Leg Exercises For Runners

Here’s the deal: when you are a runner, it is important that you keep your whole body strong. You need a strong core to run. You need strong legs to run. You also need strong arms to run, especially longer races. While tallying up the miles is certainly important as you work toward running longer distances, strength training is also important. You need to strength train for injury prevention. You also need to strength train to become a better runner.

You may know most of the basic leg exercises to try: squats, lunges, deadlifts, etc. In this post I will share some of my favorite leg exercises, many of which you may already know. I will also share an example workout with these exercises, as well as a workout from my PR Half Marathon Training Plan. If you are getting ready for a race, in the winter or spring, I encourage you to look into this training plan.

Some of these exercises I will go over may be difficult if you are already in the height of training, especially if you have never done them before. If you find some of these exercises are too high impact with the mileage you are running right now, try incorporating them during your “off” season so that you can strengthen your legs and increase your speed.

Leg Exercises

Kettlebell Lunge – You can do these walking, or alternating. Use a kettlebell (or dumbbell) and pass the weight from your right arm under your left leg while you are in a lunge. Return to your starting position then pass from your left arm through your right leg. Always be sure to pass from opposite arm through opposite leg. I like these because you need to use different stabilizers to complete this motion than you would for a regular lunge.

Overhead Walking Lunges – Again, you can do these alternating or even as static lunges. I love overhead lunges because it puts weight right through the center of your body, keeping your core strong and strengthening your quads. You may feel this in your glutes too, but I love the focus on my center of gravity for this exercise. You can use a barbell, body bar, or plate for these.

Split Squats – I love these! These are one of those love to hate them moves for me. They burn so good. I love these because again, you need to keep your core strong throughout this movement, and it really helps you to isolate one leg at a time, ensuring that your stronger side does not overcompensate for your weaker side. This movement also uses different stabilizers than a lunge or squat will.

Kettlebell Squat – For this one I like to go a little heavier than I would for a kettlebell swing or lunge. The center of gravity of the kettlebell is why I like this exercise so much, but you can always use a dumbbell for this exercise as well. Stand in a squat position, feet hip width, and point your toes out slightly. The slight outward pointing of the toes will help target your inner thighs. Hold the kettlebell and let it drop straight between your legs as you keep your core tight and hips back like you’re sitting over a public toilet.

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Wall Ball/Medicine Ball Toss – These are great for total body and for getting your heart rate up. These will not only strengthen your legs, but will help with your fast twitch muscles, which are important for sprinting (think to the finish line). You want to make sure this is as explosive of a movement as you can make it. Use your legs to explode up and do most of the work. They should propel the rest of your body so it barely feels like your arms are doing much to throw the ball. If you have a wall to squat and throw a medicine ball up against, use it. Otherwise, you can do as I do in the video and just toss it in the air and catch it.

 

Jump Ups – These are a little different from a box jump in that you want to keep your jumps low and quick. These are intended to get your heart rate up, work on your fast twitch muscles, and add endurance to your legs.

Squat Jump/Lunge Jump – I am grouping these two together because the concept is similar. The jumping motion is again designed to work those fast twitch muscles and to help build endurance in your legs. Obviously running is going to be the best thing you can do to build endurance in your legs, but adding these explosive movements will help you become a stronger runner. You can pace these or do them as fast as you can for a short amount of time. I usually go for the latter, working on going until I am about to break form, pushing past discomfort.  This has really helped to strengthen my legs and improved my paces.

Workouts

Here is a workout from my PR Half Marathon Training Plan incorporating a couple of these exercises:

Warm-up: 100 jump rope

Superset 1×3

  • Curtsey Lunge with bar on back – 20
  • Lunge Jumps – 1:00

Superset 2×4

  • Deadlift, 5
  • Jumprope – 100

Superset 3×3

  • Barbell back squats , 15
  • Squat jumps – 1:00

Hip Thrusters with Barbell x3

Here are TWO workouts incorporating some of these moves, to strengthen your running. Remember, if you are already in the height of race training, you may wait until you are between races if these are a higher intensity than what you are used to. Be sure you warm-up before your workout and stretch afterward.

WORKOUT 1

Complete 2-5 rounds depending on your fitness level. Adjust reps as needed until you can work up to these reps.

  • Walking Kettlebell Lunge – 20
  • Squat Jump – 1:00 (work as fast as you can within the minute, resting as needed. Work away from pacing yourself on this)
  • Split Squat – 10 each side
  • Medicine Ball Toss – 1:00
  • Overhead Walking Lunge – 14

WORKOUT 2

Set a timer for 10 minutes and complete as many rounds as possible:

  • Lunge Jump – 10 (total)
  • Kettlebell Squat – 20
  • Medicine Ball Toss – 10
  • Jump Ups – 20

Keep in mind, you do not always have to do circuits to get in a good workout. I like circuits for efficiency (they take less time) and because they work my lungs more than any other workout I do. Let me know if you try any of these workouts!

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