4 Essential Lower-Body Exercises for Runners

Check out these exercises designed to improve strength in the posterior chain and improve both speed and efficiency for runners.

Running requires the most effort from an athlete's legs. But running efficiently requires more than strong quads. In reality, the posterior chain is the key to running economy.

A strong backside is essential for balanced general movement and running efficiency. The lower back, hamstrings, glutes and calves are the muscles that provide the energy to move the body forward. A strong lower back keeps the spine straight and extended. Strong glutes support the hips and keep the femurs in line. Ever-pesky hamstrings are the key to flexion in the knees and hips while keeping them stable. Calf muscles help the hamstrings support the knees while also supporting the ankles.

Runners find it easy to lull themselves into thinking about building their quads. They use them for squatting and running. But, the quads were not designed to propel the body up from squat or move the body forward when running. In fact, relying too heavily on one muscle does more than slow runners down. Failure to develop a strong posterior to balance out the quads can result in injury, because the muscles are not strong enough to keep everything in line while absorbing the impact from running.

Exercises for Developing the Posterior Chain

Check out these exercises designed to improve strength in the backside and improve both speed and economy for runners.

Squat Variations

Most runners need to overcome the imbalance created by strong quads and a weaker posterior. Squats are a good place to start to swing the balance back into order. Squats are also great for improving knee stability, which runners tend to struggle with.

Adding Air Squats into a routine helps teach the Squat movement to those unfamiliar with it. For those who want to add weight, Box Squats are a good place to start, because they provide an opportunity to gather a sense of space and achieve full range of motion.

Maintaining proper form when squatting is essential for runners who want to improve their power. Proper form engages the full chain. Failure to achieve proper form results in bandy knees or placing excessive focus on one muscle instead of using the whole chain. This is counterproductive. It not only fails to build strength in the right places, it makes the Squat far more work than it needs to be.

At the end of the day, the Squat is a popular exercise because when performed correctly, it builds strength and shows the body how to work more efficiently.

Hip Thrusts

Many great butt exercises translate well for working the posterior chain, and Hip Thrusts are no exception. They are great for building the posterior chain and promoting the explosive power that sprinters desire.

Hip Thrusts require horizontal force. You must send your weight against gravity in a horizontal motion—different from the vertical movement required for Squats and Deadlifts because it is more closely tied to speed.

Because speed is not a bilateral issue, hip thrusts are a good place to include single-leg variations. Unilateral sets take longer, but they are worth the time, because the muscle fibers get more activation when performed one leg at a time.

Runners new to the gym can start out performing Glute Bridges, which are bodyweight exercises with a smaller range of motion. Once comfortable, they can move on to Hip Thrusts, which can be performed with only bodyweight or with a barbell.

Deadlift

The Deadlift is a basic lift that runners tend to neglect, primarily because it is difficult at best. It requires a smooth movement from the whole body. Plus, it is particularly problematic for runners who already have issues with tight hamstrings or hip muscles.

Form is essential for performing the Deadlift. Correct form facilitates the movement of a heavy load up and down, perfect for focusing on hip alignment and knee flexion. Deadlifts are performed not by pulling with the arms but by pushing with the posterior chain and extending the hips and knees.

Glute Hamstring Raise

Hamstrings are best trained using low reps and heavy weights to target more fast-twitch muscle fibers. Glute Hamstring Raises include a curling action that targets hamstrings and glutes, and increases knee flexion.

The Glute Hamstring Raise is a versatile exercise. Runners can scale it for beginner, intermediate and advanced lifters. For example, eccentric raises can be substituted for basic raises to build strength faster, which improves sprinting.

These exercises are not just a way to run faster or longer. They improve a muscle group that plays an important role in basic movements. Including one workout a week designed for the posterior chain can help a runner hit the track with more power than he or she believed possible.

It is possible to run faster or longer, and a strong posterior makes it easier to cross the finish line.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: SQUAT | LOWER BODY | QUADS | DEADLIFT | HAMSTRING | RUNNING | GLUTE HAM RAISE