Best Leg Exercises for Runner Workouts

Best Leg Exercises for Runner Workouts

Running workouts is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your fitness. By strengthening and developing your leg muscles, you can not only avoid injury but also significantly improve your athletic performance. If you want to have truly strong legs, thanks to which you can easily endure almost any load, then running workouts alone will not be enough.

Running, despite all its health benefits, is a traumatic sport, and many runners, regardless of age and level of training, have experienced various injuries and injuries at one time or another.

One of the main benefits of strength training is strengthening the leg muscles that are directly involved in running, which in turn significantly reduces the risk of running injuries. In addition, well-developed muscles succumb to fatigue more slowly and make your running technique more efficient and economical.

This means that you will need less oxygen to maintain your set pace. Strength training also involves increasing your muscles’ ability to produce force. A scientific review1 of 26 studies published in 2014 in The Journal of Sports Medicine found that strength training improved athletic performance in competitive endurance athletes.

In addition, there are a number of studies that show that this type of training can lead to improved endurance and improved running economy2,3,4.

Which Muscles Are Used During Running

To get the most out of your leg workout, you first need to understand which muscles are involved in running and how they interact. Unlike walking, during running, there is no double ground phase (when both feet touch the ground at the same time), and there is a lift-off of both feet from the surface (the flight phase). The faster you run, the longer the flight phase lasts and the shorter the ground contact period.

During the initial contact with the surface, the main load is taken by the quadriceps femoris or quadriceps (and especially one of its bundles the rectus femoris).

In addition, a strong contraction of the femoral heads of the quadriceps prevents hip flexion at the knee joint during landing. At the same time, the muscles of the lower leg the soleus, and gastrocnemius also help absorb the impact.

To ensure the separation of the supporting leg, the posterior thigh muscle group, the hip flexor muscles, the quadriceps muscle, the gastrocnemius, and soleus muscles are included in the work, the last two act as a kind of springs. At the beginning of the flight period, the hip flexor muscles contract: the rectus femoris, the sartorius, and the tensor fascia lata.

When moving the leg forward, the iliopsoas muscle plays an important role. The extensor muscles of the hip joint, primarily the gluteus maximus, are important for runners.

At the moment of push, as well as during the back step of the free leg, this muscle is in a contracted state, while on the other leg it is stretched. The gluteal muscles also stabilize the pelvis and help keep the body upright.

Leg exercises

Some of the proposed exercises are performed in an explosive, jumping form. Research has shown that plyometric exercise improves running economy and athletic performance in long-distance runners5,6,7,8.
Squats


This basic exercise is aimed at developing and strengthening the muscles of the thigh, gluteal, and calf muscles.

Starting position: feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms bent at the elbows and located along the body, toes slightly turned.

How to do it: Gently push your pelvis back and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly lower, arms simultaneously rising up to about chest level.

Tips: Try not to bend your knees beyond the level of your feet and avoid deep lowering, this increases the load on the knee joints.

Jumping out of a squat
This exercise primarily develops the quadriceps, adductors of the thigh, gluteal, and calf muscles.

Starting position: feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms bent at the elbows and located along the body, toes of the feet slightly turned

How to do: Gently move the pelvis back and bend the knees until the thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly lower, then push off the toes and jump up, while the elbows go back, giving momentum to the jump. On landing, lower back into a squat and repeat the movement.

Tips: Try to avoid landing on straight legs and on your heels.

Stepping onto the platform with a hip lift
In this exercise, the main load lies on the quadriceps, biceps femoris, and gluteal muscles of the thigh.

Starting position: Choose a platform (bench, box, or cabinet) and place your left foot on it on a full foot. It is advisable to choose a height so that the thigh is parallel to the floor when stepping (the angle at the knee is 90 degrees). The arms are bent at the elbows and brought together in front of you at chest level.

How to do it: Leaning on your left leg, starting the lift, extending the supporting leg at the knee. When the leg is fully extended, continue the movement with the right leg, bringing the thigh in front of you until it is parallel to the floor. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds, and bending your left leg at the knee, gently place your right leg back on the floor.

Hand movement. During the lifting phase, unbend your arms so that at the top point they are straight and located on the sides, while lowering return them to their original position.
Adviсe:

  • To better load the muscles, do the exercises first on one leg, then the other, and not alternately.
  • Try to keep your back straight.

Explosive Hip Raise Steps

This exercise builds explosive strength and power in the leg muscles.

Starting position: Choose a platform (bench, box, or cabinet) and place your left foot on it on a full foot. It is advisable to choose a height so that the thigh is parallel to the floor when stepping (the angle at the knee is 90 degrees). The arms are bent at the elbows and brought together in front of you at chest level.

How to do it: To give momentum to the body, lightly push off the floor with your right foot, and perform a sharp rise, unbending the supporting leg at the knee. When the left leg is fully extended, make a small jump up and continue with the right leg, bringing the thigh in front of you to parallel with the floor. Then, bend your left leg at the knee, slowly lower your right leg back to the floor and repeat the movement.

Adviсe:

  • Make sure the platform stays stable even when jumping. To better load the muscles, do the exercises first on one leg, then the other, and not alternately.
  • Try to keep your back straight.

Split squats
This exercise targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Starting position: Stand straight, take a wide step back, and place the toe of the allotted foot on the platform (box, bench, or cabinet).

How to do it: Keeping your back straight, bend the supporting leg at the knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor, while the knee of the abducted leg drops down, then gently straighten the leg and repeat the movement.

Adviсe:

  • make sure that the knee of the supporting leg does not go beyond the level of the foot
  • To increase the load on the muscles, you can take dumbbells in each hand.

Explosive split squats
This exercise develops explosive strength and power in the leg muscles.

Starting position: Stand straight and take a wide step back, the toe of the abducted leg is on the platform, and the arms are bent at the elbows at chest level and are located in front of you.

How to do it: Keeping your back straight, bend your supporting leg at the knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor, while the knee of the abducted leg drops down. At the bottom point, lightly push off the floor, make a small jump up and land smoothly on a full foot. Hands during the jump go back, giving the body momentum.

Tips: the supporting leg is not fully extended at the top point, this reduces the load on the knee joint.

Squat on a curbstone on one leg
This exercise primarily targets the quads and hamstrings.

Starting position: Pick up a platform (bench, box, or cabinet) of the required height and stand with your back to it, arms bent at the elbows and brought together in front of you at chest level, the right leg is raised in front of you by 15-30cm.

How to do it: To maintain balance, move your pelvis back and slowly lower yourself onto the cabinet, while the raised leg does not touch the floor. Pause for 1-2 seconds, then, tensing the thigh muscles and straightening the supporting leg, perform the lift.

Tips: Try to keep your raised leg stationary.

One leg squat
This exercise develops coordination and agility, the main load falls on the quadriceps, biceps of the thigh, and adductors of the thigh, and the gluteal muscles are involved to a lesser extent.

Starting position: The back is straight, the arms are bent at the elbows and brought together in front of you at chest level, and the right leg is raised in front of you by 20-30 cm.

How to do it: Keeping your balance, gently moving your pelvis back, and doing a squat. Lower yourself until your thigh is parallel to the floor or slightly lower. Then, tensing the thigh muscles and unbending the supporting leg, perform the lift.

Adviсe:

  • Try to keep your back as straight as possible.
  • If you have problems with your knees, then it is better to abandon this exercise

Forward lunges
This exercise involves almost all the muscles of the thigh and gluteal muscles. Starting position: feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms at the sides.

How to do it: Take a wide step forward with your left foot so that the thigh of the left leg is parallel to the floor, while the knee of the right leg should just touch the floor. Engaging your glutes and hamstrings, take a step back and return to the starting position.
Adviсe:

  • Try to maintain a straight body position and make sure that the knee does not go beyond the level of the toe
  • To complicate the exercise, you can take dumbbells in both hands.

Jump lunges
This exercise develops explosive strength and power in the leg muscles.

Starting position: feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms bent at the elbows and brought together in front of you at chest level.

How to do it: take a wide step forward with your left foot so that the thigh of the left leg is parallel to the floor, while the knee of the right leg should just touch the floor. In the bottom position, push off with your feet on the floor, jump, and switch legs. Repeat the movement on the other side. Hands during the jump go back, which gives the body momentum.

Adviсe:

  • avoid landing on your heel
  • try to keep your back straight

Lunges to the side
This exercise primarily includes the gluteal muscles, quadriceps, and adductors of the thigh.

Starting position: legs together, back straight, arms bent at the elbows and brought together in front of you at chest level.

How to do it: Take a wide step to the right side, put the weight on the right leg, and bend the leg at the knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor, while the left leg is fully extended. Accelerate the leg, return to the starting position, and repeat the movement.

Tips: try to keep the knee of the supporting leg does not go beyond the level of the toe.
180-degree lunges
This exercise additionally engages the abdominal muscles and improves coordination.

Starting position: legs together, back straight, arms bent at the elbows and brought together in front of you at chest level.

How to do it: Turn your body 180 degrees and take a wide step forward with your left foot so that your left thigh is parallel to the floor, while your right knee should just touch the floor. Turning the torso in the opposite direction, take a step back and return to the starting position, then repeat the same movement on the other side.

Tips: try to keep the knee of the supporting leg does not go beyond the level of the toe.

Standing Forward Tilts

This exercise strengthens the back extensors, glutes, and hamstrings. Starting position: feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms bent at the elbows and brought together in front of you at chest level.

How to do it: As you push your pelvis back, tilt your torso until it is parallel to the floor, bend your knees slightly if necessary, but be sure to keep your back straight. At the bottom point, the gaze is directed forward, and the neck and spine form one line. When unbending, strain the muscles of the lower back and back of the thigh.

Tips: do not round your back, try to maintain a natural arch in the lower back.

One-Legged Forward Tilts

This exercise additionally engages the abdominal muscles and improves coordination.

Starting position: legs together, back straight, arms at the sides.

How to do it: Keeping your balance, bend forward while lifting your right leg up. At the bottom point, the torso and the raised leg should be parallel to the floor, while the arms are straightened and lightly touch the floor. Squeezing the muscles of the thigh and buttocks, lift the body, lower the leg back and return to the starting position.

Tips: If you lack flexibility, you can slightly bend the supporting leg at the knee.

Jumping on the platform

This exercise involves almost all the muscles of the legs and develops explosive strength.

Starting position: pick up a platform (box, cabinet, bench) of the required height and stand in front of it. Feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms at sides.

How to do it: Slightly move your arms back to give your body a little momentum, bend your knees and jump onto the platform. Lower your hips further down as you land, this will allow you to better load your muscles, then carefully step off the platform and repeat the movement. Tips: Try not to land with your legs straight or on your heel, this will reduce the shock load on your knees.

Jumping onto the platform on one leg

This exercise is a more complex modification of the previous one and allows you to improve coordination and agility.

Starting position: pick up a platform (box, cabinet, bench) of the required height and stand in front of it. Raise your right leg 10-15 cm.

How to do it: slightly move your arms back to give your body a little momentum, bend your supporting leg at the knee and jump onto the platform. When landing, further lower your hip down, this will allow you to better load the muscles, then carefully step off the platform and repeat the movement.

Tips: Try not to land with a straight leg or heel, this will reduce the shock load on the knee joint.

Jumping knees to chest

This exercise engages almost all the muscles of the legs, as well as the abdominal muscles, and develops explosive strength.

Starting position: feet shoulder-width apart, back straight, arms raised in front of you at shoulder level.

How to do it: in a sharp movement, jump up as high as possible, while trying to pull your knees as close to your chest as possible. During the jump, arms are extended in front of you at shoulder level.
Tips:

  • try to land with your legs slightly bent, this will reduce the shock load on your knees
  • avoid landing on your heel

Knee Jumps

This exercise is designed to develop explosive leg strength.

Starting position: bend your legs under you and kneel.

How to do it: Bend your body and move your arms back a little, then with a powerful explosive movement, bring your legs out from under you and land on your haunches.

The 5 MOST IMPORTANT Exercises for Runners

Conclusion

Exercising different muscle groups of the body is important for runners. These exercises can help improve running performance, injury prevention, and overall strength and endurance.

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