It may seem that running requires little else than putting one foot in front of the other – but adopting a more inclusive approach right from the start goes a long way in improving the quality of your run. Strength training, in particular, can be invaluable to a runner’s routine—it works on the muscles and joints that you utilize while running, decreases the risk of injury and also helps improve your performance levels.

Running coaches and sports scientists concur that strength training, particularly for the lower body, is indispensable for distance runners because it translates to greater speed and increased muscle endurance where they need it the most. Even 15 to 20 minutes of running-specific strength work twice a week can dramatically cut your risk for running injuries.
Let’s start by focusing on what runners use the most – legs! Here are 4 strength training workouts for the lower body that can add speed and agility to your running form:

One-leg heel raise

Place the ball of your left foot on the edge of a step, such that the heel can sink down when you lower it. Use a wall or rod for support if needed, and adopt a running posture by keeping you left knee and hip flexed and right leg off the ground with the thigh swinging slightly forward. Now let the left heed sink down as far as possible, and then lift it up as high as you can by shifting forward on your toe. Do 10 reps of this for both legs, with a short gap between the two.
Benefit: Strengthens calve muscles that add more power to your running.

Walking lunges

Begin by standing straight with proper upper-body posture. Take a big step forward with your right foot, lowering your body in a downward lunge so that the knee is in line with your extended foot. Now contract your glutes to come back to an erect position without upsetting your upper body balance. Alternate your feet as you keep moving forward, till you’ve completed 8 – 10 reps on each leg.
Benefit: Stretches the hip flexors as well as strengthens and activates the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves.

Bridge extensions

Lie face up with your feet flat. Lift your hips by driving your heels into the ground and contracting your glutes so you form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Straighten one leg, hold for 2 to 3 seconds, and repeat with the other. Make sure your hips stay level and your rear doesn’t sag toward the ground.
Benefit: This routine builds hip stability, which is critical for keeping the entire leg stable during each stride, and glute strength, which provides strength and power during runs.

Quad Press and Extensions

This routine requires weights and the extension machine at the gym, and is an essential workout for your quadriceps. Begin with your knee bent slightly – less than 90 degrees. Straighten your legs to move the weight and continue until your legs are fully extended, then slowly lower the weight back to the starting position. If your knees feel any discomfort, decrease the weight and reduce the range of motion, till you feel your thigh muscles being worked on. Do 5-10 reps on each leg initially, before taking on heavier weights or repetitions.
Benefit: Quadriceps are critical to your running as they help absorb the impact and propel you down the road. Keeping them strong will help you avoid Runner’s Knee and other ailments.

Image credit: LA Fitness

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