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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Starting Strength Training From Absolute ZERO (Video Guides)

 

Strength training is growing in popularity among average Joe’s and Jane’s, which is friggin awesome!

I write about it’s importance all the time, and how it is literally the fountain of youth (when done correctly).

But what if you have absolutely no experience, are afraid, or have zero clue where to start and what to do?

I will try and lay it out in the post, step by step, as clear as possible. If you have any questions feel free to post or email me – mike@mgfitlife.com.

1) Focus on all the fundamental movements – push, pull, squat and hip hinge.

What the heck are these?

PUSH – think push up, or pushing AWAY from your body, like a chest press. Can’t do a push up? Try hands elevated pushups. Any pressing machine, or dumbbells will work as well.

PULL – pulling weight towards you. Start with a form of horizontal pull like a dumbbell row, a body weight row, or cable row.

SQUAT – pretty much exactly how it sounds. The squat is more of a knee dominant exercise and it tends to work the quads, or front of the legs more than the hamstrings, or backs of the legs.

Start with just body weight, then add weight once you can sit down to the point where your thighs are parallel with the floor.

HINGE – this is also a lower body exercise, but focuses on hinging from the hips – and works more of the backs of the legs – hamstrings and glutes (butt).

Start with a slight bend in the knees, but then push your hips back keeping your spine straight. Go to the point of feeling a stretch in the backs of your thighs then return to the top.

If using weights, keep them close to your legs, and shoulders back and tight.

So these are the 4 basic movement patterns that will cover most muscles of the body, now what do we do with them?

Start with ONE workout, because one is infinitely more than zero.

First – warm up. This can be as simple as a 5-10 minute brisk walk followed by 20 forward and 20 backward arm circles to warm up your shoulders.

Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions (reps) of the first exercise before moving to the next. Give yourself about 1 minute rest in between sets.

What weight should I use??? Use a weight that allows you to get all 10 reps, but it somewhat challenging by the final rep. If you are unsure, do one warm-up or “ramp up” set first with light weights to gauge the difficultly.

You shouldn’t go to failure on your working sets, and you shouldn’t force sloppy reps.

I often use the cue – leave a few reps in the tank. Meaning, if you absolutely HAD to do 12 or 13 reps you could.

How does this look?

Example:

  • 10 push ups or dumbbell presses – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 push ups or dumbbell presses – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 push ups or dumbbell presses – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 rows – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 rows – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 rows – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 squats – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 squats – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 squats – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 hinges – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 hinges – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 hinges – rest for 1 minute

That’s it!

See how you feel 2 days later, and if you feel up to it, repeat the same exact workout once or twice in the week,

Then what?

The most simple way to progress is to add reps until you get to about 20. Then go back to 10 reps and add weight. This will cover you for a decent amount of weeks and if you are truly new to lifting weights you will be good to go.

Example:

  • Week 1 – 10 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 2 – 12 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 3 – 15 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 4 – 18 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 5 – 20 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 6 – 10 chest presses with 12 pounds
  • Week 7 – 12 chest presses with 12 pounds
  • And so on and so on…

That is literally the most basic form of weight training you can do, and if you are totally new to it this will be a great place to start!

Don’t try to get ahead of yourself and add weight every workout. It takes time for muscles to grow, and slow and steady is always the way to go!

 

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The Power of Grip: Not Just For Popeye

Grip strength is one of the most overlooked elements of strength training and fitness. It is not just for strong men who are trying to bend nails in half or crush hand grippers rated at over 300 lbs. of force. Think about how important your grip really is.

It doesn’t even have to involve a Michael Bay inspired care chase scene ending with your car flying over the edge of a cliff and you jumping out at the last moment and pulling your self up the ledge while your car explodes into a fire-ball of pure awesomeness…(grip strength is pretty important there)…

www.internetbillboards.net

 

What about opening jars (see Skinny Arm Rob Lowe), carrying bags, holding onto objects, turning doorknobs, or working with your hands all day, etc. What about playing sports like tennis, golf, baseball, wrestling or even badminton? While your grip strength may not be the biggest cofactor in the success of your sport, it may play a big role as a limiting factor.  Having a weaker grip can even lead to debilitating chronic issues such as tennis or golfers elbow.

www.tennispride.com

Tennis and golfers elbow can be caused by skewed strength ratios between the muscles involved in movement at the elbow vs. the forearm. Example: if the biceps (elbow flexors) are disproportionately stronger than the muscle involved in wrist flexion, extension and gripping.

Some common ways that can be used to improve your grip include:

  • Tighten you grip on the bar. Squeeze the bar as hard as you can on any given exercise. Chances are, you may find the lift easier when using a stronger grip as well.
  • Farmers carries. Farmers carries can be a great way to train not only your grip, but your core and other stabilizers as well.
  •  Plate pinches. Turn two weight plates “grooved side” in, and pinch for as long as possible. Start simple with two, 5 lb. plates. Bump up to 2, 10# plates, then 3, 10# plates, 2, 25# plates – or go pure beast mode and do 2, 45# plates!

If grip strength is something you are looking to improve for any reason, make sure to prioritize it in your workouts. If it’s something you are interested in working on, try adding the following to the end of your routine:

3 sets of plate pinches : as long as possible. If you find one side is significantly weaker, add another set on that side.

3 x 100 ft. heavy farmers carries (try holding at least 1/4 your body weight in each hand)

3 x 20 dumbbell wrist curl w/ white knuckle grip

www.bodybulding.com

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