The Simple Strength Program Every Runner Needs

 In Running

Strength Program

Getting to the gym is immensely beneficial for every runner. The evidence for benefits of strength training is overwhelming; for reducing injury risk and incidence of running injuries, enhancing performance, increasing strength and power and improving running economy. Yet getting to the gym isn’t easy in the world of the time constrained mum, dad, studying and or working runner. So here’s a ‘no-excuses’ program, as simple as it gets all you need is a chair! Add a weight (whatever you have 5kg, 10kg or a backpack full of textbooks) and it’ll challenge you even more.

Technique is important and studies on strength training show better results for those doing supervised strengthening. #performbetter @pogophysio Click To Tweet

A note before we jump into the exercises. Technique is important and studies on strength training show better results for those doing supervised strengthening. Sets and reps should be individualised, yet if you are looking for a simple starting point; begin with 4 sets of 12 reps and over time gradually add weight in, lowering reps to 6 as strength and technique allows. At the end of each set you should feel challenged and fatigued but not a complete wreck! If you aren’t sure to how to incorporate this into your weekly routine or aren’t recovering well this previous post may help. Now let’s get to it.

  1. Chair Squat or Single Leg Sit to Stand
  2. Bulgarian Split Squat (Glute Bias) +/- Hops
  3. Hamstring Bridge
  4. Adductor Plank
  5. Side Plank with Scissors
  6. Calf Raises

1. Chair Squat or Single Leg Sit to Stand

A goblet squat with or without a weight is our first exercise. A chair behind you can help make sure you find the right balance between leaning too far forward or backward. It can also stop you before you go too low and lose control of your lower back position. Sit back for the chair keeping a neutral spine, touch the chair and stand back up tall. Minimise the time you are in contact with the chair. If you have a weight hold it against your chest with 2 hands.

If you find the squat very easy or don’t have weight to make it more difficult an alternate exercise is the single leg sit to stand. This can be more difficult for people with patellofemoral (kneecap) pain. A higher chair can help this. Focus on keeping a slow lowering (eccentric) down phase (3sec), standing up quickly back off the chair. As you get stronger you can minimise use of momentum and place your hands behind your back or above your head. Aim to keep your knee from collapsing inwards, it should remain inline with your 2nd toe.To recap here’s some progressions – squat -> squat with weight -> down slowly with single leg, up with two -> single leg sit to stand.

2. Bulgarian Split Squat (Glute Bias) +/- Hops

The bulgarian split squat is a great exercise to target quadriceps and gluteal strength. It’ll also target single leg stability, necessary for all runners. Place your back foot on the chair (top surface of your foot or big toe, whichever feels most comfortable for your foot). Moving your hips down and back towards the chair, allow your trunk to pivot forwards at the hips, keeping a nice flat back and your shin close to vertical. Lower slowly over the course of 3 seconds then drive back up to the start position with your front foot. To make it more challenging add a weight or drive into a hop (as shown below), keeping your foot on the chair.

3. Hamstring Bridge

An exercise to target your posterior chain, particularly hamstring strength, By performing it on your forefoot (not heel) we also work ankle and calf strength into the exercise. Before performing this make sure your chair won’t move, if you push away instead of up it can slide. Ensure you can do 15 reps double leg before trialling single leg. Sets of 6 repetitions may be quite tough for many so stick with double leg if it is proving difficult. Aim 4 sets of 6 and build up 12.

4. Adductor Plank

The adductor plank is as the name suggests an exercise targeted to the adductors or inner thigh muscles. These couple with your glutes to provide single leg stability. It is tougher than a traditional adductor squeeze (lying on your back squeezing a roller or towel between your knees). I have divided this into 3 levels, make sure you can complete 3 sets of 30 second holds before progressing to try the next level. Level 1 is in a side plank with your mid thigh, knee and shin all supported by the chair and lower leg lifted up off the ground – hold. Level 2 is more challenging with only you mid shin and ankle supported by the chair. It differs from level 3 in that you can keep your lower leg in contact with the ground to provide some assistance to the top leg. As you feel confident in holding this for 30 secs move to level 3 – taking away support from the bottom leg and holding it high to the underside of the chair (can even perform small pulses). This exercise is great for those with adductor tendinopathy with often pain settling with repetition. A note of caution, if you do have undiagnosed groin or pelvic girdle pain prior on attempt of completing this please use common sense and cease. Those with shoulder issues may not find this exercise appropriate and the previously mentioned adductor squeeze may be a suitable alternative. I have also had my upper body supported with a second chair (instead of arm) in instances when unrelated shoulder pain is present (not shown).

5. Side Plank with Scissors

The side plank is a great exercise that requires engagement of the lateral stabilisers (gluteus medius, minimus and quadratus lumborum). The same caution for this exercise applies if you have any shoulder issues. If you can perform 3 x30 sec holds on your knees, then progress out onto your feet as shown. Once this position can be achieved and held for 30 sec, lift the top leg away – keeping your hips high and forward (don’t bend at the hip). Try repeat for 30 seconds. An alternative is to do the exercise on your knees then perform scissors with the top leg (with a straight knee).

6. Single Leg Calf Raises

Calf strength is crucial for runners. Here we target the gastrocnemius with a straight leg calf raise. Push up through your first and second toe, be careful to avoid ‘fishing’ or letting your ankle roll out as you push towards the top of the calf raise. Perform slow reps 2 seconds up, 1 seconds pause and 2 seconds down. Make sure you work the full range up and you can work through a lower range by performing on a step. If you can perform 3 sets of 12 add weight or increase reps to 20.

Calf strength is crucial for runners. #performbetter @pogophysio Click To Tweet

So there we have it. A minimal equipment strength program that can be done simply at home or on the move. It targets major muscles involved and will challenge single leg stability. The program can be made more difficult with weights or progressions mentioned.




Lewis Craig (APAM)
POGO Physiotherapist
Masters of Physiotherapy

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