My coaching philosophy is that every run and every workout should have a purpose. I don’t believe in junk miles and I don’t randomly assign workouts. If an athlete asks me why they are doing a workout, I can provide them with both physiological and psychological reasons. The same applies to strength training, which is why this 30-minute functional kettlebell workout for runners is one of my current favorite strength workouts.
Don’t get me wrong – any strength training workout is effective compared to not strength training at all. But to maximize your time spent lifting, a strength training workout should have exercises with a specific purpose. This especially applies to runners, since strength training can reduce injury risk while improving running performance (read more on that in this post).
For runners, a purposeful strength workout prepares the body for the unique demands of running. Programs divided by body group (leg day, chest day, arm day, etc) work well for individual focus on building strength or aesthetics, but do not work the best for a runner’s training schedule. Meanwhile, some strength workouts designed for runners neglect entire body groups – such as lower body only programs or old-school ab routines.
This kettlebell workout is designed with the purpose of improving running form, reducing injury risk, and enhancing running performance. Best of all, it requires only one piece of equipment (a kettlebell) and takes only 30 minutes – which means you can fit it into any type of training schedule.
Let’s look at exactly how this functional kettlebell workout will reduce injury and improve your running.
Core work is important for running – but we need to think beyond basic crunches and ab routines. A strong rectus abdominis alone won’t do much for your running form. Your core includes the transverse abdominis, obliques, rectus abdominis, hip flexors, and lower back. When you are running, the core serves as stabilization to maintain an upright posture. Stabilization is even more important when any additional forces – hills, wind, increased speed, fatigue over long distances – factor in.
Anti-rotational core exercises strengthen the muscles in the core to resist opposing forces. This translates to the ability to resist rotation while running and maintain better form. In this workout, the around the world passes, windmills, and single leg halos require your core to resist rotation.
A focus on glute and hip strength is vital for runners. Weak glutes allow other muscle groups to do too much work, which in turn causes overuse injuries in those other muscles – such as IT band syndrome, hamstring strains, etc. Strong glutes prevent injury! Strong glutes also generate more power, and more power means faster running at the same effort level.
There are two types of functional exercises that strengthen the glutes and hips – squat and hinge. In this kettlebell workout, sumo squats, deadlifts, and swings all work the glutes and hip muscles.
Finally, this workout includes both push and pull upper body exercises with the push press, halo, and upright rows. A strong back and full shoulder mobility aid in good running form. If your shoulders slouch forward, your arm swing drifts forward; if your arm swing shifts forward, then your hips and feet follow and you are more likely to overstride.
Here’s the workout. Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps each. Rest for 20 seconds between exercises and 60 seconds between sets. You can use the same weight for all exercises, or vary the weight. Use lighter weights for the windmill and halo, heavier weights for the deadlifts and swings, and medium weights for the other exercises.
Around the world passes: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold the kettlebell in front of you with straight arms. While keeping your hips facing forward and your shoulder blades engaged, take the kettlebell in your right hand, smoothly swing it around your right side to your back, and pass it off to your left hand behind your back. Use your left hand to smoothly swing it around your left side to your front and pass it off to your right hand. This should feel like you are making a circle with the kettlebell around your body. This is one rep – repeat for all reps, and then reverse the direction.
Single leg halos: Hold the kettlebell by the horns and in front of your chest with slightly bent elbows. Stand on your left leg with your right leg raised. While keeping your body still and shoulder blades engaged, slowly circle the the kettlebell around your head to the right. Focus on a full range of motion during the circle. Complete all reps in one direction, then switch legs and reverse the direction of the halo. (If balance is poor, begin with both feet on the ground.)
Sumo squats to upright rows: Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, feet slightly turned out, and hold the the kettlebell with both hands and fully extended arms. Lower down and back into a squat with your thighs parallel to the floor (focus on maintaining a tall posture and not leaning too far forward). As you stand up, pull the kettlebell up to your chest.
Deadlifts: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place the kettlebell on the ground between your feet. Hinge at your hips and reach for the bell while maintaining a flat back. Engage your shoulder blades and press through your heels as you stand up straight. Pause, then lower down and repeat.
Kettlebell swings: Hold the kettlebell with both hands in front of your body. Your feet should be slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hinge at your hips while keeping your back flat and then engage your core and glutes to explosively swing the kettlebell with extended arms to shoulder height, as if you were in a standing plank. This is not an arm-based exercise – the movement should come from your hips and glutes.
Windmills: Hold the kettlebell in your left hand and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Rotate your feet to point to the left. Bring the weight to your left shoulder and then press overhead. Keep your shoulder packed and arm overhead throughout the entire movement. Hinge your hips slightly to the right and rotate your chest to the left as you slowly reach for the ground (only lower as far as mobility permits). Pause, then slowly lower up. Repeat all reps on one side, then switch and repeat on the other side.
Single arm push presses: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the kettlebell in your left hand at shoulder height in a racked position. While keeping your core and shoulder blades engaged, squat down slightly and then drive up as you press the kettlebell up overhead. Repeat all reps on one side and then switch sides.
What are some of your favorite functional strength exercises?
What piece of equipment is your go-to?