Mike Chambers (www.running-stronger.com) is a S&C coach who specialises in working with runners of all levels on their strength programme. He shares with us the key leg strength exercises he includes in weekly sessions.
A strong core will help you hold your running form longer and deeper into a race and stronger upper body will prove invaluable in delivering a more powerful arm drive helping propel you forward faster. But there is no doubting that developing stronger legs is a priority for runners.
Our legs take the load at ground contact and power our gait through toe off. So any strength session must have a bias towards developing the key muscle groups of our glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.
The deadlift is a great exercise for developing powerful glutes and hamstrings and will also work lower back and calves. Form is key to ensure you are lifting safely and effectively, but worth spending the time to perfect your technique and make the deadlift a regular part of any leg session.
Work in the 8-12 rep range and gradually build up the load so the last 2-3 reps you can really start to feel your muscles working. Engage your abs and squeeze your glutes, keep your back straight and drive through your heels.
Start off with a Kettlebell and progress to a barbell when confident with the technique and weight. And again start with lower weight and working 8-10 reps to develop good movement patterns. Over time reducing the reps to the 4-6 range going for higher weights and more power.
Single Leg Deadlift
There are many variations of deadlifts and all have their merits, but the single leg deadlift is by far our ‘go to’ exercise with runners. You will very quickly uncover any imbalances and dominant sides with this exercise. We are only ever on one leg when we run so vital we train that way.
This exercise will strengthen the glutes, hamstring and calves on each leg independently, but as there is a balance element you will engage more core muscles and benefit from neuro muscular development and proprioception – all great wins for running!
Stand tall with weight focused on one leg and hold a kettlebell on the opposite side. Drive your none weight bearing leg backwards keeping it straight, hinging at the hip and allowing the kettlebell to travel straight down towards the floor, engage your glutes and drive back up to start position performing 8-10 reps.
Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Any form of squat will still assist in glute development but are overall more quad dominant and it’s important we develop both our posterior and anterior lower leg muscles. Split squats again have the benefit of training our legs independently forcing our weaker less dominant side to work. With one foot elevated on a step or box, step forward to open up your stride.
Working with body weight, dumbbells or kettlebells, keep the weight through the front leg and drive the rear knee down to within a few inches of the floor. Push through the heel of the front leg and return to start position. Similar to the Deadlift this is a great exercise just light weights or even body weight for 10 or more reps or progressing to using a barbell racked across the shoulders and taking the reps down to 4-6 reps.
The Hip Thruster is possibly the king of glute focused exercises, really requiring power to drive the hips through to extension. This exercise can be performed with body weight, or using a free weight or barbell and can really load the glutes. This is about really thrusting the weight through the hips with force performing a high rep range of around 15 reps.
Squeeze your glutes at the top but keep the load constant by not fully returning to the floor at the end of each rep. Keep your back straight and chin tucked to ensure the load is taken by your glutes and not lumbar.
Its easy to neglect our calves in a strength session, but given the huge role they play in tolerating our running load and the amount of injuries that relate to calf and achilles issues, we should never underestimate the importance of regular calf strengthening.
Calf raises or heel lifts are a great way to really focus on developing this key muscle group. But its important to understand the role each element of our calf complex plays in running to understand how we best do these exercises. These soleus muscle which sits lower and deeper to more prominent gastrocnemius muscle actually plays a more significant role in distance running, has more slow twitch muscle fibres and assists with deceleration at ground contact and drives us forward at toe off.
To really target the soleus muscle, keep your knee bent and raise your heel off the ground on to the ball of your foot using kettlebells and working to around 15 reps. This muscle tolerates about 8-9 times our body weight in running so don’t be afraid to really load this exercise, even progressing to using a barbell in a seated position or if lucky enough to have a calf machine in your gym make it a frequent destination.
Mike Chambers – Strength Coach and Athletics Coach at Winchester & District AC – www.running-stronger.com – firstname.lastname@example.org