The Best Leg Workout for Runners

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If you are a runner and you’re looking for the best way to increase your leg strength to really improve your run time and prevent injury, this leg workout for runners is for you!

A few years back, I trained for and ran the Rock n Roll Half Marathon. At the time, I remember training and thinking, “Well, my run is done for the day, so I can skip leg day, right?”

I am lucky I got through that first race injury-free.

Then, year two of my new tradition rolls around. I learned the hard way that even though running is great exercise for the whole body, you must, I repeat MUST focus on leg strengthening!

running up stairs

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Why Do Runners Need Leg Workouts?

I can’t even tell you how many runners I know who think that running is enough of a workout that they don’t need lower body training sessions. And while it’s true that running can be a full-body workout, running isn’t enough to keep you from getting muscle imbalances.

Shin splints, knee pain, IT band pain, and even lower back pain can all come from not having much strength in your lower body. And nobody wants any of those issues!

Of course, there are also purely “selfish” benefits, as I call them. By getting stronger legs, you can also run faster and farther – which may be important if you are a competitive person. Even if you don’t care to be the fastest runner in a race, just being more efficient with your runs can feel good in your body.

So yes, leg workouts are important. I think this would be my number one piece of advice for new runners. Otherwise, you’re putting yourself at risk for injury big time. That’s exactly what happened to me, so I’m here to try to prevent you from being in the same boat. 

Runners must strengthen legs and glutes for stability and to prevent those muscle imbalances/injury. Hopefully, you feel the burn and also reap the benefits of this leg exercise workout geared specifically for all you runners out there!

Leg Workout for Runners: 6 Exercises to Try

Check out my web story here to see a quick video demonstration of each exercise!

Clamshells

Pick a side any side! Lying on your chosen side, prop your head up with your arm closest to the ground. Rest the hand closest to the ceiling in front of you for increased stability while you find a good position that is stable for your hips. Bring your knees forward and bend them at a 90-degree angle, keeping your lower leg on the floor.

clamshells gluteus minimus exercise

Your neck, back, hips, and feet should be aligned in a straight line. With your lower leg remaining on the ground and keeping your feet together, open your knee closest to the ceiling up and out to the back of the room. Pause, then slowly bring the knee down to meet the other on the floor.

Bring the belly in for increased stability in your hips. Don’t overextend through the back; your chest should stay facing forward. Don’t forget to switch sides and hit the opposite side, too!!

The goal is to repeat 3 sets of 15-20 on each side. For any of these exercises, it’s totally fine if you have to work up to the max number of reps.

Benefits: Clamshells strengthen the glutes, improve stability, and increase flexibility through your hips and lower body..

Lateral Band Walks

With an exercise resistance band chosen for your desired resistance, loop the band around your hips comfortably above your knees. With a slight bend in the knees, arms out in front of you at the level of your chest with your hands clasped together, you’re all set in your starting position. 

banded lateral walks glute exercise

Keep your back straight, abs pulled in keeping your upper body as engaged as possible, and feet hip-width apart.

Walk to one side, then back to your starting position. It doesn’t matter if you start with the right leg or left leg, just be sure to hit both sides!

If you find your weight is shifted to the balls of your feet, then check your posture to ensure you’re upright with those core muscles engaged! Do this 10 times and repeat for 2 to 3 sets. 

Benefits: A great way to increase hip and knee stability!

Related: The Best Gluteus Minimus Exercises

Kettlebell Swings

For this exercise, you will want to choose a kettlebell that is challenging, but not impossible! Grab that kettlebell and with your feet hip width apart, you’re going to swing the kettlebell down between the thighs at the bottom of the movement. Don’t let your back curve and relax; keep your back flat and chest facing forward.

Use your hips to propel your body forward in an explosive movement to an upright position. Keep your core braced and squeeze the glutes through this movement and use your hips to drive the weight up to the level of the chest.

You’ll want to try 3 sets of 10 on this one. If you find that a heavy weight is too much to perform this exercise with good form, drop down to a lower weight until you master the movement.

Benefits: I love this exercise because it works so many major muscles in the body! I feel it in my core, glutes, and legs. 

Kettlebell Romanian Deadlifts

You’ll want to grab that trusty kettlebell again for the next exercise. In the standing position with the kettlebell in your hands, roll those shoulders back and down away from your ears. Lean forward slowly and hinge at the hips while keeping the back flat.

Keep the knees soft while concentrating on pushing your hips backward to the back wall, then slowly come up to standing position. Do this for 10 reps 3 times. For an additional challenge, you can try this as a single leg deadlift!

Benefits: This is an excellent exercise and one of the best ways to strengthen the entire posterior chain of your body and you’ll feel increasingly strong in your lower back.

Box Jumps

If you’ve got a box to use, then let’s get started. Oh, but don’t you worry if you haven’t got a box! You can always adjust this exercise by doing squat jumps or pop squats instead.

plyo box jumps

For the jump, start upright with your back straight and abs engaged. With feet shoulder width apart, get low for that explosive jump! Engage that core and get the knees upward to your chest as you jump up.

Try 3 sets of 10. I had to start with a basic squat and work my way up – remember, that sure is better than skipping leg day all together!

Benefits: Box jumps are an excellent way to build speed and power through strengthening those fast twitch muscles! Plus, you’ll be getting our heart rate up and improving your cardiovascular health

Related: Plyo Box Workout

Elevated Glute Bridges

Last but not least, bring it to the floor for elevated glute bridges! Lie on your back with your arms relaxed at your side. With knees bent, elevate the legs.

elevated glute bridges

I like to use my couch but you could use an ottoman, box, chair, or whatever works for the ideal height for you. Whatever you use, make sure it’s secure and won’t slip and slide when you shift your weight.

On the exhale, squeeze the glutes and elevate that booty! Elevated glute bridges are similar to floor bridges but you will feel these more in your glutes and less in your quad muscles.

Again, let’s try 3 sets of 10!

Benefits: Booty strength! Strong glutes are imperative to maintaining a strong body for any runner. Plus, I like how this is one of those body weight exercises you can do anywhere, anytime. Just remember to practice good form!

I feel so invigorated and confident after this workout, and I have to say, it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite leg workouts! Sure, it kicks your butt (no pun intended), but you can almost immediately feel that power and pep in your step that you can take with you on your next run after these strength exercises. 

Remember, proper form is key when performing these exercises. Not only do these exercises build strength, speed, and endurance, but most importantly, they help with injury prevention.

So, your body will definitely thank you on the next of your many future long runs when your stronger, powerful legs take you further and further!

In Conclusion!

As is the case with any strength workout, don’t forget to stretch before and after! Flexibility is just as important when trying to build up that explosive power!

Whether you’re a fan of a short, leisurely run, or a fan of longer distances, there are clear benefits of strength training. The best runners can tell you they make it to the finish line free of overuse injuries through targeted workouts that build muscle strength, explosive movements, and help them build to running longer distances.

The good news is these marathon runners and endurance runners will tell you you don’t need a weight room of high end equipment to build stronger leg muscles and target key muscle groups.

An added benefit is that targeting specific muscle groups also plays a huge role in weight loss, too!

Get more home workouts and fitness tips here!

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