Run. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. Training for a marathon is simple on paper, but there’s a lot more that goes into a successful race. You must hydrate, foam roll, stretch, strength train, work on your mental game…and the list goes on. These things don’t have to be complicated or take up hours of your already busy life though. Just nail the fundamentals of each and success is almost guaranteed.
Strength training in particular does not have to be complex or always require the use of fancy equipment. An effective routine can be done at home with just your body. Improving movement quality and proficiency outside of running will make you a more resilient, efficient runner. Below are five bodyweight exercises I consider to be the foundations of a strong, durable runner’s body.
The split squat is not technically a single leg exercise, but it allows you to load most of your weight onto one leg while using the unweighted leg as a kickstand. Balance becomes less of an issue this way. The split squat primarily targets the glute and quad of the front leg. It reinforces proper positioning of the hips while strengthening the drive off the front leg, which is especially helpful for uphill running.
Goal: 15 controlled repetitions per leg
Bird Dog – Contralateral (opposites)
The bird dog is a classic for runners, but too often we just go through the motions and don’t actually focus on what muscles should be working. The goal of the bird dog is to control leg and arm extension while keeping the spine stable. This means the spine stays in a neutral position without arching excessively, and the hips stay level as the leg extends. It’s harder than it sounds. The key is to brace the core and extend the limbs slowly while focusing on anti-extension of the spine. This move also hits the rotational stabilizers of the torso, the glutes, and overhead mobility.
Goal: 10 controlled repetitions on each side
Runners are very proficient at moving forward, but our lateral stability skills usually leave something to be desired. Most of our ‘energy leaks’ come in the lateral plane – think hips shifting side to side, arms swinging out too wide, or feet pronating or supinating excessively. The lateral lunge aids in strengthening stability by asking our legs to move like a speed skater. Stepping to the side and dropping into a squat requires the ability to properly absorb force and then turn that force into energy by pushing back up to return to standing. Becoming stronger laterally means less energy is wasted in that plane and more energy is directed into going forwards!
Goal: 10 controlled repetitions per leg
Bear Crawl with Shoulder Taps
Quadruped stance, such as in a bird dog, requires a good amount of stability through the torso. When our torso is stronger and more stable, we’re able to produce more force through the legs. Think of using a hiking pole made of a pool noodle versus a solid wooden stick. You’re able to put a lot more force into the ground with a stick than you are a floppy noodle. Don’t let your core be a floppy noodle! The goal of this exercise is to brace through the torso and maintain a flat, steady back while shifting onto three points of contact. Imagine you have a glass of water on your back and you can’t let it spill.
Goal: 20 slow and controlled taps
Drop squat, 2-to-1
Running produces forces equal to at least three times your bodyweight on every foot strike. Absorbing that force while maintaining good posture (remember our pool noodle!) is critical for avoiding injury. The drop squat is a controlled way to practice landing on one leg with good stability and mechanics. Start on two legs, come up on your toes, and then attack the ground. How much force can you produce with your feet barely leaving the floor? Land on one leg with a strong exhale. Stay tight through the core, and squeeze the glute of the down leg. Stick that landing!
Goal: Eight controlled repetitions per leg
If you are looking for more bodyweight exercises to bullet-proof your legs, look no further than our Marathon Legs program. This program was designed to give you the hardened legs of someone who runs mega miles, without actually having to pound the pavement. It combines plyometrics and controlled eccentric exercises to give you a balance of stability, strength and power usually found by spending hours in the gym – all in less than an hour per week.
Angela Tieri is a certified personal trainer and run coach, specializing in running injury rehab and prehab. As a runner herself, she understands the demands that come from intense marathon training and knows just how to incorporate strength and mobility work to keep runners thriving. She resides in Mill Valley, Calif., and you can follow her on Instagram @tieri_training.
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