The majority of the runners I’ve trained have one thing in common. They neglect lower body strength training because they don’t want to fatigue their legs. I can understand that thought process…
“I’m about to run 5 miles, so why would I do ANY LEG WORK EVER?”
Truth is, NOTHING helps you run more efficiently then strength training!
Please trust me, I would never have you do German Volume Training (10X10) for your legs and then tell you to go practice for your NYC Marathon, but there is definitely a healthy balance between your cardio training and your strength training. It’s like this…
The biggest muscle group in your body would be the Gluteus Maximus (AKA your glutes/butt). The glutes are the main movers of the hip. I’ve also found that when doing exercises while standing such as the Military Press for strength training, and Half Moon Pose for Yoga, the tighter I contract my glutes, the more support I feel for my lower back.
All major body movements come from the hip like sitting down, jumping, RUNNING, etc, and all major hip movements are caused by the glutes.
A strong Gluteus Maximus is not only nice on the eyes, but is also very important in everyday movements, but ESPECIALLY for running because your glutes are the main muscles that move your hips and push your feet down and back on the ground that propel your body forward! The Hamstrings and Calf muscles also aid this motion.
Squats, Deadlifts, Lunges… These are the best exercises (in my professional opinion) for glute strengthening.
It’s damn near impossible to not work the quadriceps (front of the thigh) while working the glutes. After all, every time you extend your leg, your quads are engaged. Something that’s very important to remember is NEVER be quad-dominant. Meaning, if you work the front of your leg (quads), you have to work the BACK (hamstrings) of the legs.
It’s just like any type of strength training program. You need symmetry. It drives me crazy when I see the same people in the gym day in and day out ONLY work on their bench press (chest) and NEVER do any lat/trap work (back). They end up having a caveman appearance with such tight anterior delts/pecs that their arms tend to internally rotate, coupled with a slight hunch because the front of their bodies are so tight/the back of their bodies never really match the load they put on their “front muscles.” They are chest-dominant.
Runners cannot be quad-dominant because you’ll tear your hamstrings from them not being able to take the load of the quads when they contract, plus take the momentum of the hip extension during your strides. Also, you won’t be running as fast since (as I said earlier) the hamstrings help you propel your body forward during a run.
Straight Leg Dealifts and Lying Leg Curls are the best exercises to strengthen your Hamstrings in my opinion.
The quadriceps and hamstrings are the muscles around the knee. Strong muscles around a joint such as the knee, protect that joint. That’s a good thing since your knees are always working when you run. Another reason strength training will help you in this situation!
Don’t forget about your gastrocnemius and soleus (calf) muscles either. Those muscles are just as important to exercise. The gastrocnemius muscle crosses the back of the knee, and has two heads, which provide stabilization to the knee, and your soleus anchors yours heel to your leg and helps maintain posture. Since the gastrocnemius crosses the knee, you can only exercise this muscle when your leg is locked out.
Standing calf raises work the gastrocnemius muscles, and since the soleus only crosses the heel, to isolate these muscles during your workouts, you need to flex your feet with your knees BENT! Seated calf raises work these muscles the best.
Make sure you have plenty of rest time between your lower body training and your running. Listen to your body. If your legs are still sore wait another day to run.
Glen is an Ex-personal trainer with a passion for health and Fitness. He has trained a variety of clients with goals ranging from weight loss and improved overall fitness to improved speed, strength, and sport performance.
In his spare time, Glen enjoys traveling, reading, golf, softball, poker, and rooting for the Atlanta Braves and Jacksonville Jaguars.