You might run on two legs but it’s single-leg strength you need to be able to run strong and injury-free. With that in mind, here are our top five single-leg exercises that every runner needs to add to their weekly strength and conditioning session.
Running is the most simple sport in the world: all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other… quickly. To avoid picking up injuries, however, you’ve got to invest in a proper strength and conditioning routine that go alongside your runs.
One of the most common problems runners face is muscular imbalance. When we run, many of us end up leaning slightly to one side. You might not feel it when you’re out but if you come home for a longer session and start experiencing niggles in one knee, hip or ankle, the chances are that somewhere along the chain, one side is working harder than the other. All too often, the culprit is an under-active glute.
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The solution? Single-leg work. Single-leg exercises are the best way to ensure that every part of the leg is working efficiently, from the glute to the ankle. You can do them with weights, on a resistance machine or using bodyweight at home. However you want to do them, just do them.
Here are five of the best single-leg exercises that every runner needs to do every week:
Single-leg good morning
A brilliant way to wake up those tired hamstrings, good mornings are a really great exercise to do at the start of a workout… or when you’re brushing your teeth. The single-leg version is going to really test your balance as well as help identify any resistance in either hamstring. If one side does feel more sticky than the other, go a little slower on that side so the muscle has to work longer under tension.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Cross your arms over your front, so that they don’t get in the way.
- Hinge from the hips with a slight bend in the knee and keep hinging until your back is parallel to the floor (if you can, your body should be like an upside-down “L” shape).
- Slowly hinge back up to standing.
- Repeat 10 times.
Single-leg glute bridge
Many of us might be quad-dominant from running but our power really does stem from higher up. Glute bridges should be a non-negotiable part of any running workout and again, the single-leg version will make sure that you’re working into every part of the gluteus Maximus and medius.
- Lie on the floor with knees bent.
- Taking your right foot off the floor, push up through your left foot to raise your bum off the floor (you want the weight to be through your heel, ideally).
- Extend so that there’s a straight line running from your left knee to hip.
- Slowly lower to the floor.
- Repeat 10 times on the left before swapping to the right – maintaining the same height at the top of the move throughout
Reverse lunge to knee raise
This move is so brilliant because it mimics the movement pattern that we use when running. Lunging – whether it’s forwards or in reverse – puts each quad under pressure without demanding a great deal of balance. That means that we can easily increase the intensity of our lunges by increasing the pace, adding weights or making them into more complicated compound moves. This variation includes a knee raise, which means honing the ability to go from two legs to one – something you’ve got to do when sprinting.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Step back with your left leg into lunge, so that your left knee lightly touches the floor.
- As soon as your knee touches the floor, bring the leg back up and in front of you, knee bent into a knee raise.
- As the knee comes out front, bend the right arm and straighten the left arm – as you might when sprinting.
- Return to standing and then repeat on the right leg.
- Try alternating legs for 12 reps.
A different lunge variation, this time, we’re going out to the sides. Runners never really move in the lateral (side-to-side) plane – we just move forward and back. That’s a problem because we need to be able to dart around human traffic, holes in the road or dogs who run in our way, and if we don’t train in all planes of motion, we run the risk of picking up an injury.
As well as strengthening our butts and ankles, cossacks really work the inner legs – our adductors and abductors.
- Standing on your left leg, take a big step out to the right.
- As you step out, bend the right leg and sit back as if going to sit in a chair.
- You want your left leg to remain straight while your right is bent, making sure that your knee doesn’t come over your right toes.
- Push off on the right foot to stand tall, and go again.
- Try six reps on one leg then switch.
It’s all very well doing slow and static movements to build muscle but running is an explosive sport. Even if you’re not sprinting, you’re bouncing from foot to foot – there’s always a little air in between at least one foot and the floor. As such, it’s a good idea to add a little plyometric movement into your strength and conditioning.
Jump lunges can be difficult and it doesn’t take long for the quads to feel on fire. Add a handful of reps at the end of any workout, however, and you’ll soon find that your endurance, balance and quad strength improves.
- Start with your right leg behind your left.
- Bend both knees as you lunge down to bring the right knee an inch off the ground.
- Straighten to come back up and as you do so, jump to switch the position of your legs.
- Your front leg should now in front.
- Alternate for 12 reps.
Ready to take your running up a notch? Join our Strength Training for Runners four week plan to run faster, longer and stronger.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.