3 Strength Exercises That New Runners Should Incorporate Into Their Training
Many new runners believe that you only need to run to become a better runner. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While running itself is a form of training, it’s essential to also do strength training to continue running pain-free and have longevity in the sport. Strength training can also improve your endurance and speed as a runner.
In this article, we’ll discuss why strength training is an important piece to implement into your routine, as well as some of the best strength exercises for runners.
Why Do Runners Need Strength Training?
Imagine putting four tires on your car with uneven tread on each, then driving thousands of miles without rotating them. That’s the equivalent of running without strength training — it’s unlikely that your body will move exactly as it should. Simply doing the same forward plane of motion day after day will cause imbalances.
Your brain and body will choose the path of least resistance, especially when you’re fatigued. If you don’t challenge your body to use specific muscles or if you only train one plane of motion consistently without providing your body with new challenges, your likelihood of muscle pain and injury dramatically increases. On top of that, the more inefficient your body becomes, your endurance and speed will decrease as a protective mechanism.
Strength training improves neuromuscular coordination and power for runners, which can improve your overall stride efficiency. Improved stride efficiency decreases your likelihood of injury and pain while improving your speed and endurance. Improving the overall symmetry in your body can significantly improve your maximal oxygen consumption (Vo2 max), which is a win all around!
3 Strength Training Exercises to Help New Runners
These three strength training exercises are fantastic to add to your training routine. They can be done in your home gym, need minimal equipment, and can take as little as 15 minutes in your workout! Remember to warm up before you begin these strength exercises.
1. Heel Taps
Physical therapists use heel taps as a bodyweight rehab drill for knee pain, but it can be an excellent prehab drill for runners. With this movement, the goal is to strengthen your glutes, quads, and overall knee stability. Heel taps are great mobility exercises for athletes at any fitness level, but are especially critical for runners.
How To Do a Heel Tap:
- On a riser or stairs, face sideways so that your right leg is on the step and your left leg is hovering off.
- To initiate this movement, sit your hip back while keeping the weight of your body through your right heel, and lightly tap your hovering left heel on the ground.
- crucial only to tap your heel and keep the tap light.
- Use your gluteal and quad muscles in your right leg to raise your left leg back up to the step. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 15 reps on each side.
Be Mindful of These Corrections:
Keep proper form in mind: Your hips should be pointed forward without tilting and your left knee as stable as possible over your midfoot. If balance is a challenge, your knee will try to cave in or out. Should that happen, lightly hold on to something to ensure your focus is on the strength and coordination of this movement.
As you master this movement at stair height, you can make it progressively harder by adding height to your step (such as standing on a textbook on top of the step) or holding free weights.
2. Weighted Glute Bridges
Exercising and using your glutes can make you a more efficient runner. They’re often offline for most new runners, but that can cause huge issues in the gait cycle and can make your stride inefficient. Glute bridges are great for fixing this, ultimately helping to increase your running economy for a smoother stride.
I recommend trying them unweighted first. When you feel comfortable with the movement, you can add a 5 to 15 lb weight (YBell Arc or XS and S YBell Neo).
How To Do a Weighted Glute Bridge:
- Lye on the floor face up, with your knees bent hip-width apart. Your feet should be under your knees so that your shins are perpendicular to the ground.
- Using a double grip, hold a YBell on your lower abdominal.
- Pushing through your feet (with a large percent of the weight on your heel), drive your hips up while squeezing your glutes. As you contract your glutes, your pelvis will tilt forward, which is what you want.
- Your shoulders, hips, and knees should form a diagonal line. Hold at the top for 2 to 3 seconds, squeezing your glutes as hard as possible.
- Slowly lower your hips back down to the ground. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 15 to 20 reps.
Be Mindful of These Corrections:
The goal is to feel your glutes fire. If you feel your hamstrings, try to squeeze the glutes harder or lower your hips slightly. Try using an exercise mat if lying on the floor with weight is uncomfortable.
As you master this with weight, you can increase the difficulty by doing an adduction glute bridge. In other words, bring your feet and knees together, performing the same motion while also keeping the knees squeezed as hard as possible throughout the entire movement. Weak adductor muscles are common, and strengthening them can improve your stability and running efficiency.
3. Wood Chops
Wood chops are great for challenging your body to move in other planes of motion, making them an excellent functional fitness exercise. Not only is it a fantastic synergy of coordination and stabilization, but it’ll also strengthen your core and back without straining the knee, a common problem for avid runners.
I recommend using a 5 to 10 lb weight (YBell Arc or XS YBell Neo).
How To Do a Wood Chop:
- Holding a YBell in both hands, start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the YBell with a double grip.
- With a slight bend in your arms, pull the YBell over your right shoulder. Keep your eyes on the YBell throughout the movement.
- Perform a diagonal chopping motion while lowering yourself into a squat, chopping the weight down towards your left knee. Twist your torso with the weight as you move, engaging your core muscles to control your movement.
- As you rise out of the squat, swing the weight back to the starting position. This is one rep.
- Repeat for 10 to 12 reps on each side.
Be Mindful of These Corrections:
Keep your trunk and head tall as you perform the chopping motion. Pause between each rep to decrease the momentum, which will allow you to keep control over the movement.
Weightlifters typically perform wood chops as a high to low chop. If this movement feels uncomfortable, try starting it in reverse order, going from low to high. As you master this exercise in the twisting and chopping movements, you can increase the difficulty by using a half-kneeling position to challenge your core stability.
I recommend performing these movements for 2 to 3 sets, at least three times per week. You’ll quickly develop more muscular strength and have to either increase the weight, reps, sets, or dial up the complexity of the movement. Remember, for your body to excel at any sport, you need to challenge your whole body by working all your muscle groups. That’s why strength training is an excellent complement to cardio exercise.
Build these strength training exercises into your routine consistently, and you’ll soon see and feel the change in your body when you run!
Casey has been a health and fitness professional since 2009, after graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Exercise Science. She has helped hundreds of people achieve their fitness goals. From working with beginners, youth, older adults, and almost everyone in between, Casey loves to blend her diverse knowledge and experience to help guide her clients to where they want to be. Her philosophy is simple: meet people where they are today in order to help them learn, grow, and excel through education in nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle changes unique to them.
Casey’s certifications include:
- Z-health R-phase, Z-health I-phase, Z-health S-phase, Z-health T-phase, Z-Health Strength and Suppleness
- Functional Range Conditioning Level 1
- NASM Corrective Exercise Specialist
- ACE Certified Personal Trainer
- Precision Nutrition Level 1
- USA Weightlifting Certified