Becoming a stronger runner doesn’t simply come with more running - incorporating strength training is key to improving everything from speed and endurance to your ability to go further distances. It might often go overlooked but strength training is an essential supplement for a runner’s training program.
Learn how to strengthen those muscle groups that are vital to runners with New Zealand men’s record holder in the half and full marathon, Zane Robertson. He demonstrates his go-to abdominal exercises for building core strength along with movements for stronger glutes.
Core Strengthening Exercises
Core exercises are a key part of running training regimes, helping you to keep the back straight, the pelvis still and your posture correct along with supporting endurance levels. A strong core can prevent injuries and fatigue, thus optimising performance. It’s been found that just 15 minutes of core workouts a few days a week can act to benefit speed.
Your core consists of the trunk and pelvic area, which is supported by special muscles called stabilisers. Your core’s job is to maintain neutral posture and resist gravity, both at rest and during movement. The main core stabilisers are:
- Deep-set transversus abdominis
- Bottom or gluteal muscles
- Lower back muscles
Each has its own specific role, but collectively they act as a cylinder to stabilise the spine and pelvis. If these muscles don’t work properly, the key movers of the body, such as the hamstring, take on the stabilising role in addition to their main role. This overloads the muscle and can result in injury.
Incorporate these key core exercises from Zane Robertson into your routine to help build better core strength.
Muscle group: Abdominals
Reps: 20x 3 sets
Lay on your back with hands and legs in the air. Slowly lower your left arm and right leg towards the ground. When it's almost on the ground, slowly raise back to the starting position. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
Thread the Needle
Muscle group: Obliques
Reps: 12 x 4 sets
Get in the side plank position. Have your upper leg forward and bottom leg backward. Reach towards the ceiling slowly, then underneath your body with your arm and back to the ceiling. Don't collapse at the hips.
Front Plank Side Scissor Kick
Muscle group: Abdominals + Oblique + Glute muscles + Quad
Reps: 3 each side, continue for 1 min x 3 sets
Assume the front plank position. Take one leg off the ground without arching your back. Kick to the side slowly with controlled movements.
Strengthening Your Glutes
Many times, an over pronation running style can be fixed by simply strengthening the gluteus medius muscle, the key stabiliser of the hip. The gluteus medius stops the hip from dropping when standing on one leg, and stops the leg turning in at the knee. Keeping the gluteus medius muscle in good shape will ensure your running technique is strong.
How to check the strength of your gluteus medius:
- Stand with your back against the wall with your feet slightly apart and about a foot distance away from the wall.
- Lift one knee up.
- If you’re leaning your upper body or shifting the weight to keep yourself upright, your glut med isn’t functioning the way it should.
A weak gluteus medius can affect your running technique as your pelvis will be dropping and/or shifting across. This will cause an abnormal posture and loads the joints and muscles incorrectly, causing a lot of torsional forces in the lower leg and knee. This pattern can cause the runner to think they are over pronating, leading to wearing the wrong running shoes as well as further mechanical problems.
Incorporating these exercises from Zane into your running plan will help strengthen the glute muscles and improve your running technique in the long term.
Side Plank Scissor Kick
Muscle group: Glute Med
Reps: start with 6 reps x 4 sets each side.
Increase each week until you can do 20 reps x 3 sets each side.
Assuming side plank position with elbow directly below the shoulder. Bring the top leg towards the ceiling slowly with control & then down.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Muscle group: Glutes
Reps: 12 x 3 on each leg
Stand on one leg. Have your back leg on a bench, couch, chair, table. Always keep your heel on the ground with your front leg. If your heel comes off the ground move your front leg forward further. Slowly drop towards the ground and push back up. Control your movement, not too fast down. Stay upright with your upper body and don't lean forward too far.
Muscle group: Hamstrings
Reps: 4 x 30 sec hold
Place your heel on a couch, bench, chair and have your leg on about a 90 degree angle. Push your hips up toward the ceiling and take one leg off the bench. The 30 sec hold starts from when you have 1 leg in the air. Keep your hips up, don't drop them to the floor.
Plus try this bonus exercise Zane recommends for targeting the all-important calf muscles.
Soleus Wall Sits
Muscle group: Calf Soleus + Achilles Tendons
Reps: 45 sec holds x 5 sets
Sit on a wall in a squat position with a 90 degree angle. Take your heels off the ground and hold for 45 secs.
Learn more about Zane Robertson and his running routine in our Sound Mind, Sound Body interview.
Visit the Knowledge Base as well where we cover a range of valuable topics for runners from Training Tips to Choosing the Right Running Shoes and more.