The 5 Most Important Exercises for Runners

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If your running sucks, it might be because you’re weak AF… just kidding, not really. Look, we all want to be better runners. To run faster for longer and feel like we’re cruising while everyone is huddled over a trash can hurling up their GU gels. But here’s the hard truth most runners don’t want to admit: they are weak. Don’t worry – I’ve got the fix with 10W2S’s founder and resident physio-therapist, Sam Shearman.

In this article, I’ll go deeper than I normally do and squash all myths about run strength training with the help of a medical sports professional. We’ll clear up all the confusing stuff while also giving you 5 bodyweight-only run-specific strength training workouts that you can do right now in your house with no equipment. If you’re a more advanced gym rat, you can make these harder with weights/resistance.

We’ll touch on exactly;

  • The five different exercises
  • Split Squat, Single Leg Deadlift, Bent Knee Calf Raise, Push Ups, Side Plank (Knees) + Leg Raise
  • What they are
  • Why they are important
  • How to do them
  • And example sets

We are not your medical specialists or your personal doctors. We do not know your specific individual condition and this should not be treated as a diagnosis or treatment regime. Please take this as information and entertainment only to help better inform you to go to a specialist for further help.

Bulgarian Split Squat: Elegantly Simple Leg Torture

What’s it about? A no-nonsense approach to boosting single-leg strength, because balancing on one leg shouldn’t only be a party trick.

Why this madness? It mirrors running’s demand on your legs, powering up your quads and glutes for that extra zip in your step.

Execution: Pretend you’re about to sit, then stand with one leg playing hooky on a bench. Lower yourself until you start questioning your decisions, then stand up. It’s simple, effective, and a bit brutal.

Workout Example:

  • Reps: 10 per leg
  • Sets: 3
  • Rest: 60 seconds between sets

Variation/Progression: Add weight/resistance of any kind in both hands or in a backpack (books, dumbbells, kettlebell, that 2 litre/half gallon of water, etc.) d to make it more difficult or go slower on the “down” part (eccentric), hold at the bottom for 2-3 seconds (isometric) and power quickly through the up phase (concentric).

Single Leg Deadlift: The Graceful Picker-Upper

The essence: Like bowing to pick up your ambitions off the floor—with style and one leg airborne.

Why bother? Stability isn’t just for ships. This exercise shores up your hip stability, making your running form something to admire.

How-to: Lean forward as if to retrieve something valuable, keeping one leg back as if it’s avoiding deadlines. Balance is key, even if it feels like a comedy act at first.

Common goof-up: Losing the neutral spine position by rounding the back, which can lead to back pain and reduced engagement of the target muscles.

Workout Example:

  • Reps: 8-10 per leg
  • Sets: 2-3 per leg
  • Rest: 30-45 seconds between sets

Variation/Progression: Add weight/resistance of any kind in one or both hands (dumbell, kettlebell, that 2 litre/half gallon of water, etc.) to make it more difficult or go slower on the “up” part (eccentric), hold at the bottom for 2-3 seconds (isometric) and power quickly through the down phase (concentric).

Bent Knee Calf Raise: Stealth Calf Power-Up

What’s this now? It’s lifting your heels off the ground as if trying to sneak up on someone—subtly.

And why? Because your calves are unsung heroes, soaking up the impact of your adventurous strides. This strengthens them, quietly.

Doing it right: Stand on a step, bend your knee, and raise your heel like you’re testing the floor’s integrity. It’s a small move with big implications.

Typical error: Not maintaining a bent knee throughout the exercise, which fails to isolate and effectively work the soleus muscle.

Workout Example:

  • Reps: 10-25 per leg
  • Sets: 2 per leg
  • Rest: 30-45 seconds between sets

Variation/Progression: Add weight/resistance of any kind in both hands or in a backpack (books, dumbbells, kettlebell, that 2 litre/half gallon of water, etc.) to make it more difficult or go slower on the “down” part (eccentric), hold at the bottom for 2-3 seconds (isometric) and power quickly through the up phase (concentric).

Push-Ups: Not Just for Show

What’s the deal? Ground push-aways that remind you there’s an upper body involved in running too.

Purpose? Turns out, arm and core strength matter for running—keeping you upright and efficient, not just aesthetically pleasing.

Method: From a high plank, lower yourself until you’re just above the ground. Push up and feel the strength radiate from your core outwards. It’s about building strength that carries you forward – literally.

What often goes sideways: Allowing the hips to sag or pike up, which compromises core engagement and the overall effectiveness of the exercise.

Workout Example:

  • Reps: 10-20 (if you can do more than 20 please see variation/progression below)
  • Sets: 3
  • Rest: 45-60 seconds between sets

Variation/Progression: To make it easier you can be on your knees but make sure you brace your core. Add weight/resistance (put your feet up on a table, chair or high surface and/or use a weighted vest) to make it more difficult or go slower on the “down” part (eccentric), hold at the bottom for 2-3 seconds (isometric) and power quickly through the up phase (concentric).

Side Plank (Knees) + Leg Raise: Sideways Stability for Fun

What on earth? It’s planking, but sideways because life isn’t always straightforward.

Why endure it? It preps you for life’s (and running’s) unexpected side quests, enhancing stability for those off-the-beaten-path adventures.

Where people slip up: Letting the bottom hip sag towards the ground, which reduces the core and glute activation that’s crucial for the exercise’s benefits.

Workout Example:

  • Reps: 8-12 per leg
  • Sets: 2
  • Rest: 30-45 seconds seconds between sets

Execution strategy: Lie down as if to rest, then ruin it by propping yourself on an elbow and raising your leg as if to step over life’s minor inconveniences. Hold, ponder, and return – 2 sets, each leg x 8-12 reps.

Variation/Progression: Put your feet close together, add resistance bands around your ankles, or wear ankle weights.

Conclusion: Small Steps, Decent Gains

Running is (sometimes) hard. Life is (sometimes) hard. But doing these weirdly specific exercises might just make both a smidgen easier. Or not. But at least you’ll be a bit stronger, maybe more balanced, and potentially less likely to trip over your own feet in life’s metaphorical (and actual) potholes.

And as my guest Sam Shearman put it best “You can’t go wrong with being strong”. Well said, Sam. Well said.


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