8 simple exercises to make you a stronger runner
For many trail runners, the very notion of strength training can induce waves of anathema or dread. After all, why spend time indoors in a gym when you could be outdoors, traipsing through the mountains? As an avid trail runner, RRCA-certified run coach and ACE-certified personal trainer, Alex Ho points out, “Trail running requires much more core activation than the roads due to the different terrains, unstable footing, and extended ups and downs. Core strengthening can be the difference between finishing feeling strong and hobbling across the finish line.”
As its name suggests, your core—primarily, your abdominal muscles, obliques, pelvic floor, diaphragm, and lower back—lies at the center of your running body. The stronger your core, the more powerful runner you’ll be. A resilient core also helps prevent injuries, which ultimately lets you spend more time outdoors running the trails you love.
Ho recommends doing two to three sets of the following exercises to make up a 15-to-25-minute routine. (When just getting started, aim for the minimum number of repetitions and sets. As you improve, you can work toward higher repetitions and sets.) For best results, complete the routine once a day, four to five days per week.
1. Bird Dog (10-15 Reps)
Start on all fours, with your hands squarely beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your glutes. Simultaneously extend your left arm forward and your right leg back (parallel with your core). Then, engaging your core, bring your left elbow in to meet your right knee. Do 10 to 15 reps on each side.
2. Knees-to-Elbows in High Plank (10-15 Reps)
Start in a high plank. Lift your right leg, straightened, until it is parallel with your core. Then, keeping your core steady, bring your right knee to your right elbow. Do 10 to 15 reps on each side.
3. Knees-to-Opposite Elbows in High Plank (10-15 Reps)
Start in a high plank. Lift your right leg, straightened, until it is parallel with your core. Keeping your core steady, bring your right knee to your left elbow. Do 10 to 15 reps on each side.
4. Side Plank (20-60 Seconds)
Lying on your side, stack your left leg on top of your right. Plant your right forearm on the ground, perpendicular to your core, and bring your hips up off the ground. Your body should resemble a straight line. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds on each side.
5. Hip Dip in Side Plank (8-15 Reps)
Start in the side plank described above. Use your core muscles to lower your right hip to touch the ground. Then, come back up again into a side plank. Do 8 to 15 reps on each side.
6. Reach-Under in Side Plank (8-15 Reps)
Start in the side plank described above, but reach your left arm straight up toward the sky. In a controlled motion, sweep your left arm forward and underneath your right side. Then, swing it back up again. Do 8 to 15 reps on each side.
7. Single-Leg Glute Bridges (10-15 Reps)
Lie flat on your back with your hands, palms down, extended next to your sides, your knees bent, and your feet flat on the ground near your glutes. Straighten and extend your right leg so it is at a 45-degree angle from the ground. Using your core, bring your hips up off the ground into a bridge position, raising your extended leg with it as you go. Do 10 to 15 reps on each side.
8. Dirty Dog Glute Series (10 Reps)
While on all fours, do 10 reps each (on each side) of the following exercises:
- Donkey Kicks: With your knee bent at a 90-degree angle, kick back until your thigh is parallel with the ground and your core.
- Fire Hydrants: With your knee bent at a 90-degree angle, bring your knee up to your side, so your thigh is parallel with the ground but perpendicular to your core.
- Knees Circle Forward: Bring your knee up to the side and make controlled, forward circles in the air.
- Knees Circle Backward: Switch directions.