Resistance band workouts are a go-to resistance training workout for many runners. Resistance bands are popular options for a home gym – cheap, simple to store, and easy to use. The small bands are transportable. You can even bring resistance bands with you to a trail head to perform a warm-up before a run. Runners can use resistance bands for a variety of purposes: strength training, accessory work in a lift, or a dynamic warm up. This post explains how to use resistance band workouts for your running and demonstrates various resistance band exercises.
When to Use Resistance Band Workouts
Novice Strength Training
Strength training is highly beneficial for runners. A large body of evidence indicates that resistance training improves running economy, which translates to faster running in distances from the 5K to ultra marathon. While the greatest benefits are conferred with heavier weight (60-75% effort), resistance band workouts are still more beneficial than no strength training at all. According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, 5K runners who followed a six-week hip and core strengthening routine ran significantly faster times than the control group.
Resistance band workouts are very beginner-friendly. If you have never lifted weights before, a resistance band workout provides a better place to start. The lighter load helps you safely learn technique and build strength, without overloading your body with too much too soon.
If you are started with bodyweight resistance workouts, resistance band workouts are the next progression. You can add a bit of load, incorporate movements in different planes of motion, and progress your strength more before adding weights.
Accessory Work Following Bigger Lifts
Even if you are experienced at lifting heavier weights, you can still benefit from resistance band exercises. Accessory work (sometimes also called assistance exercises) are exercises done after the primary, multi-joint, large-muscle group exercises. Accessory work targets smaller muscles and typically only moves one joint. A runner experienced with lifting may first complete their heavier lifts (squats, deadlifts, rows) and then move onto accessory work such as planks, clamshells, etc. Exercises from resistance band workouts can be used for the accessory work.
Pre-Run Dynamic Warm-up
Warming up before a run is vital to optimize performance and mitigate injury risk. A thorough warm-up involves sport-specific movements, such as dynamic stretching, mobility exercises, and potentiation exercises (ones that target sport specific muscles to ease the athlete into the intensity of the workout). Resistance band workouts can be used as part of a dynamic warm-up. Lateral band walks, clamshells, glute kickbacks, and similar resistance band exercises can all be used in a pre-run dynamic warm-up
Resistance Band Workouts for Runners
- Beginner Resistance Band Workout: Complete 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps
- All exercises below
- Accessory Work: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
- Banded glute bridges, banded clamshells, tall-kneel band pull aparts
- Pre-Run Warm-Up: 1-2 sets of 6-10 reps
- Banded glute kickbacks, lateral band walks, glute bridges
Banded Glute Kickbacks
Glute kickbacks train the muscles involved in hip extension, such as the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, hamstrings group, and adductor magnus. Hip extension is a key movement in the running gait. Hip extension exercises such as the glute kickback improve hip mobility (ability to move through range of motion with strength) and strengthen the gluteal and hamstring muscles.
Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart and the band wrapped around your thighs just above your knee. Lean slightly forward from the ankles and extend your right leg back. Focus on maintaining balance and core control; do not sway your body with your leg. Complete all reps on one side, then complete on the other side.
Lateral Band Walks
Even though running occurs in the sagittal plane of movement (front-back), frontal plane (side to side) exercises will strength the small stabilizing muscles in the hips and legs. The lateral band walk works the muscles involved in hip abduction and adduction, including all three gluteal muscles, tensor fascia latae, piriformis, and adductor group.
Proper form is important in this exercise. After looping the band around your calves, lower down into a quarter squat position (athletic stance). Maintain this athletic stance as you take a large step right, pause, and then slowly step your left foot in to complete one rep. Be sure to step on your heel, not just on your toes, to activate your glutes fully. Once you complete all reps in one direction, repeat on the other side. (If space is limited, you can alternate directions every few reps until you complete all reps on both sides).
Banded Glute Bridges
Bridges are one of the simplest yet most effective exercises for targeting the hips, glutes, and core. other abductor muscles. Loop the resistance band on your thighs, just above your knees, and lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Your feet should be below your knees or slightly further out; avoid bringing them too close to your butt. Engage your abs and raise your hips up so that your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. As you raise your hips, focus on keeping your hips neutral. Avoid arching your low back. Slowly lower down to complete one rep. Your feet should be just far enough apart that you have to actively resist the band during the whole exercise.
You can progress the banded glute bridge. An isometric glute bridge (holding the bridge for 20-30 sec) can improve muscular endurance. A single leg glute bridge progresses the bridge to a unilateral exercise. Unilateral exercises reduce bilateral deficits in strength and force production. The stronger each leg is, the more force they can output together. (If one leg is weaker, bilateral force production is actually reduced.) For runners, unilateral exercises are helpful in treating and preventing injuries.
The clamshell is a go-to exercise in physical therapy. Many running injuries such as IT band syndrome or piriformis syndrome are due to a weak/underactive glute medius. The clamshell is an hip abduction exercise that trains all three gluteal muscles. By maintaining a slightly flexed hip throughout the entire movement, you also work the piriformis muscle.
Lie on your side with your knees slightly bent and your ankles, knees, hips, and shoulder stacked. Loop the resistance band around your thighs, just above your knees. You can prop up your head in your hand or rest it on your arm on the floor. While keeping your hips stacked, torso still, and your feet together, lift your top knee up. (If this is difficult, begin by performing the clamshell with your back against the wall to train the technique.) Pause, then slowly lower back down to complete one rep. Perform all of the reps on one side before switching to the other side.
Tall-Kneeling Band Pull-Apart
Resistance band workouts are not just for the lower body. You can use the resistance band for upper body exercises. You will want a long band instead of a mini band to be able to move through the full range of motion.
Tall kneel band pull-aparts work the muscles of the core (for stabilization in the tall knee position) and the shoulders. A band pull-apart moves the shoulder joint through horizontal abduction and adduction, working the deltoids and pectoralis major. The movement also involves scapular retraction, which strengthens the rhomboids and trapezius in the upper back. All these muscles contribute to good posture and arm swing while running.
To do the band pull-apart, kneel on your knees while keeping your pelvis neutral. Hold one end of the band in each hand. Bring your arms out straight in front of you so that your arms are parallel to the ground. While keeping your core stable, pull the band from each end, abducting your arms away from your body while keeping them parallel. Slowly reverse to return to start. To make this easier, perform while standing or sitting.
Rows are one of the most effective upper body exercises for runners. Any variation of row strengthens the muscles of the upper back (trapezius and rhomboids), which enhances posture while running. The bent over row variation also works your core muscles, including the erector spinae. Typically, rows are performed with dumbbells, barbells, or cable machines. For a runner just getting into strength training, the band row is a great exercise to introduce upper back work.
Hold one end of a long band in each hand and step on it with your feet to anchor it. Feet should be roughly hip-width apart. Hinge your hips back while keeping your back flat. Pull the band up while bending your elbows, so that your shoulder blades come closer together (retract). Slowly lower back down to start to complete one rep.
You can also tie the band to an object and perform standing rows. This variation is an appropriate regression if the bent over band rows feel too hard or hurt your low back.
These are just a sample of resistance band exercises for runners. There are several different exercises you can use to make complete resistance band workouts or optimize your pre-run warm-up. With any exercise, stop if you experience pain and be sure to perform with good technique.