A Strength Move to Help Improve Every Run
Build your glutes, quads, hamstrings and core while you better your balance and stability with this exercise.
For a long time, the general wisdom in running circles was that to be a good runner, you had to just run. The idea of supplementing the sport with something like strength training wasn't just odd, people thought that lifting weights would actually detract from their running, that it would slow them down with bulky muscles and suck up valuable training time, says Nike Running global head coach Chris Bennett. This theory prevailed for decades, says Bennett: Runners run. Full stop.
Thankfully, we've sprinted away from that notion. If you have stronger, more durable legs, you're more likely to take on harder runs with less effort and better form. And that means fewer injuries too. "Strength training is your insurance policy to not get hurt", says Bennett.
That's exactly what licensed physiotherapist and Nike Performance Council member Derek Samuel tells the athletes he treats. "Runners like to use running as their primary—and often only—form of exercise, but that's why I think too many runners suffer from knee pain at some point", says Samuel. "They're not preparing and building the muscles that will protect those joints and keep them healthy". To do that, he says, runners must be resistance training.
"Strength training is your insurance policy to not get hurt".
Nike Running Global Head Coach
The Simple Change
Do reverse lunges.
This strength staple has a laundry list of benefits for runners. "A reverse lunge forces you to work on balance, which is going to better your running form", says Bennett. Your core is stabilising your body during the exercise, which makes your abs, obliques and lower back stronger. "The lunge itself works your glutes, quads and hamstrings", he adds, "which all power you on a run and help support and stabilise your knee".
The movement also translates to the motion of running. (Picture a run in slow motion; each bound is like a mini lunge.) Plus, because you're using one leg at a time, you're able to pinpoint muscle imbalances between your left and right sides, says Bennett. Now you'll know, for instance, to do a couple of extra reps on your weaker side or which tight spot to foam roll later.
The main reason you want to start lunging backwards versus forwards? It's easier to maintain proper form. In a forward lunge, people often let their lead knee drift in front of their ankle, putting stress on the front knee, says Bennett. But that's harder to do when you step backwards. (There's evidence to support that: in a Korean study of forwards, backwards and walking lunges, researchers found that reverse lunges were associated with a lower risk of a knee injury and activated more muscle fibres in the legs.)
To ease into it, add reverse lunges to your strength-training days, and start with 5 reps on each leg. You won't notice much at first, says Bennett. But after a week, you'll get stronger and be able to do 10 reps. Once that feels easy, try pausing at the bottom of each lunge for 5 seconds. Mastered that? Hold 1.5-kilogram dumbbells while you lunge, and when that's a breeze, hold for 5s.
"Gradual progression is far more beneficial than doing too much too soon and getting hurt", says Bennett. "A baby step still moves you forwards—even if that step is a reverse lunge".
How to Do a Reverse Lunge
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips, to start. Step one leg back and bend both legs until they form 90-degree angles. Your front thigh should be parallel to the floor, with the knee directly over the ankle. Press through your front foot to step your back leg forwards to return to the starting position. Switch legs and repeat. That's 1 rep.
Get More from the Move
Stay tight and controlled. Throughout the movement, your shoulders should be square, torso upright, abs engaged. You don't want your upper body to sway or hunch (same as when you run).
Focus on your front leg. In a reverse lunge, the front leg—specifically the glutes and quads—does the work. Think of engaging these muscles to stay stable and balanced as you step back, and to powerfully drive forwards to your starting position.
Keep your front knee in line. To avoid stress on the joint, make sure your leading knee doesn't buckle in or shift outwards.
More Tips to Move You Forwards
01. Hold a plank.
The exercise builds your core, and that keeps your torso from swaying as much when you run, which wastes energy. It also strengthens your shoulders, making it easier to pump your arms, says Bennett. Work up to holding good form for 1 minute: body in line from head to ankles (no sag in your back or lift in your hips); shoulders stacked directly over your wrists; and abs, glutes and quads engaged.
02. Try "running arms"
This go-to drill from Bennett will help you focus on your form while you build efficiency and endurance (translation: you'll be able to run faster, longer). Hold a 1- or 1.5-kilogram weight in each hand and swing your arms as if you were running, driving your elbows straight back and keeping your arms close to your sides. Continue for 30 seconds, then repeat the interval twice. Just don't grab anything heavier than 1.5 kilograms, cautions Bennett. The weight is there only to make you aware of your form, not to get your biceps ripped.
03. Do calf raises.
Stronger calves give you two benefits: you're better able to push off the ground as you run, and you protect your Achilles tendon (stretching or snapping the Achilles is one of the most common running injuries, says Samuel). To do raises, stand with your hands on your hips and rise up on your toes; hold that position for 2 seconds, then slowly lower back to the start for 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 15 reps. Feel too easy? Try doing one foot at a time, keeping your opposite foot approx. 5cm off the ground.