If you’re like a lot of runners, especially those just getting started, then you might think that running in itself is enough of a leg workout. I can certainly understand why many of us think so, those first few weeks of running will give you enough aches to make you believe it! But you might want to rethink this idea if you want to keep running injury free! Leg exercises for runners are an essential part of training if you want to add miles without injuries.
Not everyone has access to a gym and expensive equipment (me included). So, with that in mind, I have kept this list home workout friendly. These exercises are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to helpful leg exercises for runners but it should help get you started!
Leg Exercises for Runners, Become a Better Runner
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Leg Exercises for Runners- Ankle Support
This is a great exercise for increasing ankle strength and stability which is especially important for runners who suffer from frequently rolled ankles. Even better, they are very easy to do and in the realm of leg exercises are pretty low key. To perform a calf raise stand on a flat surface with your legs shoulder-width apart. Raise yourself up onto your tiptoes, hold the position for 2-5 seconds and then lower yourself back slowly to the ground. 12-15 Repetitions of this movement is a good amount to start with. If you want to increase the difficulty do this exercise holding dumbells and slowly increase the weight over time.
Standing One Leg Balance
Running is an activity that takes place on one leg. Every stride is basically a fraction of a second where one foot has to balance our entire body while propelling us forward at the same time. Bad balance is generally the result of weak joints and muscles but good news! Balance is an easy and relatively pain-free skill to master. The standing one leg balance is a great first step. To start with feel free to do this exercise standing behind a chair so that you can hold onto it for support as needed.
To perform the standing one leg balance simple stand on a stable flat surface and attempt to stand on one foot for 10-15 seconds at a time. Alternate legs and repeat the exercise 5-10 times a day. Gradually increase the length of time you can hold the position until you can stand comfortably on one leg for up to one minute at a time. If you’re feeling bold at this point you might consider attempting the exercise with our eyes closed, adding movement such as single leg squats or, forward bends. If you are interested in Yoga this would be a good time to practice tree pose.
Heels drops are like calf raises on steroids. While the exercise incorporates a calf raise it adds a little extra to the motion by also stretching the foot downwards and strengthening the tendons and muscles near the heel of your foot. These tendons and muscles are essential for ankle stability.
To perform a heel drop stand on the edge of a step on the ball of your foot. Raise yourself up into a calf raise and then slowly lower your weight down, until your heels drop below the step. You should feel a good stretch throughout your Achilles tendon while doing these. It’s okay to start out with this exercise near a railing for balance but as you progress try to perform them without help and eventually while standing on one leg. Repeat 10 times.
Leg Exercises for Runners – Knee Support
Lunges are a great exercise when it comes to knee stability. The range of movement required to perform a lunge works many of the muscles and connective tissues that help keep your joint stable when you run including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes.
That said my husband calls lunges the devil’s exercise and for good reason! Overdoing it on the lunges will have you hobbling about for a couple days and while some people enjoy that after workout pain I prefer to avoid it when possible. If you like to ‘feel the burn’ then have at it, but if you prefer not to deal with DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness) then go easy on the lunges! Build your repetitions up slowly.
Performing a basic lunge is pretty simple! Take a big step forward with one leg and then lower yourself slowly until that leg is bent about 90 degrees. Raise yourself up and return to the starting position. as you progress with lunges or want to add more difficulty you can look into walking or side to side lunges.
Although I have place mountain climbers in the knee support section of this list they really are a full body workout. Mountain climbers are a dynamic exercise that gets your heart rate going and can help you improve joint flexibility. Improving the range of motion in your hips and knees will make each stride you take as a runner more efficient and less prone to injury. This exercise is also a great one for improving our coordination and agility, basic aspects which are often undervalued but might save you on uneven trails!
To perform a mountain climber place yourself in a pus up or plank position. Your arms and legs should be straight with your weight balanced on your hand and toes. Bring one foot forward towards your chest, plant the ball of your foot on the ground below your hips and then return it to the starting position. Repeat this action with the other leg. As you get used to the movement try to complete the motion at a faster pace. Make sure you keep your lower back and hips straight and neutral, you don’t want your butt in the air or your hips to start sagging!
This exercise doesn’t take long to tire you out! Continue it for as long as you can and slowly ramp up the time and speed.
Squats in general, especially jump squats sometimes get a bad rap for putting too much pressure on the knees. The truth is that this range of movement has been shown to strengthen the knees and ankles and make them less susceptible to future injuries. Should you perform this exercise while recovering from a joint injury? Probably not, most joint injuries require time away from impact exercises in order to heal – you might want to consider some other form of cross training while on the mend! But! If you want to lessen your chances of getting injured again in the future you might want to consider adding these to your routine once you’re healed.
Performing a jump squat is easy. Stand with your lower legs shoulder width apart on a stable flat surface. Lower yourself down into a typical squatting motion (pretend you are sitting down on a chair!). Make sure that your knees remain stable and don’t wander in or out, they should remain in line with your ankles and your weight should be centered over your heels. From this lowered position spring upwards and jump as high as you can while pulling your legs up towards your chest. Try to land softly on your toes and return to your squat position. Repeat this action 10 times and start with 2-3 reps.
Leg Exercises for Runners – Hip Support
Clams shells are a great way to strengthen your hips and thighs. Many runners who suffer from various knee pains spend time strengthening the knees while ignoring the hips. This approach generally leads to further knee pain. If you have a weak core and hips then your stride will suffer which will place more stress on your knee and ankle joints. Keeping our bodies healthy means spending time strengthening all of its various parts!
The great news about clam shells is that they are very simple to do! You can even do them while watching TV (as long as you don’t mind looking a little funny!) To perform a clam shell lay on your side with your knees bent at about 45 degrees. Place our legs on top of one another Keep your feet touching and raise your top knee up as high as you can without moving your hips or lower leg. The movement should remind you of a clam opening and closing its shell (hence the name). Pause for a moment and then lower your upper knee back to the starting position. Try to repeat this movement 20 times on each side. Take breaks if you need too while building up strength!
Side Leg Lifts
This exercise is great for working muscles that are often overlooked. Strengthening our lateral hip and glute motions can help prevent knee, lower back, hip, and IT band injuries. This exercise is deceptively simple looking but you’ll feel it once you get started so start slowly and gradually increase your reps unless you want to learn about muscles you didn’t even know you had the painful way! Start off with 2-3 reps of ten for each leg and slowly increase from there. Later on, if you want to increase the difficulty you can consider adding a resistance band around your calves.
To complete a side leg lift lay on your side with your hips and legs stacked on top of one another. Make sure your hips remain in line with one another, you want you back to remain straight and not twisted because your top hip drifts forward. Raise your upper leg until it makes a 45-degree angle with the ground and then slowly lower it back down.
The glute muscles are a well known but often overlooked portion of our core workouts. This is because most core exercises tend to focus on the back and abdominal muscles. While running our glute muscles help hold our pelvis steady and keep our upper bodies aligned. When this alignment is out of whack the lower joints suffer! Weak glute muscles are often the underlying cause of many running injuries including shin splints, runners knee, and It band problems.
You don’t have to worry though, there are many exercises you can do to strengthen these muscles. One of my favorites is the glute bridge. It’s simple to perform and doesn’t require either a lot of fo space or special equipment. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Let your arms rest comfortably at your sides. Press your weight into your heels and raise your hips towards the ceiling. Slowly lower yourself back down and repeat. Start with a simple set of 10 and gradually increase the number. Later on, you can lift one leg in the air to do one legged glute bridges for added challenge.