One of the best ways to avoid those common running injuries like runner’s knee and shin splints is to perform strength exercises as part of your training routine. If you’re new to strength training, then doing bodyweight exercises is a great place to start.
In this guide, I’d like to share some of the best bodyweight exercises for runners. These exercises will help you become a stronger and less injury prone runner. In this guide we’ll explore:
- Why strength exercises are so important for runners
- Tips and advice for completing the bodyweight exercises
- The 9 best bodyweight exercises for runners
Why are bodyweight exercises important for runners?
Activities like walking, cycling and running are considered repetitive movements, in the sense that you move your joints and muscles in the same way many times. This repetitive motion can cause injury and strain to your joints, as well as imbalances in your body.
Strength exercises like the bodyweight exercises in this guide are essential to strengthen your joints and muscles so they become less prone to injuries and general wear and tear. Strength exercises also help to correct any imbalances that have been caused by any repetitive movement.
According to a 2017 study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, strength training when performed over an extended period of time can significantly improve maximal and reactive strength qualities, running economy and V02 max in competitive distance runners.
What types of bodyweight exercises are included in this guide?
The bodyweight exercises in this guide have been chosen because they target many of the major muscle groups in the body and help reduce the risk of injury in runners.
They have also been chosen because they require no equipment and are low impact and low risk, meaning you can do them from the comfort of your own home, without the need to go to a gym.
If you do these exercises regularly, over time they will do wonders to help you become a stronger and less injury prone runner.
Tips and advice on completing the bodyweight exercises in this guide
- Perform 15-20 repetitions of each bodyweight exercise in order to complete one full circuit.
- Complete three circuits 3 to 4 times per week. I recommend you complete the circuits after an easy run or after a harder session like a speed workout.
- Each circuit should take roughly 10 minutes to complete. Aim to have 1-2 minutes of rest in between each circuit before moving onto the next.
- The key is to perform each exercise as a controlled movement. Don’t be tempted to sacrifice speed over poor form and posture.
9 of the best bodyweight exercises for runners
The squat is a great multi-joint exercise for runners, in that it targets most of the major muscle groups in the body.
The key to doing a squat properly is your form and posture – make sure you keep your knees aligned over your ankles and keep your back straight when lowering down to the floor and pushing back up again.
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width apart, toes pointed slightly out, and hands clasped at your chest for balance.
- Send your hips back, then bend your knees to lower down as far as possible while keeping your chest lifted.
- Lower your body until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, then press through your heels to return to start.
Variations: jump squat, weighted squat, sumo squat, banded squat.
Walking forward lunge
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart then step forward with your right leg, placing your weight into your heel.
- Bend your right knee, lowering down so that it’s parallel to the floor in a lunge position.
- Without moving your right leg, move your left foot forward, repeating the same movement on your left leg. Pause as your left leg is parallel to the floor in a lunge position.
- Repeat this movement, “walking” forward as you lunge, alternating legs.
Variations: reverse lunge, weighted forward lunge, jump lunge, deep forward lunge.
This exercise is essential for any runner, especially if you regularly suffer with tight calf muscles.
Every time you run you put significant strain on the calf muscles, and common injuries like achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis are often caused by weak calves that can’t handle this strain. Calf raises help to reduce the risk of these types injuries.
- Stand up straight and push through the balls of your feet.
- Raise your heel until you are standing on your toes.
- Lower slowly back to the start then repeat.
Variations: banded calf raise
Side lying leg lift
The side lying leg lift targets the glutes, hips and thighs and it’s a great exercise to improve IT band health and help with IT band pain.
The iliotibial band (IT band) is a thick tract that originates in the hip and attaches itself to the knee and helps with thigh abduction and keeps the knee joint steady whilst you run. If it becomes tight or inflamed, this is what you call IT band syndrome which can be an annoying and painful injury for many runners.
- Lie on your left side so your body is in a straight line from head to toe and your right hip is directly above your left hip.
- Lift your right leg towards the ceiling and then return to a starting position.
Variations: standing side leg lift, banded side lying leg lift
Single leg glute bridge
The single leg glute bridge targets all three muscles within the glutes (also known as the buttocks). By lifting one leg only, you work your hamstrings and lower back, making it a much more intensive movement. It is a great exercise for hip mobility and lower back strength.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lift your right leg so it’s straight up in the air at hip height with your foot flexed.
- Keep your upper back on the floor, then engage your glutes and drive through your left heel whilst raising your hips off the floor until your knee, hips and shoulders form a straight line.
- Keep your core engaged throughout the entire movement.
- Pause at the top and remember to squeeze your glutes for one or two seconds.
- Lower back down to the floor and then switch legs.
Variations: glute bridge, weighted glute bridge, banded glute bridge
The donkey kickback is another good exercise for targeting the glute muscles. When you do this exercise, focus on your form and ensure your back isn’t sagging – let your glutes do all the work!
- Get on all fours with your knees hip-width apart, with your hands under your shoulders. Keep your neck and spine neutral.
- Engage your core and lift your right leg, knee staying bent, foot staying flat and hinging at the hip.
- Use your glute to press your foot directly towards the ceiling and squeeze at the top. Ensure your pelvis and working hip stay pointed towards the ground.
Variations: externally rotated donkey kick, straight leg extension lift, fire hydrant, spiderman donkey kick
The plank is the foundation of core muscle strength. Your core is important as a runner because it helps keep your trunk steady and helps with good posture while you run.
When you do this movement, avoid arching your back, sagging your hips, moving your shoulders towards your ears and tilting your head up.
- Begin in the plank position with your face down and your forearms and toes on the floor. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders and your forearms facing forward. Relax your head.
- Engage your core and draw your belly button towards your spine. Keep your torso straight and rigid and ensure your shoulders are down, not towards your ears.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds then release to the floor.
- Over time work up to 30, 45, 60 seconds.
Variations: plank with leg lift, plank with arm lift, side plank, side plank with oblique crunch,
The Superman pull helps to strengthen the muscles around your spine, including those in your lower back, and helps to prevent postural deviations in the back. This exercise also targets the glutes, hamstrings, upper back and shoulders and abdominal muscles.
- Lie on the floor in a facedown position with your legs straight and your arms extended in front of you.
- Keep your head in a neutral position (i.e. don’t look up) and slowly lift your arms and legs to around 15cm off the floor, or until you feel your lower back muscles contracting.
- Engage your glutes, core and the muscles between your shoulder blades.
- Aim to lift your belly button slightly off the floor to contract your abs – imagine you’re Superman flying in the air.
- Hold this position for 2 to 3 seconds then lower your arms, legs and belly back to the floor.
Variations: bird dog, cobra, standing Superman
This exercise is ideal to activate and strengthen your core muscles.
- Lie down on your back and raise your legs upright to a 90 degree angle. Feel free to spread your arms straight to your sides to provide more support.
- Rotate your legs to your right side – like a windscreen wiper motion – so they almost touch the floor.
- Pause for a second, then press your legs back up then turn to the left side, and press back up to the starting position to complete one rep.
Variations: bicycle crunches