runners

Read the full article for the best strength exercises for runners, including video links.

Ever wonder what the best strength exercises for runners are? After all, strength training expends precious time and energy that could be spent running – you want to do the most effective exercises. There are no special exercises – Bulgarian split squats are not the magic bullet for injury-free running. The best strength exercises for runners are ones that work the major muscle groups and move through the key movement patterns. 

This article breaks down strength exercises for runners, including leg exercises, knee exercises, hip exercises, and more. Each section will include links to exercises so that you can understand how to perform them with good form. If in doubt about form, work with a certified strength and conditioning coach or a personal trainer. 

Warm Up Exercises

The exercises you complete as a pre-run warm-up are different than those you do to build strength. Typically, warm-up exercises are less physically demanding. The goal of a pre-run warm-up is to increase mobility and elevate muscle temperature, not create muscular fatigue. To achieve that goal, typically warm-up exercises omit any weights. 

And yes, these warm-up exercises can be done before a strength training session! Warming up before lifting weights reduces injury risk and helps you lift with better form throughout the whole session. 

Warm-up exercises for runners include:

Strength Training Exercises

Strength training provides numerous benefits to runners. Resistance training improves bone density, protects muscle mass against age-related loss, and may enhance running performance. Even one or two sessions per week can improve health and performance. 

There are hundreds of strength training exercises out there – so what should you prioritize as a runner? There are some basic movement patterns that offer the most benefit for the time invested. These exercises mimic the demands of daily life and sport, while also using a majority of muscle groups. 

Related: Should You Lift or Run First?

Squat

A squat movement pattern primarily involves the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteal muscle groups. In a squat, both hip flexion and knee flexion occur during eccentric phase (lowering down to the group). Upon the concentric phase (standing back up), hip extension and knee extension occur. 

Squats can be done with both legs on the ground, or with only one leg on the ground. Single leg squats increase the stability demands of the movement and require more muscle action from smaller hip stabilizers. However, traditional double-leg squats often allow more loading. Traditional squats, split squats, and single leg squats all can have a place in resistance training programming for runners. 

Squat variations include:

Hip Hinge

One of the most effective glute exercises for runners is the hip hinge. The hip hinge uses hip flexion in the eccentric phase, but with less flexion in the knee than a squat. Due to the knee positioning, the glutes and hamstrings move through a larger range of motion. 

As with squats, a single leg variation of a hip hinge will involve the hip stabilizers and trunk muscles more, while double leg variations can be loaded with heavier weights. 

Hip hinge exercises include:

Lunge

Depending on trunk positioning, the lunge can have more of a quadricep or glute focus. No matter how far forward you lean, the lunge still involves knee and hip flexion to the lead leg. Since all lunges involve a split stance, lunges are often more difficult and involve more smaller muscle groups than a squat. Since stepping forward, backward, or laterally is involved, lunges require more core activation and overall stability than a squat or hip hinge. 

Lunges can be done in a variety of directions. Reverse lunges tend to be gentler on the knees, making them a better exercise for runner’s knee. Lateral lunges involve the adductor muscles and hip stabilizers more. 

Lunge variations include:

Upper Body Push

Upper body exercises are divided into two movements: push and pull. As the name suggests, push exercises involve a pushing motion, either out from the chest or up from the shoulders. Push exercises strengthen the chest muscles and shoulders. The resistance of push exercises is greatest when the elbows are extended and shoulders are flexed under load, such as when pushing up from the bottom of a push-up.

Push exercises include:

Upper Body Pull

Pull exercises are the opposite of push movements. Pull movements place the muscles under the highest mechanical tension during the flexion of the elbow, such as pulling up from the bottom of a pull-up. These exercises primarily work the back muscles and shoulders.

Pull exercises include:

Core Exercises for Runners

When many runners think about strength training, they envision core exercises for runners. While core exercises are important, they should be part of a well-rounded program that includes the above exercises. Exercises such as squats and lunges will tax the core muscles, especially when done with proper form and bracing of the abdominal muscles. 

Core exercises will work the muscles in the abdomen, low back, and hips. Core exercises typically have one of two formats: isometric or dynamic. 

Isometric Core Exercises

Isometric core exercises involve holding a contraction for a prolonged period of time. One of the most common isometric core exercises is the plank. You do not move during the traditional plank, but instead hold an isometric contraction (muscles under tension without movement). Other examples of isometric core exercises include side planks, bear crawl holds, L-sits and hollow body holds. 

Dynamic Core Exercises

Dynamic core exercises involve movement, rather than holding an isometric contraction. A wide variety of core exercises are included this category: deadbugs, weighted carry exercises, weighted marches, mountain climbers, woodchops, and windmills. 

Read this article for core exercises for runners and how to do them!

Knee Exercises for Runners

A common concern for runners is knee pain. If you want to strengthen your knees, you need to think further up the kinetic chain. The quadriceps and hamstrings are responsible for knee flexion and extension. Additionally, the hip stabilizers control the positions of your knees during your running gait. 

Exercises for runners knee include glute bridges, clamshells, leg lifts, single leg deadlifts and squats. These exercises strengthen the hips, core, glutes, and quadriceps muscles – all the muscles that control knee movement during running. However, if your pain does not with a basic routine for runner’s knee, you will want to seek individualized guidance from a physical therapist. 

Leg Exercises for Runners

The muscles in the leg include the gluteal muscles, adductor group, hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles (soleus and gastrocnemius), shin muscles (including tibialis anterior), and ankle muscles (peroneus, plantaris, and others). 

Ideally, your strength training routine should include leg exercises that work all these muscle groups. For example, squats and deadlifts will work the hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and quadriceps; calf raises will work the calf, shin, and ankle muscles; and lateral plane exercises such as lateral lunges will work the adductors. 

Leg exercises for runners include:

  • Squats (and single leg variations)
  • Deadlifts (and single leg variations)
  • Hip thrusts (and single leg variations)
  • Glute bridges (and single leg variations)
  • Hamstring curls
  • Calf raises (gastrocnemius focus)
  • Bent leg calf raises (soleus focus)
  • Lunges
  • Step-ups
  • Wall sits

Hip Strengthening Exercises for Runners

The hips include many muscles that control movement, including flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, internal rotation, and external rotation. Hip strengthening exercises should include all these movements. For that reason, many hip strengthening exercises for runners are accessory exercises that isolate muscles, such as clamshells or leg lifts. 

Hip strengthening exercises for runners include: 

Glute Exercises for Runners

For many runners, weak glutes trigger running injuries, such as piriformis syndrome or IT band syndrome. Even if you don’t have any pain, weak glutes can lead to inefficient running form. Most leg and hip exercises are also glute exercises. 

Glute exercises for runners include:

  • Squats (and single leg variations)
  • Deadlifts (and single leg variations)
  • Hip thrusts (and single leg variations)
  • Glute bridges (and single leg variations)
  • Lunges
  • Banded walks 
  • Glute kickbacks

Exercises for Runners, Recapped

This article does not present an exhaustive list of strength exercises for runners. However, hopefully you now have an understanding of which exercises to include in a strength training routine. Want more help? Sign up for my weekly email newsletter below and you will receive a free strength training template. Once you get the confirmation email, click the confirm button and the strength training template will automatically download. 

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