Whether you’re a competitive runner or someone who exclusively runs for fun, you probably wouldn’t mind running faster or being able to cover more ground. But, how do you accomplish this?
You might be surprised to learn that simply running more frequently isn’t necessarily the answer. By switching up your training and adding some resistance work to your routine, you can improve your running ability without having to spend hours on the track or treadmill.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of strength training (especially lower body strength training) for runners and check out five lower body exercises that will help you improve your speed and endurance.
Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
There are lots of reasons for runners to make strength training a priority. Some of the greatest benefits you’ll experience include:
Strength training just a few times per week can help you increase your endurance. When your muscles are stronger, they will take longer to fatigue, which means you’ll be able to run further before you get tired.
Greater Calorie Burn
If you run to lose weight, switching up some of your runs for strength training will actually help you lose weight faster. This is because, when you strength train, you increase your muscle mass.
When you increase your muscle mass, you increase your metabolism and your body burns more calories during all workouts, as well as when you’re at rest.
When your legs are stronger, you can also run faster. In order to run faster, you need to be able to produce more force. How do you do this? By building muscle — especially muscle in your lower body. This is why sprinters typically have a lot more muscle mass than long-distance runners — they need the muscle to help them take off more quickly.
Finally, the stronger you are, especially in your lower body, the less likely you are to injure yourself when you run. This is because strength training improves your balance and joint stability.
Five Best Leg Exercises for Runners
As you can see, lower body strength training is very important for runners. These five lower body exercises are essential for runners who want to be faster and have more endurance.
1. Forward Lunges
Forward lunges help strengthen the large muscles in the lower body, specifically the quadriceps (front of the thighs) and the glutes.
When you do forward lunges, make sure you’re standing up straight with your shoulders back and head in line with your spine. Bend your legs until they form 90-degree angles. Avoid letting your front knees extend beyond your toes, too — this can put too much stress on your knee.
Squats help strengthen all the major muscles in the lower body, including the hips, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
To squat properly, make sure your chest is lifted and your spine is neutral — it shouldn’t be rounded or have a large arch.
Bend your knees and keep your weight in your heels — your hips should go back and down like you’re going to sit in a chair. When you stand up, squeeze your glutes to prevent your knees from caving inward.
3. Calf Raises
Strong calves are essential for runners.
Not only do strong calf muscles help increase your speed and endurance, but they can also help you avoid shin splints. Calf raises help to strengthen the ankles, too, to reduce your risk of ankle strains and sprains.
You can do calf raises anytime and anywhere. You don’t even need any equipment, although you can use dumbbells to make them more challenging.
Deadlifts are great for the glutes and hamstrings. When you do deadlifts, remember to hinge at your hips — they should go straight back toward the wall behind you.
There are lots of ways to perform a deadlift depending on your skill level and the equipment you have access to.
You can do deadlifts with dumbbells or a barbell — resistance bands improve leg strength, too. You can also challenge your balance by doing single-leg deadlifts.
5. Hip Thrusts
Finally, be sure to make hip thrusts a regular part of your routine, too.
Hip thrusts help strengthen the glutes, which will allow you to produce more force when you run, especially when you take off.
You can do hip thrusts with your body weight, dumbbells, a barbell, or resistance bands. You can do single-leg hip thrusts, too, for an extra challenge.