8 bodyweight exercises to build leg strength for runners
Top ultra-runner & coach Damian Hall (1st Ultra Tour Monte Rosa, 5th UTMB) takes us through his top 8 leg strengthening exercises to include in your next home workout. Stronger legs are key to helping you delay muscle fatigue, aiding running technique, boosting your confidence on the trails and making you less likely to face plant (some good grippy trail running shoes will help with that too!).
Suitable for beginners and experts alike - start with 3x 8 reps per exercise and then gradually add some weight and/or increase sets over time. Always think quality (good technique) over quantity.
These are excellent for strengthening and activating glutes, especially for those who sit down a lot. Place feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing slightly outwards and keep a straight back as you squat down so bum is level with knees. Then back up and repeat.
When standard squats feel easy, try this, the gold standard for runner-specific strength and balance. They make each leg work in isolation, as they do when running, simulating all the muscles in each leg. Done correctly, the raised foot doesn't touch the floor.
Another great way to isolate one leg's kinetic chain at a time and work on weaknesses. From a standing position, take a long step forwards as if performing a lunge (see below). Keeping your torso straight, and the heel of your back foot raised, lower yourself slowly until your back knee almost touches the floor. Then push back up. And repeat.
Now for a real quad-burner. Simply plant yourself against a wall in the squat position… and see if you can stay there for three minutes without flinching. Your language may get colourful.
The lunge improves single-leg balance, stability and coordination and may even aid increased stride length. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Take an exaggerated step forward, bending your knee, while lowering your hips, and return to the start position. Repeat x10 before switching to the other leg.
However, it’s fairly easy to put too much pressure on the knee when doing a forward lunge, so the reverse lunge is often a better place to start. Simply take a large step backwards and lower your trailing leg until both knees are bent at 90°, then push back up. This helps build functional power.
This comes from ballet and is a huge test of balance and stability, and a good glute and ankle strengthener. Try to get as straight as possible (ahem, straighter, ideally, than our tightly hamstrung model here) while horizontal, aside from your one leg to balance. Lower yourself gradually by bending the knee, and come back up. More difficult than it looks!
This closely mirrors running biomechanics and will power up your glutes. Step up onto a stair or step of some sort, then drive your trailing leg up too and up towards your chest, maintaining 90˚ at the knee. Then step back down. These are awesome for those stuck indoors at the moment. Try to do 30-50 on each leg.