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My Top 5 Strength Training Exercises For Beginner Runners

Updated: Nov 14, 2018

I am often asked what the best strength training exercises are for runners. My answer is: ones that you’re actually going to do! Keep them simple and don’t make the list too long – otherwise the thought of having to do it can overwhelm an already busy mind.



I suggest that you choose exercises that can be done anywhere (no excuse if you cannot get to the gym) and target more than one muscle group (this reduces the number of exercises you need).


The strength exercises below are aimed at runners who do not have a lot of experience with strength training. I have chosen them because they are safe and not very complex. These exercises will give you a good base level of strength, which will allow you to add more complex and heavy exercises in a few months.


In this article:

  • How to get the most out of your strength training

  • Strength training programme for beginner runners

  • Hamstring Bridge exercise for beginner runners

  • Squat exercise for beginner runners

  • Core exercise for beginner runners

  • Push-Ups for beginner runners

  • Calf strengthening exercise for beginner runners

How to get the most out of your strength training


You should continually progress the intensity of your training by either increasing the sets of exercises, the number of repetitions or the weight that you are using. You will not progress if you just do the same thing week in and week out.


What I mean by:

  • Reps (repetitions): That is how many times you perform the movement before you rest.

  • Sets: If I ask you to perform 3 sets of 10 reps of an exercise it means that you have to do 10 repetitions, then rest, then another 10 repetitions, rest and then another 10 repetitions – it means doing the required number of reps 3 times, but with rest periods in between.

  • Rest: Your muscles use the rest periods between sets of exercise to recharge its energy stores. Rest periods for beginners should last between 1 and 2 minutes.

Download programme as PDF

Strength training programme for beginner runners


Please note: The exercises below should be OK for most healthy people. You should not feel any pain during or after doing the exercises. If you do experience any discomfort, please contact your healthcare provider.


Hamstring Bridge exercises for beginner runners


I prefer this version of the bridge exercise, since it targets the hamstring muscles a lot more than when your feet are on the floor. It’s a great all-in-one exercise that strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, back and core muscles.


Start by doing the double leg exercise and then move on to the single leg one once you feel ready.


START WITH: Double-Leg Hamstring Bridge


Starting position: Lie on your back with your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees and your feet on a chair.

Movement: Tighten up your stomach muscles and lift your bottom off the floor until your trunk and pelvis form a straight line. Squeeze your buttocks and stomach muscles and hold the position.

Check that: You do not put too much pressure on your neck and that you do not over-extend your back by trying to lift your hips too high. It may be an indication that you are forcing the movement too much if your back hurts afterwards. If you find that your hamstrings cramp – shift your bottom closer to your feet.

Dosage: Hold the position for 20seconds, Rest for 20 seconds, Repeat 6 times


PROGRESS TO: Single-Leg Hamstring Bridge


Starting position: Lie on your back and place one heel on the top of a chair and keep the other foot in the air.

Movement: With the knee resting on the chair slightly bent, lift your bottom off the floor until your body forms a straight line. Tighten up your stomach muscles and your glutes. Your pelvis must stay in a straight line. Do not allow the one side to drop to the floor. Then slowly lower yourself back down.

Check that: You do not put too much pressure on your neck and that you do not over-extend your back by trying to lift your hips too high. It may be an indication that you are forcing the movement too much if your back hurts afterwards. If you find that your hamstrings cramp – shift your bottom closer to your feet.

Dosage: Do 3 sets of 10 slow reps with each leg. Rest 1 minute between sets.


Squat exercises for beginner runners


Start by doing the double-leg free squat, but move on to doing the single-leg one when ready.

You should use this exercise to work on your running form as well as strength. Make sure that your knees move in a line with your second toes, but that they do not cross over the front of your feet.


START WITH: Free Squat


Starting position: Standing with feet pointing forwards and spaced hip distance apart.

Movement: Squat down by pushing your bottom out to the back (pretend you want to sit on a chair) and bending your knees. Hold the position for 3 seconds and return to standing upright.

Check that: Your feet stays in a good neutral position. Your knees should move in line with your second toe. Your bottom sticks far out to the back.

Dosage: Start with whatever your knee allows you to do but you should aim to get up to 3 sets of 12 repetitions over time. Rest 2 minutes between the sets.

Once you can easily achieve this progress by replacing it with the single-leg squat with wall support.


PROGRESS TO: Single-Leg Squat With Wall Support


Starting position: Stand hip distance away from a wall and balance on the outside leg.

Bend the other knee up and press that knee and ankle against the wall (do not lean into the wall with your hip).

Movement: Squat down by bending the supporting knee and stick your bottom out backwards. Hold the position for 10seconds before you stand up and rest.

Check that: Your knee moves in line with your second toe, but that your knee also stays behind the toes. If your knee hurts, you are either going down too low or you are allowing your knee to drift over the toes which will put more pressure on it. You can fix this by sticking your bottom further out to the back.

Dosage: Hold the position for 10 seconds, then repeat it with the other leg. Do 10 reps on each leg.


Core exercises for beginner runners


The aim of the first exercise is to teach you how to control your spine (keep it flat against the floor) while you move your legs. Only move on to the second exercise once you have mastered this.


START WITH: Toe-Taps Level 1


Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your back flat into the floor.

Movement: Engage your core by recruiting your pelvic floor and stomach muscles. Lift one leg up to 90 degrees at the hip, keeping the knee bent. Keep your back and pelvis completely still at all times. Then place the foot back on the floor and repeat with the other side

Check that: Your pelvis and lower back do not lift off the floor as you lift and lower your foot down to the floor.

Once you find this exercise easy, move on to the single-leg stretch exercise

Dosage: Build up to doing 3 sets of 14 reps. Rest 1 minute between sets.



PROGRESS TO: Single-Leg Stretch


Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your lower back flat on the floor.

Movement: Engage your core by recruiting your pelvic floor and stomach muscles. Slowly straighten one leg out while you make sure that YOUR BACK STAYS ABSOLUTELY FLAT ON THE FLOOR. Slowly alternate legs.

Check that: Your back stays absolutely flat on the floor throughout the exercise. Do not rush this exercise – it is more difficult to do it slowly.

Dosage: Build up to doing 3 sets of 20 reps. Rest 1 minute between sets.



Push-Ups for beginner runners


Even though you may think that this exercise is all about arm strength, it's actually not. When done correctly, the push-up strengthens your core muscles as well as your arms. You have to make sure that your back does not sag down towards the floor during the exercise.


START WITH: Knee Push-Ups


Starting position: Lie on your stomach with your hands on the floor beside your shoulders. Tighten your stomach muscles and keep them braced throughout the whole exercise.

Movement: Raise your body off the floor by pushing up and extending your elbows while keeping your knees on the floor, your chin tucked in and your body straight like a plank. Lower yourself back down, nearly touching the floor and repeat.

Check that: If your back hurts during this exercise, it may be a sign that you need to tighten your stomach muscles - your back should be flat throughout the movement.

Dosage: Build up to doing 3 sets of 15 reps. Rest 1 minute between sets.



PROGRESS TO: Full Push-Ups


Starting position: Lie on your stomach with your hands beside your shoulders.

Movement: Tighten up your stomach muscles. Raise your body off the floor by straightening your elbows, keeping your chin tucked in and your body straight as a plank. Bend your elbows and lower yourself back down - stop just short of the floor. Repeat.

Check that: If your back hurts during this exercise, it may be a sign that you need to tighten your stomach muscles - your back should remain flat throughout the exercise.

Dosage: Build up to doing 3 sets of 15 reps. Rest 1 minute between sets.


My arms are terrible - you should go down lower!

Calf strengthening exercises for beginner runners


I suggest that you do 2 variations of heel raises over a step to strengthen your calves and Achilles tendons. You target different muscles in the calf by doing this exercise with your knee bent vs. the knee straight.


START WITH: Bodyweight Heel Raises (some with knee bent and some with knee straight)


Starting position: Stand on one leg on a step. Hold on to something for stability, as this is not a balance exercise.

Movement: Keeping your knee STRAIGHT (A) slowly lift up and down on one leg for the required repetitions. Repeat this with the other leg. Rest for 1 minute and do one more set with your knee straight. Then repeat the exercise, but this time keep your knee BENT (B) throughout the movement.

Dosage: Build up to doing 2 sets of 15 reps with the knee straight AND 2 sets of 15 reps with the knee bent with each leg. Rest 1 minute between sets.



PROGRESS TO: Weighted Heel Raises


Once you can easily do 2 sets of 15 reps of the above exercise increase the difficulty by doing it with some extra weight. Either hold a dumbbell in your hand or place some weight in a backpack on your back. Reduce the repetitions and slowly build up to 2 sets of 15 reps of each exercise.

Repeat this cycle. Every time that you can execute the required repetitions with ease, add some more weight and slowly build the reps up again.


Let me know if you have any questions. Need more help with an injury? You can consult me online using Skype video calls.

Best wishes

Maryke

Sports Physiotherapist

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