Best Bodyweight Workout for Distance Runners

Justin Steele

Runners don’t always have the best, ahem, track record when it comes to avoiding injury. Part of the reason? Runners run—and that’s pretty much it.

“When you do the same motion over and over, odds are you’ll develop strength and flexibility imbalances as you overwork some muscles and ignore others,” says USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach Carl Leivers.

As those imbalances increase, so does your chance of injury, whether it’s shin splints, tendonitis, runner’s knee, or any other common running ailment. That’s where this workout comes in handy.

The exercises here will target movements that are neglected when you run to help correct any muscle imbalances you’ve created over time. But, other exercises in the routine will do the opposite—they’ll emphasize running-specific movements to train your body to recruit the correct muscles when you run to maximize your performance.

Duration: 10 minutes in all. Once you’re comfortable with the exercises, work up to three total circuits for a 30-minute strength workout that’ll leave you healthy, strong, and ready to tackle training for your next big race (even if that’s just the race to the bagel shop).

Directions: Move directly from one exercise to the next with little to no rest in between. When you work up to three circuits, take one min max rest between sets.

Prescription: Leivers recommends doing this routine three to four times per week, usually on the day of a harder workout or long run. That may seem counterintuitive, but Lievers says: “You can help jump-start the recovery process from your workout and allow your easy, recovery days to be truly easy.”

Ready to become a faster, stronger, more dynamic runner? Let’s get started.

1. Bodyweight Squat (repeat for 30 seconds)

Expert tip: Focus on form and let depth come naturally as you get more experienced with the exercise.

2. Eccentric Calf Raise (repeat for 30 seconds on each leg)

How to do it: Begin by standing on both feet and raise yourself on to your toes. Lift one leg off the ground and slowly (4-5 second count) lower yourself back to your starting position using just one leg. Place both feet on the ground and repeat.

Expert tip: Start this exercise on flat ground, then progress to doing it off a stair or curb. If you’re struggling to maintain your balance, use a wall or rail for support.

3. Backward Walking Lunge (alternate legs and repeat for 1 min total)

Expert tip: Push through your front heel as you come out of the lunge. Also, it’s OK to bring your feet together before starting the next lunge to help maintain your balance.

4. 1-Leg Balance Drill x 30 seconds each side

How to do it: Stand on both feet with your hands on your hips. Lift one leg and bring your foot in front of you (think of a 12 o’clock position). Swing it back to the center, hovering above the ground. Then, lift your leg to your right side (3 o’clock). Swing it back to the center, then immediately behind you (at 6 o’clock). Again, bring your leg back to the center, then go to your left side (9 o’clock).

Expert tip: Focus on staying balanced and keeping your elevated leg off the ground as you work through the movements. This exercise will challenge your arch and strengthen your ankle strength and alignment.

5. Double-Leg Hop x 30 seconds

How to do it: Imagine you’re using a jump rope. Take quick, low hops and focus on landing on the balls of your feet with short contact-to-ground time.

6. 1-Leg Squat x 30-second each side

How to do it: Stand on one leg with the other straight out in front of you or with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle. Slowly lower yourself into a squat position, stopping and coming back up if you see your knee start to “dive” inside of your toes (good form is key for this exercise), Leivers says.

Expert tip: Hold on to a rope wrapped around a sturdy pole, he says. You’ll be able to go much deeper with proper form as you build up strength in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and lower leg muscles.

7. Front Plank x 30-second hold

How to do it: Balance on your elbows and toes with your back straight.

Expert tip: Don’t arch your hips up and keep your neck straight by looking in front of you, not at the ground.

8. Side Plank x 30-second hold each side

Expert tip: Make sure your shoulders, hips, and ankles are aligned and that you don’t have any bend in your waist.

9. Reverse Plank x 30-second hold

Expert tip: Keep your back straight and don’t let your hips drop.

10. Lateral Leg Raises x 30 seconds each side

How to do it: Lie on your side with your bottom knee in front of your body, bent at roughly 90 degrees. Make sure your shoulders, hips, and the knee and ankle of your top leg are all aligned. Without rotating your hips back, raise your top leg and bring it back down.

Expert tip: “This is not a range of motion exercise, so don’t worry about how high you raise your leg, focus instead on keeping your hips stable,” Leiver says.

11. Single-Leg Bridge Holds x 30-second hold each side

How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hug one knee to your chest with both arms, and bring that leg off the floor. Bridge your hips (with one leg on the ground, the other in the air) up and hold for 30 seconds. Come back down and hug your opposite knee to your chest. Bridge for another 30 seconds.

12. Clam Shells x 30 seconds each side

How to do it: Lie on your side with both knees bent at 90 degrees in front of your body. Your shoulders, hips, and ankles should be aligned. Keeping your feet together and making sure your hip doesn’t rotate backwards, raise your top knee. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then return to the starting position.

Expert tip: Like the lateral leg raise, don’t worry about how far your bring your knee up. “Focus on keeping your hips in the correct position as you raise your knee,” Leivers says

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