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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You Can’t Run Away The Fat

 

Sure, go from zero running to some running to lots of running and you will probably lose some weight. But then what?

I’ve seen it, in people I know, in people I read about, in people I see out in public…the weight loss stalls.

Now, I used to be that meat head that would say “cardio is dumb, you don’t need to do cardio, just lift and diet and you will be good”.

While I partially still agree with this – I also don’t think cardio is dumb. It is very important to make sure your heart is strong and functions well or, well, you die. If you ENJOY running – or more traditional cardio, and it doesn’t harm you – then more power to ya, run run run!

However, using cardio as a sole means of fat loss with complete ignorance of diet and some cross training is a recipe for disaster.

The three common traps that cardio lovers seem to fall into are:

  1. Weight loss stopped? Time to run more.
  2. I run a lot/train for marathons – I can eat whatever I want.
  3. I want to be better at running – so I will run more!

When weight loss stops on a pure cardio routine, many peoples first instinct is “I need more cardio”. Here why that might not be the best idea.

www.active.com

When you live by the cardio – you die by the cardio. Meaning that the more cardio you add and add and add to your week, as soon as something happens in your life that doesn’t allow you to run 10 hours per week, your progress will backfire and your weight will rocket back.

Without paying any attention to creating a slight caloric restriction through food instead of just trying to run more, you set yourself up for trouble when trouble strikes in your life.

Your body also becomes very efficient at running at a slow and steady pace. Meaning you CONSERVE calories so you can last longer on your run, but at a slightly slower pace. When fatloss is the goal, efficiency sucks.

Crank up the intensity, hit some sprints (on a bike especially) and turn your body into a furnace in a shorter amount of time.

This is where problem 2 comes in – the “I run a lot therefore I can eat whatever I want”.

There is a generic statistic that says you burn about 100 calories per mile traveled while running so lets just use that for an example.

Say you run 10 miles one day – so “burn” 1000 calories. Then you go to Olive Garden to celebrate with friends and get the biggest past dish you can find because you “earned” it.

Well that dish is 2500 calories, plus the 4 breadsticks you ate – so there you go, you now cancelled out your run plus jumped into a surplus.

The main point being – its very easy to supplant the caloric burn of a cardio workout if you blindly eat whatever.

You must still pay attention to diet, and eat enough for performance – but also if you goal is fat loss, you must be in a slight deficit.

And the last trap – more running = better at running, its not always the case.

Yes, you need to practice any skill to get better.

But for runners, don’t forget strength!

You need to build up the muscles through strength training so they can endure long runs, and the pounding on the pavement.

Strength training not only builds muscle (which boosts your resting metabolic rate) but it also helps build BONE.

How many cardio lovers do you know who have gotten stress fractures? I know a few.

Heavier loading of the bones and especially the axial skeleton greatly improves bone density. This means squats, lunges, step ups, deadlifts, all those good lower body exercises should be done 2-3 days per week. 

So if your goal is to lose some fat here’s what I would recommend:

  • Don’t rely solely on running- if you enjoy it, cool, but you don’t NEED to run. Biking, swimming, hiking, circuit training, are all great ways to get cardiovascular improvements as well.
  • Don’t ignore diet. Your goal should be to lose fat at a pace of 1-2 pounds per week with as little change to your normal routine as possible. So don’t just add in 10 hours of cardio per week because that wont last. Start with bodyweight x 10 for your calorie goal.
  • Weight train – not only to help prevent running injuries, but also to improve your metabolism, your muscle tone, and to improve your mood and energy.

 

 

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“But what do you do for cardio?” – Answering that awkward question…

I had just finished up with my 5AM workout group for the day. They had all just busted their butts doing some circuit style full body training, a little boxing work, and a few running sessions all before the sun came up.

As we gathered in close to stretch out after the workout, I was going over how important stretching is, and admitting how I have been slacking on my stretching up until a few weeks prior. I started talking about how I have been incorporating intra-set stretching between my lifts, during my rest periods instead of just standing around. I gave an example of how during my squats the other day I would do one set, then stretch my hips during the rest for 30 seconds on each side.

Then it happened…the question.

“But what do you do for cardio?”

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(Lift weights faster, bro! – NO)

I paused and hesitated to answer for a second. She felt like she had offended me, and started apologizing and saying that she didn’t mean it to sound so insinuating (she is one of the nicest people I have ever met, so I just giggled a little bit)

The reason I paused was because I had to think about it, honestly. I don’t run. I don’t bike. I don’t swim. I don’t “cardio”.

Here is where my answer was crucial, and how most trainers who don’t “cardio” can slip up and end up sounding like pricks.

I believe my answer was something like, “well, I really don’t do traditional cardio, because I personally don’t enjoy it, I never have, and I like lifting and doing more unconventional cardio, like kettlebell swings, rope slams, sled work, etc.”

I followed that up with the bigger picture, and this is what I want you to take away from this post. Do what you enjoy, what gets you results, and what works for YOU. There is no one size fits all program, workout, fat loss plan, etc.

Now we have to ask, why does one “do cardio”? I would say most answers would be centered around fat loss (or dreaded weight loss) or for cardiorespiratory fitness/endurance. Not that these aren’t decent answers, but another good one would be “because I enjoy it”.

Lets take a look at my situation:

  • I am a 210 pound, 26 year old, Male
  • I work at a job where I am on my feet 6-10 hours per day, tracking around 15,000-20,000 steps per day
  • I lift weights 3-4 times per week
  • I eat roughly the same foods every single day (dinners tend to vary more)

First, I have age, gender, and body type on my side. A majority of my clients are 35-55 year old women. Do you realize how stupid some male trainers, my age must sound talking to these women about “you just need to run faster, lift heavier, eat healthier…blah,blah,blah”?

I am always the first to admit, I have the advantage of youth and hormones on my side. It’s a fact.

Second, I an active all day. This is know as NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) or how much your move during the day outside of planned exercise. Click here to read more about NEAT.

This is a HUGE and often overlooked factor when it comes to losing and keeping fat off. More movement in the day adds up to more calories burned in the end. Move more!

Third, I exercise 3-4 days per week with weights. I usually end up using heavy weights, going to near failure on final sets, and monitoring my rest periods between sets. I will sometimes superset exercises, giant set, drop set…essentially boost my intensity with the weights.

Confused as to what all those terms are? Check out my

FREE Weight Training 101 PDF HERE

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Lastly, I eat roughly the same foods everyday, especially for breakfast and lunch. I change up fruits and veggies here and there, but really my starchy carbs, protein quantities and fat intake all remains the same for most of the day, day after day. This is what works for me, it doesn’t get boring, and it keeps me at my desired body weight for right now.

When I do feel like getting my heart rate jacked up I will usually go with some forms of high intensity cardio (swing, sleds, ropes, etc.). Why? Because this is what I enjoy doing, and honestly I can get it over with faster.

Is this type of training, cardio, and weight lifting approach going to work for everyone? NO!

Remember, its what you enjoy doing that will keep you going for the long term. Could I benefit from doing some more traditional cardio? Absolutely! It is great for cardiovascular endurance, heart health, and yes even maintaining optimal body fat levels (sorry to the anti-cardio bros out there).

For more info, check out this fantastic article by Tony Gentilcore on T Nation all about how cardio won’t make you lose your gainz.

Do what you enjoy, what gets you where you want to be, and what helps keep you in optimal health. You be you! All this talk about cardio actually has me tempted to do a little spinning this afternoon…

 

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