Strength Training for Runners: Become a Better Runner with These 6 Bodyweight Exercises

Would you like to improve your running? Then don’t just focus on endurance and leg strength. A stable core will help you get the most out of every stride. Plenty of runners underestimate the benefits of strong abs and back muscles for their running.

Why is strength training important for runners?

1. You optimize your running form

When you run, your weight is constantly shifting from one leg to the other. Your body has to work hard to stabilize your pelvis and trunk. Abs and back muscles are especially important for providing stability while running. If you have weak core muscles, you are more likely to compensate with other inefficient movements. This decreases the power of the push off, thus reducing the effectiveness of your steps.

Good to know:

It is essential to have a stable upper body to maximize the push off and develop an efficient form.

2. Stay injury-free

Many runners complain of post-run back pain. This is often the result of weak back muscles.

When you run…

…your body is subject to forces of up to three or four times your body weight. Over time, these small impacts can cause the intervertebral discs in your spine to lose fluid and shrink. When this happens, the ability to absorb the shock from running is reduced. Don’t worry, when we sleep this fluid loss is replenished and the discs return back to their original size.

But, the stronger your core is, the better equipped the muscles are to keep your spine stable and your runs injury free and fun.

Strength training for runners: 6 best exercises for a strong back and abs

  • Repeat each exercise 8–12 times and perform 3 rounds. Rest 90 seconds between rounds.
  • Incorporate these exercises into your workout 2x per week — with a break of at least 48 hours in between sessions.

Training Tip:

Make sure you do warm-up exercises first for approx. 15 minutes. This workout is great for something extra after a run.

1. Lunge and twist

Start:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, core engaged, and back straight. Open your arms out to the side with palms facing forward and hands at shoulder height.

How to perform the exercise:
Step forward into a lunge with your right leg. Be sure that your right knee does not go beyond the tip of the shoe. Rotate your torso and turn your upper body to the right. Hold that position for 2 seconds. Then return your body back to center and switch sides.

2. Low side plank with leg lift and swing

Start:
Begin in a Low Side Plank position. Make sure that your elbow is directly under your shoulder and your core is engaged. Additionally, activate your glutes and legs. Tuck your hips under to lock your pelvis into a safe and stable position. Ideally, your shoulders, hips and legs should form a straight line. 

How to perform the exercise:
Lift your top leg up in the air. Activate that core throughout the entire exercise. Keep your hips stacked on top of each other and your pelvis straight. Move your leg forward and backward. The idea is to perform this exercise in a controlled manner, so make sure you hold each position for about 2 seconds to really get the most out of the exercise. Return to the starting side plank position and then switch to the other side.

3. Marching bridge

Start:
Lie down on your back and start to activate your abs. Bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor. Your arms can just rest right by your side, palms facing down.

How to perform the exercise:
Press through your heels to lift your hips off of the floor and engage your glutes. Your shoulders, pelvis and knees should form a straight line. Lift your left leg up, maintaining a 90 degree angle with your leg, and hold this position for 2 seconds. Your foot should be flexed the entire time. Control the release of your foot back onto the floor and then switch to the other side.

4. Quadruped limb raises

Start:
Start on all fours. Put your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Place your knees are directly underneath your hips. Make sure your core is activated, eliminating any arch in the back. Be sure that your upper back is awake and ready.

How to perform the exercise:

Extend your left arm forward and your right leg back, lengthening between the heel of your right foot to the tips of the fingers on your left hand. Keep your foot flexed throughout the movement. Hold the position for about 2 seconds and then return to the starting position. Don’t forget to do the other side.

5. Quadruped trunk rotation and crunch

Start:
Once again, we will start this exercise on all fours. Put your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Place your knees directly underneath your hips. Keep your back straight.

How to perform this exercise:
Lightly place your right hand on the back of your head. Keep a tight core as you lift your left leg and bring your left knee to your right elbow. Rotate your upper body to the right while simultaneously lifting your left leg up to the side. Be sure to maintain a 90 degree angle with your leg. Be sure that your hips are square to the ground throughout the exercise. Hold each position for 2 seconds before returning to start. Switch to the other side.

6. High plank knee-to-elbow + side knee raise

Start:
Start out in a high plank position. Your hands should be on the floor underneath your shoulders, shoulder-width apart. Engage your glutes and activate the core to keep your back straight. Your shoulders and hips should be in a straight line.

How to perform this exercise:
Keep that strong high plank position. Bring your right knee to the outside of your right elbow first. Then raise that knee out to the side maintaining a 90 degree angle with your leg. Control the movement and be sure to hold both positions for 2 seconds. Your shoulders and hips should always form a straight line. Keep your hips square to the ground and your glutes and hips tucked and tight throughout the exercise. Return to the starting position and switch to the other side.

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