Building strong legs is vital for running performance. Not only does leg strength help with gait and run form, it also helps with endurance during log runs, power in the shorter distances and of course helps aid in recovery and injury prevention.
Basic body weight squats and lunges are definitely a great way to introduce lower body strength and conditioning to your training program. But as you progress, you will want to offer a wide variety of leg exercises to your strength training arsenal. Working unilaterally, in different planes as well as learning to jump and land, will target all areas of the lower body, improving not just strength, but also balance, coordination, stability and mobility.
And let’s be honest here… as awesome as it is to have strong legs that help us perform at the top of our game, it’s also nice to have gorgeous gams for those race photos and runfies too 😉
So how do you get started? Well like I mentioned above, mastering simple squats and lunges is a great place to begin. But if you’re ready to kick your training up a notch and/or are looking for new ways to work your legs, here are a few of my favorites lower body exercises I incorporate in mine and my clients’ training programs…
Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell like tightly to your chest, elbows tucked tight to your torso. With feet hip distance a part, lower your hips down and back behind you, keeping your weight in your heels. Drop your hips down (below parallel ideally), then squeezing your glute muscles raise back up and repeat. Try 3 sets of 10 to get stated.
Modification: Bodyweight Squats, Stability Ball Wall Squats
Progression: Double Racked Kettlebell Squats, Barbell Front Squats
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Place one foot on a bench behind you (shoe laces on the bench, not toes or ball of foot). Gripping dumbbells in each hand, begin to lower your back knee all the way down. Track your front knee above your ankle. Raise back up to start position and repeat. Begin with 3 sets of 6-10 each leg.
Modification: Bodyweight Split Squat
Progression: Barbell on Shoulders
Side and Transverse Lunges
Unlike traditional lunges, these two variations work in the other two planes of motions targeting different muscles in your legs. For Side Lunge: Standing tall with feet together, gripping a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, step the opposite foot out to the side bending just that knee, drawing your hips down and back. Bring the weight over to that opposite ankle. Step back up and repeat on that side. For Transverse Lunge: Similar movement for the side lunge except you will step out and back, opening up your hip to the transverse plane. Front foot will stay pointing forward while back foot will be perpendicular to the front. Draw your hips down and back and keep your chest up for both lunge variations.
Modification: Body weight, Light Med Ball held at chest
Progression: Weight in both hands and/or add a vest
|Side Lunge (Frontal Plan)|
|Transverse Lunge (Transverse Plane|
Single Leg RDL
Holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in one hand, plant the opposite foot firmly on the ground. Lower the weight down towards the inside of the opposite big toe (not necessarily all the way) while drawing chest parallel to the ground.. As you lower the weight, extend the SAME side leg behind you, drawing the leg parallel to the ground. Keep your back flat, shoulders pulled back and core locked in tight. Return to standing position and repeat on that side for 6-10 reps and do on opposite leg. Just to clarify, if the weight is in your RIGHT hand, extend your RIGHT leg behind you, and vice versa!
Modification: Perform with just body weight reaching for the toe
Prop upper body on a bench or (soft) box with just shoulder blades and arms rested on bench. Align feet about hip distance a part directly under knees. With or without weight, squeeze your glute muscles to lift your hips up, making a straight line from your shoulders to hips to knees. Lower back down and repeat. Begin with 3 sets of 10.
Modification: Floor Bridge, Body Weight Hip Thrusters
Progression: Barbell or Sandbag on lap
Single Leg Take-Offs
Stand forward facing a 12-18″ box, bench or stable, elevated surface. Step one foot onto the box and using the power from that leg, accelerate the other leg up and into a 90-90-90 position for hip-knee-ankle. Step lifted leg off the box and bring original leg down too. Repeat 5-8 times per leg.
Modification: Single Leg Step Ups to Balance
Progression: Wear weighted vest
Lateral Hurdle Hops
Position yourself to the side of a 6 or 12″ hurdle. Jump up (as high as you can) and over to the other side of the hurdle landing softly. Repeat 10 times in each direction.
Modification: Ditch the hurdle, just use the floor
Progression: Higher hurdle, Wear a weighted vest
These are just a few examples of the many lower body strength and conditioning exercises I use for myself and my athletes. To learn more about how these and other exercises can make you a stronger, faster and healthier runner, contact me to today about my Strength2Run online coaching services!