Most people think about the quadriceps (muscles above your knees) as the most important muscles to strengthen for running. And while it’s certainly true that they’re essential to running, your gluteus maximus (aka butt) and hip flexors (aka the front of your hips) also play key roles in generating the power that keeps you running mile after mile.
If you don’t actively strengthen them, your stride won’t be as powerful as it could be (bummer), and long-running neglect of the glutes and hips can add to your risk of overuse injuries (bigger bummer).
But don’t fret. We have a few simple exercises to keep you running strong. You can add these to a cross-training day, or do one or two of them as part of your pre-run warm up.
Basic: Start with a regular lunge by stepping out with one foot in front of you, then bringing it back to standing. Then repeat that motion but instead of stepping forward, step sideways, diagonally behind you, and straight behind you for a total of four lunges on one leg. Repeat using other leg until you’ve done 4 circles on each leg.
Advanced: Jumping lunges. Start with a standard forward lunge and when your back knee is touching the ground, explode upward and switch your legs before lowering your other knee to the ground. It seems easy at first but beware, the fatigue catches up quickly.
Basic: Running taxes the front of your legs quite a bit; back bridges will help strengthen your glutes and stabilizing core muscles to help balance out the running. Start by lying on the ground with your feet flat on the ground. Press up using your glutes and core until your knees, hips, and shoulders are in a straight line. You can either hold the bridge or lower your hips and repeat the motion for 10-12 repetitions.
Advanced: See Brooks Beast Hannah Fields demonstrate the Leg-Lock Bridge
Basic: Imagine you’re walking up stairs—big ones, not small ones. Find a box that you can step up onto; one that’s tall enough so that your knee makes a 90* angle when you place your front foot flat on top of it. Use your glutes and quads to shift your weight onto your front leg and lift your body weight up until you’re standing flat on the box. Step back down and step up using your other leg. Don’t be surprised if one is more difficult than the other—that’s your body showing imbalances you may need to work on.
Advanced: Instead of just standing flat on top of the box at the top of the step-up, push through until you’re up on your toes of the standing leg, using your calves, hamstrings, glutes and hips to extend fully through your hip. This adds a balance exercise and tests your ability to use small muscles as well as your core to move through the entire range of motion.
Basic: No surprises here. This basic exercise is a longtime staple for a reason. It engages your glutes, hamstrings, quads and core for an incredibly effective, yet efficient movement. Place your feet shoulder-width apart and lower your hips down until your knees are approximately 90*. Press up until standing. Repeat 3 x 15 times.
Advanced: One-legged squats. Seriously hard to do, but a really great party trick once you have it dialed in. Place a hand on the wall in order to work your way up to the full single-legged squat.