8 Strength Exercises for Runners

Runners often love to run and run and then run some more because it’s what seems to bring us the most direct progress. However, think of it this way – you can’t continuously drive a fast car and expect it to perform to its potential without good maintenance. Our bodies are the same way. Strength gives runners deeper resources when they want to improve pace, lengthen their running and ward off injuries.

Here are 8 non-negotiable strength exercises for runners that you can dive into right now. All you need is about six square feet of floor space, your body and some gravity! 

  • Use the “Level Up” and “Ease it Back” suggestions to adjust the exercise to fit your needs.
  • Always prioritize FORM FIRST before repetitions or level of difficulty – be a perfectionist here for the best results. 

Windmill Squats  

Keep your knees pointed exactly forward and keep your chest and head up the entire time. Rotate from your waist to turn your shoulders. The goal is to create lower body stability while the upper body is rotating.

  • Level Up – add a small dumbbell in your hands
  • Ease it Back – don’t go so deep in the squat and reach to the outside of your knee instead of your foot.

Backward Lunge to Single Leg Balance

Step backward far enough to create 90-degree angles at your hip, knees and ankles. A short step will leave you feeling squashed and awkward. Ideally, the front leg should be doing most of the work in both lowering into the lunge and powering back up out of it. Keeping your core tight will help with the balance. 

  • Level Up – hold your hands on your head for more core challenge.
  • Ease it Back – reduce the depth of the lunge.

Donkey Kick

Start on your hands and knees, and then lift your knees off the floor to “float” on your toes. Create a stiff core. Keep your pelvis flat and level as you flex your glute to lift your leg.

  • Level Up – do more repetitions for more endurance.
  • Ease it Back – skip the “float” – keep your knee on the floor as you lift the opposite leg

Side Plank Forward Reach to Row

Set up a strong shoulder for the side plank by pressing your “elbow through the floor” and lifting your body towards the sky. Keep a straight line from your ankles through your spine and the top of your head. Be careful not to over elevate your hips.

  • Level Up – Use an elastic band to add resistance to the Row.
  • Ease it Back – plank from your knees instead of your toes.

SLOW Calf Raises 

These have a twist to them that really adds heat! Always do the full range of motion on these so use a stair, a curb or something elevated to stand on in order to allow your heels to drop below the level of your toes. Doing calf raises on the floor only uses half the range. Go up as high as you can, but maintain the pressure in your big toe (don’t roll out), then sloooowly allow your heels to drop down as far as they can go, on a count of 6 seconds from the top to bottom. Enjoy a little stretch here. Press all the way back up – hold for 2 seconds, and slowly sink on a count of 6 seconds again. Between using the full range and the slow descent, you’ll find some heat fast!

  • Level Up – Do 5 on one leg before completing the double leg version.
  • Ease it Back – don’t do as many repetitions.

Hip Hikes

Imagine that you are standing between two giant panes of glass that are at your front and back and the only motion you have is to tilt sideways. Standing on one leg, lift your opposite hip and high as you can (this will be 3-4 inches). Slowly let it sink to a level position, and then continue to let it drop down slowly as low as it will go. Then return to your starting position by pushing upward through the hip that you are standing on. Keep your shoulders straight and level the whole time.

  • Level Up – Perform it slower (like the 6 count in Calf Raises) or add more reps.
  • East it Back – If balance is a frustration, put one finger on a wall in front of you.

Stiff Leg Romanian Deadlift 

Standing on one leg, with your knee bent just enough to be unlocked. Make your body stiff and tilt forward over that stiff leg while keeping your chest very tall (no slouching!). As your body tilts forward, your back leg will raise off the floor. Imagine you are one unit, keeping your head and your back heel moving as one. Stiff, tall and long are good words to remind yourself 

  • Level Up – put some 1-2 pounds weights in your hands and remember to keep your chest tall!
  • Ease it Back – keep a light touch on a wall, counter or chair if maintaining balance is a challenge.


Glute Bridge with Leg Raise 

Keeping your core tight is essential. Squeeze the core tight before you extend that leg forward. If you feel your back working too much, tighten your ribs down more and focus more on squeezing the glutes to lift your pelvis, instead of arching through your back.

  • Level Up – Add five single leg bridges at the beginning of the set.
  • Ease it Back – Don’t lift your leg into the air. Keep both feet on the ground, but lift your hands to the ceiling and keep them there while doing the double leg bridges.

It can be easy to want to stack up the running miles day after day. However, by constantly and consistently incorporating these strength exercises for runners and working to get stronger, your running can improve dramatically.

Kari is a Certified Athletic Trainer and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with 24 years of experience in the fields of athletic development, sports medicine and fitness. She has successfully coached Olympic medalists, Ironman competitors, ultra-marathoners and hundreds of runners of all abilities. She is the founder of Bring Your Sneakers, an online community that empowers women to become better runners and to strengthen themselves in every area of their life through running. She currently coaches and consults with women runners of every level of experience from all over the country and loves to see women become stronger in every way through running. To find out more about Kari's coaching programs of to connect with her, visit her site

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