Resistance training should be a staple in all distance running programs. Plain and simple, running is not enough to maximize performance and prevent injury. The more you run on top of dysfunctional movement patterns, the more dysfunction you create and are likely to become injured. Today, I want to highlight 4 very effective exercises with a lot of carryover to running. Please note that none of these exercises are done with selectorized equipment since our goal isn’t to isolate specific muscles, but improve movement patterns. Also take into consideration that these are a general recommendation and not specific to any particular person without first completing a movement screen to pinpoint any dysfunctional areas.
First up we have the split squat. This knee dominant exercise is a variation of the traditional squat. But, it is even more specific to running since we are working in a split stance position, exactly as we do in running. By focusing most of the weight on the front leg and using only the back leg for support, the goal is to lower the body straight down to the ground and not lunge forward (the knees should never pass the toes). Just by holding the body in a split stance we rely more on hip stability to ensure the front knee does not collapse inward (valgus collapse), and balance. Also, as you lower down you place the quadriceps and hip flexors of the rear leg on stretch, which can improve flexibility.
The cook hip lift may be one of my favorite hip bridging exercises. In the conventional hip bridge it is common to excessively arch the lower back. This is a problem and can actually cause the loss of spinal stability. In the cook hip lift you pull one knee to the chest as you drive through the heel of the other foot to lift the body off the ground. Just by pulling one leg to the body it causes your pelvis to slightly posteriorly rotate which will allow you to maintain a nice neutral lower back position. The muscles targeted in this exercise are the glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors.
The single-leg straight leg deadlift is a great deadlift variation which challenges the glutes, hamstring, spinal erectors, and balance. Keep a small bend in the knee as you hinge at the hip to lower the body towards the ground. It is essential to maintain good upper body posture throughout this exercise and do not round the back. As you lower towards the ground you may notice some stretching through the hamstring. At this point really emphasize the hip (gluteus maximus) to pull you back up and not by arching the lower back. Hip stability, core stability, and balance are even more significant in this exercise as you are only relying on one leg.
Lastly, I wanted to add a very functional core exercise. The suitcase carry is a very challenging, but easy to execute core exercise. By holding a weight as heavy as you can in one hand, it causes the body to want to laterally tilt towards that side. But if the core muscles on the opposite side are firing strong to keep you upright with the shoulders level, we are maintaining core stability. This is very specific to running since it’s essential to maintain stability while alternating weight from one leg to the other. If you don’t have a stable core, it changes how the other joints are functioning and causes the loss of efficiency.
Obviously, there are many great exercises for runners and this is only a very few that I feel have value. If you have a specific muscle that is weak then definitely a selectorized machine or isolated movement can address that. But, understand that increasing strength doesn’t necessarily mean better function. We need to address movement patterns not muscles, and these exercises do that. Some of the exercises are demonstrated with dumbbells in the video but the suitcase carry is the only one that needs to be weighted if you don’t have access to the equipment. Try these exercises out for yourself and let me know what you think. If you agree or disagree with one or all, I would love to hear why.
Garrett McLaughlin is an athletic trainer and strength coach in the Nashville, TN area. He enjoys being a source of valuable health & wellness information through his website and Facebook page. In addition to exercise and rehabilitation, Garrett uses active release techniques to correct any soft-tissue dysfunction. Contact Garrett for more information or questions.