The 9 Essential Exercises for Serious Runners (with Videos)

Runners love to run. This is obvious. Running can also be a double-edged sword.

Some swear it is the best form of exercise, and others swear off it for life because of bad experiences.

Running can be one of the best forms of exercise and competition, and at the same time can be one of the most stressful and injurious forms of exercise.

Running is a fantastic way to improve your physical, and mental health, your internal and external health, and meet a lot of awesome people.

When you run, your foot strikes the ground, one foot at a time, with the force of 3 to 4 times your body weight on the joints of the hip, knee, and ankle.

What most of them need is not more running, but more strength training. Appropriate strength training. The right kind of strength training…if they want to maximize their potential.

Because of the impact and stress on the joints, and most people’s running form, the muscles of the lower body can often get imbalanced. The quads get dominant and the posterior chain becomes underused and weak.

The goal of strength training for runners should be to balance out the lower body, and also strengthen the most powerful muscles of the lower body – the hamstrings and the glutes.

Here are 9 exercises you should be doing regularly as a runner, and doing them well! They are in no particular order of importance but are in order from most basic to most advanced.

1) Body Weight Glute Bridge

The most foundational exercise for the glutes (your booty). Make sure your heels are about a hands length away from your butt, flatten your back before bridging up, then drive your hips up toward the sky, and squeeze your cheeks together like never before.

Add a pause at the top to make sure you are feeling it in your glutes, and if you have a hard time flattening your lower back, try lifting your head slightly – as seen in the video.

2) Single-Leg Foot Elevated Glute Bridge

Running is done on one foot at a time, so it makes sense to train each leg individually. This helps balance out the muscles left to right and find weak links from left to right.

Start with your foot up on a bench (or windowsill) at a height that allows you to start at a 90-degree bend at the hip and a 90-degree bend at the knee.

Flatten your back, and pull your other knee toward your chest.

Drive the arch of the working foot into the bench (or windowsill), drive your hips up while maintaining that 90 degree bend in your knee.

3) Weighted Glute Bridge Variations

The final step of training the glutes for power is loading them up with some weight. This isn’t your 100 rep booty bump Bootcamp challenge, but REAL strength training. Aim for reps of 6 to 12, get a strong squeeze, and feel the glute pump.

These 3 variations go from easiest to hardest.

With the B-Stance, you are really only using one leg, and the other is just resting on the floor as a sort of kickstand. So in the above video, I am working my left glute, and my right foot is just helping with balance.

4) Hamstring Curls

Now that we have covered the powerhouse of the lower body, lets shift gears and talk hamstrings.

Using a stability ball, drive your hips up and curl your heels in towards your butt – the KEY is keeping your hips up. If you drop your hips and curl in like many people tend to do, you lose all tension and synergy from the hamstrings into the hips…and that is the whole point of the exercise!

Notice in the video, how at the top of the curl, you could draw a straight line from my knees to my shoulders. That is the goal.

5) Romanian Deadlifts (RDL’s)

This is a pure hip hinge – and it lights up the hamstrings when done right. Start with a soft bend in your knees, but from there, drive your hips back, not down.

Pretend like you are trying to push a desk drawer shut with your butt because your hands are full and you are too lazy to turn around.

Keep your back flat from your head to your tailbone. Do NOT round your back forward, or keep your head pulled up and back – keep your spine locked at neutral and head on straight in line with your chest.

In this video, I am using a barbell – but you can do this movement pattern with dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, or a small child.

You can also progress to the much harder single leg RDL, but make sure you have your hip hinge form down first!

6) Split Squats

To integrate the hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings as one in the best way possible for runners, look no further than single leg split squat and lunge variations. Running is done on one leg at a time, so it makes sense to train one leg at a time, right?

The split variation or other single-leg variations also allow you to keep a better spinal position – and avoid the dreaded hunched over squat look that I see in so many endurance athletes. You know what I’m talking about… but this is a different story and post altogether.

**If your squat looks like this, shoot me a message and I’ll hook you up with your fix.**

* Again – these can be done with any type of weight, and the weight in multiple positions – we are just focussed on the movement pattern itself.

7) Rear Foot Elevated or Bulgarian Split Squat

Slightly more advanced, the RFE SS allows you to get a deeper stretch in your hips, and really isolate the single leg.

Slow them down, and feel the stretch. Drive your plant foot through the floor. Don’t be afraid to challenge these with heavier weights!

8) Reverse Lunge

The reverse lunge is a slightly more dynamic and advanced single-leg movement, but again – form matters. The big key to focus on here is to step back, but not JAM your foot back into the ground. Control is key, and slowing this one down is your friend.

9) Walking Lunge

The walking lunge brings it all together. Single leg work with added forward locomotion…sounds like running, right?

Keep the core tight and control each step, driving through the heel and getting the glutes firing here. Make sure you keep your front foot flat on the ground as you come up from the lunge. No tippy toes!

So there you have it, the 9 exercises all runners should be focussing on!

How and when should you do them? Great question!

I would shoot for 2-3 days per week, depending on how intense your running training is at the current moment.

From there, pick one bridge variation, one hamstring variation and one single-leg variation per day. Complete 2-4 sets of each exercise, and keep the reps between 6 and 12 reps. 

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Why Having A Nice Booty Solves All Your Problems

Now that I have your attention, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I think everyone needs to have a nice, strong, butt. Not just because it looks good, but because it can solve so many problems (beyond just being able to fill out your jeans). All immature inappropriate comments aside, having strong glutes can be a huge benefit for many reasons.

I know this firsthand. At the end of my freshman year in college I had a cyst removed from my tailbone area, via cutting through my lower back muscles and then stitching me up with about 50 external and internal stitches. I spent the first month of that summer not being able to even sit on my butt, I had to lay sideways to prevent the stitches from ripping out.

Because of this surgery, I couldn’t do any exercises that involved hinging at the hips for about 1.5 months. After 1.5 bro-tastic upper body only months of lifting, I finally got back to being able to to do lower body. I literally had to start with 135 on the deadlift all over again because of how weak my lower back was.

Thankfully, I had a strong tush from before the surgery (from football and track), and quickly got my lifts back up. I firmly believe that having a strong posterior prior to my surgery really made my life easier afterwards, as I have heard of people taking much longer to get back to lifting pain free from similar surgeries.

The following are 5 of the best reasons to train your glutes, and train them seriously:

1) Already eluted to this – prevent injury.

Weak glutes can lead to muscular imbalances and thus leading to knee, ankle, hip and lower back pain. An imbalance in the hip can lead to excessive medial rotation of the femur – leading to knee issues. Also, when the glutes are weak, the lower back tends to take on some of the work and can become tight and/or injured. Lastly, weak glutes can lead to over active hamstrings which can cause more risk for hamstring cramps.

2) Better Athletic Performance

Have you ever seen an elite athlete with no butt? Strong glutes are essential in almost every sport. They are responsible for accelerating, decelerating, changing directions and creating explosive power in jumps. “Sprinting is one of the most effective exercises for simulating the glutes and activates 234 percent more of the gluteus maximus muscle than a vertical jump, says the glute guy, Bret Contreras, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Athletes with strong glutes will be faster, more efficient and explosive in their movements than athletes with weaker glutes.

3) Better Exercise Performance in The Gym

Having strong glutes will help stabilize your body in any standing exercise. The gluteus medius especially helps with stability and can create a stronger base of support to push, pull or throw from. Also, having strong glutes will help your other lower body lifts increase if your goal is to get stronger.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 8.02.41 AM

4) Increased Calorie Burn 

Glutes are a huge muscle in everyone, no matter what your curves look like. Every time we train them heavy and seriously, we are getting a huge muscle activation along with some great post-exercise calorie burn. Want to get the most out of your weight workouts? Skip the skimpy light weight isolation exercises and focus on hitting the big muscle groups – the glutes being one of the most important.

5) Your butt will look better (in complete seriousness here)

Have you ever heard anyone say, “I want a flatter butt!”. I didn’t think so. It is okay to train for aesthetic goals. There is nothing shallow about it. Look better, feel better or feel more confident. Physical attraction can be a huge motivator, so why not try to look a little better? The bigger reason for wanting to look better is your “Why“. Why do you want to look better? That will pull out some deeper and more motivational reasoning.

 

So how do you get a better booty?

Here is a short, but not complete list of exercises that I recommend incorporating into your workouts at least 3 days per week.

  • Deadlifts (any variation, focus on glute squeeze at the top)
  • Glute/Hip bridges (add weight to hips when form is perfected)
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sFg_dB0PoJQ
  • Lunges/Split Squats
  • Banded Walks
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiD4eOaivqY (old school Bret Contreras video alert!)
  • Squats (back, front, goblet)
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xwGFn-J_Q4

Start with 2 sets of 8-12 reps of each of these with challenging weights, meaning when you get to your final rep, you should feel fatigued.

Give these a try, and you may need to buy some more curvy jeans 🙂

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Stay healthy my friends,