When you want to improve your race times or your running, what do you usually do? Do you run more? Or maybe you run different intervals or over different terrain? But do you ever change up or add in your strength training?
All too often runners simply try to run MORE or change up their running routine when they want to improve. But simply running more isn’t the answer.
If you want to become a stronger runner, you also need to include strength training in your workout routine. For runners, core and leg strength are especially important. But that doesn’t mean you have to hit the weight room and start deadlifting or squatting hundreds of pounds.
Here are 5 great Bodyweight Moves you can use to help improve your running. These moves will help get your glutes activated and strengthen your core to improve your speed and endurance!
Many are unilateral movements as well to help correct imbalances which can lead to injuries when you run!
1. Glute Bridge with March
Glute activation is often an overlooked component of a runner’s program. But having strong glutes is essential if you want to run faster and longer without pain or injury. Inactive glutes mean less power and even more risk for hip, low back and even knee pain.
That is why glute activation moves like the Glute Bridge with March are so important to include. Plus, moves like the Glute Bridge with March are great because they also focus on one side at a time to help correct imbalances that could lead to injury.
To do the Glute Bridge with March, lie on your back and place your feet about hip-width apart on the ground with your knees bent. Your feet and your knees should be in line and your feet should be just beyond your fingers when you stretch your arms down by your sides.
Then bend your arms to 90 degrees and, driving through your arms, upper back and heels, bridge up. Squeeze your glutes and brace your abs to bridge up.
Holding this bridge, lift one foot up off the ground, bringing your knee in toward your chest as if marching. Do not let your hips sag as you lift the leg. Move slowly to lift the leg then lower it back down and switch, bringing the other knee in towards your chest.
Do not let your hips sag as you march. Keep your abs engaged and really focus on making the glute of the leg that is down work to keep your hips up and do not let your low back take over just so you can keep your hips up higher.
2. Side Balance Leg Raises and Circles
There are three gluteal muscles - the glute maximus, minimus and medius. All play a role in powering hip extension while stabilizing the hip and preventing injury. That is why it is important to work all three muscles.
It is important to work your glutes in every plane of motion and even target the glute medius and minimus at points, which is exactly what the Side Balance Leg Raises and Circles do.
The Side Balance Leg Raises and Circles exercises are a great way to target those hip stabilizers and work each side independently to correct imbalances. Pairing the two Side Balance movements together is a great way to really work those glutes and open up those hips while even working the rest of your core.
To do Side Balance Leg Raises, start on one knee with your other leg straight out to the side and inside of your foot on the ground. Then place the same hand as the knee that is down on the ground outside of your knee so that you are a side balance position almost like a side plank.
From this position, lift your straight leg up to parallel to the ground and lower back down. Do not swing the leg to lift and make sure to keep your core engaged and squeeze your glutes forward. Slowly lift and lower, raising the leg up as high as you can each time, but do not rotate the toe open toward the ceiling.
Complete all reps on one side then perform the Side Balance Circles on the same side before switching!
To do the Side Balance Circles, stay in the side balance position and then lift the straight leg up to about parallel to the ground. Holding it there, begin to circle the leg from the hip. Make small circles forward for a set number of reps and then small circles backward.
Do not swing the leg or move your core to make the circles bigger. You want to focus on just circling at the hip and keeping the leg up as you circle so that you feel the outside of your glute and hip working.
3. Airborne Lunge
Leg strength, aka quad, hamstring and glute strength, are all important for a runner who not only wants to run faster but also have more endurance. And the Airborne Lunge is a great unilateral exercise to improve your leg strength while isolating each side to correct imbalances.
Plus, since this move includes a bit of a hip hinge movement, it is a great way to get those glutes working even more!
To do the Airborne Lunge, shift your weight to stand on one foot as you bend your other knee, bringing your foot back up toward your butt. When you sink down, you want to keep that back foot up off the ground. You can then reach your arms out in front of you at about shoulder height to help you balance.
Sit your butt back as you slightly hinge forward at the hips to drop your back knee down toward the ground. Load your glute and sit your butt back as you drop the back knee down. Do not touch the lifted foot to the ground as you touch that back knee down. Keep that foot lifted up toward the ceiling. And make sure to really sit back in your front heel.
Sink as low as you can, trying to touch the knee down, without your standing heel coming up. Then, once you’ve touched your back knee down, drive back up to standing, pushing through your standing heel to engage and use your glute to help drive back up to standing. Make sure you don’t rock forward onto the ball of your foot as you drive back up.
Stand up nice and tall and squeeze your glute at the top and then repeat the lunge on that side. Beginners may not be able to sink as low or may need a weight to help counterbalance the lunge. They can even hold on to a Suspension Trainer for balance as they sink down.
4. Plank with Reach Back and Out
This is a great core exercise to not only work your abs and shoulders but also your glutes and quads. It will improve your core stability and strength while also working on hip extension.
To do the Plank with Reach Back and Out, set up in a front plank from your hands and toes with your hands under your shoulders and your feet about hip-width to shoulder-width apart. Placing your feet wider will provide you with a more stable base to make the move slightly easier. Beginners can do this move from their knees as well.
Then from this plank position, reach one hand back and across toward the opposite ankle, pushing your butt up toward the ceiling as you reach almost as if doing a downward dog. Do not bend your knees.
After reaching back and across, reach forward and out toward the wall in front of you, dropping your hips back into a nice plank position. Engage your abs as you reach and extend out, but do not drop your hips too low and feel your low back engage. Keep your core tight to protect your low back as you come back into that nice plank position. Do not let your hips sag.
Then reach back and across with the same hand before extending back forward and out. Complete all reps on that side before switching.
Running is a contralateral movement, which means the opposite side of your upper body and lower body must work together to help you move efficiently. Crawling is another great contralateral movement that is super core-intensive with no impact to give your joints a break from the constant pounding of running.
Crawling will improve your mind-body connection to help you recruit muscles faster and more efficiently while also working your core, including your abs and quads.
The best crawl to start with is the Forward Tabletop Crawl.
To do the Forward Tabletop Crawl, first set up on your hands and knees with your knees under your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Then flex your feet and lift up onto the balls of your feet and your hands with your knees just an inch or so off the ground. Do not stick your butt way up in the air.
Then take a step forward with your left foot and right hand, keeping your knees close to the ground and your back flat. Make sure to brace your core so that your hips don’t wiggle a lot side to side as you crawl forward. Do not make your steps too big. Small steps to keep your core engaged.
Then step forward with your right foot and left hand. Keep crawling forward, moving the opposite arm and opposite leg together. Do not let your hips start to wiggle or your butt go up in the air. Keep your knees as close to the ground as possible as you crawl forward.
These are great moves you can do anywhere to help yourself become a stronger runner. They can be included on your off days as a short workout you can even do at home!
For more great exercises and workouts for runners, check these out:
Cori is the owner of Redefining Strength, a functional training facility in Orange County, California focused on helping each client find their strong. She started training and writing a fitness blog in 2011 because she wanted to empower people through diet and exercise so that they can lead healthier, happier lives.