Running is a full-body workout that millions of people have used to get in shape and stay that way. But runners cannot get by on running alone. The best runners know that strength training is key, especially when it comes to improving their speed, endurance, and overall health. And despite what newcomers might think, a good run does not count as “leg day”, no matter how far you go.
Building strong leg muscles with leg workouts for runners means having the power and ability to go the distance, whether that is a jog around the block or a 10k. Stronger leg muscles are also more economic leg muscles, meaning they carry oxygen more efficiently and carry the runner further, faster. It’s a win-win situation that every runner should find themselves in. Strength training doesn’t have to be an all-day power session to yield results, either. Just a few sessions a week will make a runner faster, more stable, and ready to face the next big challenge.
Benefits of Strength Training
It’s hard to put rankings on the benefits of strength training and leg workouts for runners. It is, however, easy to say that strength training lays a solid foundation on which runners can build. That is to say, it promotes injury-prevention and it does so for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reason is that strong muscles are less likely to take on damage when they are put under strain.
Naturally, strength training a runner’s legs is the best way to maximize this resiliency. But that is not all it does. Most of the motions necessary for strength training are different from the motions that the legs are put through while on a run. Once the muscles become accustomed to this new style and range of motion they are more adaptable and are less likely to react poorly when a footfall goes wrong or the runner’s gait slips off-rhythm. It’s a winning combination that helps keep runners on their feet.
Strength training also boosts a runner’s “economy”, which is the way their muscles use oxygen to increase speed and the distance they can cover. One study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that runners who went from no strength training to a three-day-a-week routine saw an increased endurance without any marked increase in body mass.
The body mass impact might seem unimportant but many runners avoid the weight room because of a long-standing myth that strength training bulks a person up and slows them down. But it is just that: a myth. It should not keep anyone from the weight room.
When To Strength Train The Legs
Jason Fitzgerald, a running coach, has some very specific suggestions on when runners should work strength training their legs into their schedule. He suggests that runners spend ten to twenty minutes after every run on exercises that specifically target the muscles used in running. Squats, jumps, and lunges are a few good options though there are other options listed further down in this article.
In addition to these short post-run strength sessions, Fitzgerald recommends that runners hit the gym or strength train in their own home twice a week. Runners can mix runner-specific movements with more generalized and varied exercises.
The Best Leg Workouts for Runners
Start with working on those lower leg muscles. Space your feet a few inches apart (some variations call for a wider stance) and ground your weight through your whole foot. Slowly shift your weight towards the balls of your feet as you go up on tip-toe. Hold the raised position for a few seconds, then slowly lower back to your original position.
Squats work the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. If you’re up for a little more full-body impact, grab some hand weights or a barbell (with a spotter) to get your core and shoulders involved.