Strength and movement exercises for runners
Written By: SportsShoes
Personal trainer Andy Mellor guides us through a series of strength and movement exercises that are particularly beneficial for runners.
In my experience runners in the gym gravitate towards the following exercises; planks, squats, sits ups and the leg extension machine. Very quickly this strength training becomes redundant when we are trying to improve our running.
In my opinion, there are so many better options to improve both strength and movement.
Within the muscular system is a group of muscles and ligaments that work in coordination called sling systems. These systems are best demonstrated in the gait cycle, where the glutes and the lats work in combination to create and control force. Training muscles using isolated movements, like leg extension, maybe okay short term for an injured runner, but will do very little to improve the body’s ability to generate force and do even less to improve running economy.
SLING SYSTEMS & KEY EXERCISES
There are 4 sling systems: the posterior oblique, anterior oblique, deep longitudinal and lateral system.
I have chosen exercises that incorporate these sling systems but don’t involve a massive focus on learning. Example exercises include kettlebell swings, wood chops and bird dogs with a row.
Within the realm of functional lifting, you find many complicated exercises that can take weeks and months to learn and ultimately the payoff is negligible. Typical running programs focus on exercises that are either overly complicated to learn, can look comical in the centre of the gym, or are typical rehab exercises with too minimal a load to make long term changes.
1. KETTLEBELL SWINGS
Kettlebells are an incredibly effective training tool. The swing is perfect for the runner wanting powerful hips. When mastered is incredibly beneficial, it comes with similar benefits to those you get with Olympic lifting but is much easier to learn and use.
Because the weight is thrown away from the body there are huge compound benefits, as the body must control the moving object, this results in strong and powerful hips. The key is to go heavy.
Start off with the kettlebell on the floor and adopting a gorilla like stance, swing the kettlebell underneath the glutes, keeping a straight athletic back and powerfully stand up straight. Opening up the hips, not curling from the lower back.
The lats and glutes should be working together.
Start off using the double arm swing and then seek to work towards the single arm swing. When experienced and competent with double hand swing, try further variations such as the staggered stance swing which places more load of the trailing leg.
- Single arm swings
- Staggered stance swings
2. BIRD DOGS WITH ROW
The bird dog and dead bugs are great starter exercisers for developing trunk strength while incorporating contralateral movement.
We can improve these movements and increase their benefit. An alteration I was taught this and love to include in my athletes’ programs takes the original birddog exercise, which is used to improve stabilisation in the trunk, and adds a weight to create further imbalance and the need to tighten the trunk to lift the weight.
You will need a dumbbell and box.
Using a box or bench with plenty of space, place the right hand on the box underneath the shoulder and keep the left knee at a right angle. You need to keep the hips straight and lift the right leg. It is important to keep the reverse leg straight but not hyper extended. Now using the left hand row the dumbbell to the side of your body (until the back of your arm becomes horizontal with the ceiling).
3. SUITCASE CARRY (anterior oblique sling)
I love this exercise. I like the feel of it and really believe it has a huge crossover benefit for running.
The side plank is a great strength exercise and helps to build strong obliques, however the suitcase carry gives more benefits than a side plank, so I prefer to use this exercise.
Stand tall and holding a dumbbell, walk for around 30 seconds and then swap hands. You will feel the sides of your trunk, and possible the opposite glute, fight hard to maintain stability and alignment.
It is so simple too, I always tell my athletes to walk with perfect posture like you are on a catwalk, this slows the athlete down and allows them to focus on the movement. It is also much better without shoes, as I think there is a huge pay off in strengthening the toes and shoes don’t give us the same feedback with the ground.
4. WOODCHOPS/OBLIQUE TWISTS
An almost forgotten exercise in the gym, this exercise really helps improve how force is generated from the toes upwards. I love this exercise because it works really well as a superset.
Starting in clean position, hold the medicine ball on the inside of your left ankle. Focusing on the feet to generate force, explode upwards opening the hips up and pulling the ball above the opposite shoulder.
Rather than isolate muscle groups we are trying to reinforce the way the body works as a unit, contralateral movements like the gait cycle are best.
5. DEADBUG (with isometric contraction)
This simple trunk exercise is much tougher than it looks. It is a perfect stability exercise to learn to improve posture as it really hits the deeper trunk muscles.
Laying in a dead bug position, place the right hand onto the left knee, then push them into each other using equal force. Then straighten your opposite leg and arm and return, repeating for 8 reps, do this on both sides to complete one set.
Additional strength exercises:
- Jumps (e.g., pogo, broad, triple extension)
- Copenhagen plank to side lunges
- Calf raises on to jumps
Andy Mellor is a level 3 Personal Trainer and Level 4 Strength and Conditioning Coach.
Contact for more information and training programmes: Runfastcoachinguk@gmail.com