My Favorite Strength Exercises For Runners (as a Running Physio)

half marathon training

 There are so many exercises to choose from! But in a world with unlimited articles and google results for running strength exercises, it is easy to get overwhelmed with all the competing information – and to end up not knowing where to start or what to do. Let me help!

As a running-expert physiotherapist, I spend a lot of time prescribing strength exercises for my clients – both to runners who are recovering from injuries, and to runners who are trying to avoid injuries. I’ve worked with runners as a physio and strength coach for over a decade now, so I’ve accumulated a large library of exercises.

The exercises I will share with you in this article are just a few of my favorite exercises for all runners – no matter your pace, experience, injury history, or training goals. These are fundamental exercises that I think all runners need to frequently include in their strength training rotation.

The Fundamentals of Strength Training for Runners

Runners have unique strength training needs and their workout routines should resemble that!

Unlike other athletes and gym-goers, runners are typically not strength training to build muscle bulk, lose weight, or compete to lift super heavy weights.

Most runners are strength training with the primary goal of becoming a better runner – to run faster, run further, and avoid injuries.

That means that runners should be doing strength training exercises that will directly help them achieve these goals as a runner.

The exercises in this article (and in all our strength and rehab programs) are specific to the unique needs of runners.

What Makes a Strength Exercise Running Specific?

The best strength exercises for runners focus on one or more of the following things:

1. Develop better control around your core, pelvis, and torso area

Runners run best when they run smoothly. In order to run smoothly, you need to control your torso (the area between your shoulders and hips). This mid-section of your body shouldn’t be overly twisting, rotating, or bopping up and down while you run. Your torso is like a trunk of a tree – the more stable it is, the better support it can provide for your limbs to move with power and grace.

*note – a stable torso doesn’t mean a rigid torso. Your torso will naturally move slightly when you run (for example, your ribs rotate to support your swinging arms). However, you want to avoid wobbly, uncontrolled movements in your torso.

2. Improve balance and single-leg stability

Running is a series of leaping from one leg to another, landing quickly on one leg, then instantly taking off to land on the other leg.

If you don’t have good balance and stability in your ankles, knees, and hips you will, unfortunately, be placing extra, unnecessary strain on your joints, tendons, and ligaments, plus, running slower than your true potential.

3. Build stronger glutes, hamstrings, and calves

These three big muscle groups that make up the back of your legs are the powerhouse muscles that propel you forward and boost your speed.

Strengthening your glutes, hamstrings, and calves will help you run faster, get you up hills easier, and maintain your desired pace for longer.

Plus, these muscles are the biggest supporters of your hips, knees, and ankles, and so play a fundamental role in reducing the stress on your joints.

I recommend runners focus more on strengthening the back of their legs rather than the quads at the front of the thighs.

What Are (some of) My Favorite Strength Exercises for Runners?

This is by no means an extensive list (there are many, many I love for runners and our online exercise library has over 100 running-specific exercises!) but the exercises I’ve listed here give you an idea of the type of exercises runners need to do.

You’ll notice that each exercise fits the criteria listed above. And, best of all, none of the exercises require a gym – in fact, these exercises don’t use any equipment at all!

1. Side Plank with Leg Lift

Side planks are a great exercise for improving core control, and by adding the leg lift, you’ll also be improving pelvic control and glute strength!

2. Dead Bugs

Another example of a great core exercise for runners. The reason I love this exercise is that it focuses on keeping your torso controlled while your arms and legs move – exactly what you want to do when running. 

When choosing core exercises for runners, I always gravitate towards exercises that incorporate arm or leg movements while keeping the torso, spine, and pelvis control. By simulating a similar movement to running, you will be training your brain to strengthen the muscles in a way that will translate to your running performance.

3. Single Leg Elevated Bridges

Elevated bridges target the hamstrings slightly more than the glutes. This version of only using one leg not only increases the difficulty significantly but forces runners to strengthen each leg individually – an important component of running strength training since running is a single-leg activity.

4. Single Leg Toe Touches

Single-leg toe touches incorporate balance & stability training along with glute, hamstring, and core strength. This exercise (and many similar versions) appear very frequently in my prescriptions as I think runners who can master control in this type of movement, run significantly smoother and have far better control of their joints when they land on one leg.

5. Single-Leg Calf Raise Balance

Calves and ankles are often overlooked in strength training programs – most runners know they need to do ab and glute exercises, but forget about their calves. 

Strong calves and stable ankles are super important for runners! Feet and ankles absorb the initial contact of landing. By improving your calf and ankle strength, you will be able to land smoother and reduce the force of impact on not only your ankle joints but also your shins, knees, and hips.

Slow, controlled calf raises are a great way to practice single-leg balance, and simultaneously strengthen the calf muscles.

Alina Kennedy

Alina Kennedy

Founder and Physiotherapist @ The Runners Physio.

Alina is a physiotherapist and strength & conditioning specialist from Adelaide, South Australia. She graduated from the University of South Australia in 2011 and has over 10 years of experience as a sports physiotherapist focusing on running performance and injury rehabilitation.

In 2016, Alina started The Runners Physio with a mission to give runners better access to injury prevention and treatment options online. Her simple but effective approach to injury rehab has successfully helped thousands of runners overcome injury and get back to running faster and healthier.