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7 Bodyweight Exercises For Runners To Prevent Injuries

If running is your only form of exercise, you’re asking for an injury. Here’s a workout to help you go the distance.

Originally Published: 
A man doing a plank.

Running is an excellent exercise. It’s great for your heart, keeping weight in check, energy, and even living longer. But it will also set you up for injury — if all you do is run. Strong muscles matter, giving you power to drive yourself forward with every stride and to protect your joints in the meantime.

Which muscles? Your core, for one. “A strong core is a foundation for safe, efficient, and comfortable movement while running,” says Christine Luff, a certified personal trainer, running coach, and owner/founder of Run for Good. “A solid core also helps stabilize your spine while you’re running, which can help to prevent a wide range of injuries, from low back pain to knee problems to foot issues.” What’s more, a strong core improves running efficiency, says Luff, which helps with your overall running performance.

But it’s not only about your core. “Many runners have weak glutes, and a lot of power comes from that area, so it’s extremely beneficial to develop strength there,” adds Luff. Your quads and hamstrings are key (obvious), as are your pectoral muscles and arms — frequently referred to as your second set of legs at mile 20 in a marathon. (The theory: Pumping your upper limbs back and forth with vigor sends a physiological cue to your lower body to follow suit.)

With that in mind, we’ve created the ideal bodyweight workout for runners to prevent injuries. It’s heavy on core, with some additional exercises for building all-around strength in the areas runners rely on most. “A 15-20-minute routine two to three times a week should be sufficient to get the benefits,” says Luff, who recommends doing these exercises on non-running days to get the most out of the workout.

The Move: Front And Side Planks

Why you want it: “Planks hit a lot of muscles at once, so they’re highly effective, efficient exercises,” says Luff.

How to: Start in an extended pushup position, then drop down to your elbows. Engage your core and keep your body in one long straight line (no sagging or hiking the hips). Hold for 60 seconds. Shift your weight to your right foot and elbow and rotate your left hip and shoulder toward the ceiling. Allow your left arm to come off the floor and raise it to the sky. Stack your left foot on top of your right so your entire body faces forward in one long line. Hold 60 seconds. Repeat on opposite side.

How many: One plank in each position.

The Move: Lunge And Lift

Why you want it: Work your glutes, quads, and hammies in a single move that touches on all the muscles you need to land, hike your leg forward, extend your gait, and push off when running.

How to: Stand tall with feet together. Take a large step forward with your right foot, bending right knee and allowing your back (left) knee to nearly touch the ground. Keeping your weight forward, push off the toes of your left foot, straighten right knee, and allow your left leg to swing through to the front until your left thigh is parallel to the floor, left knee bent. Pause for a second, then take a giant step forward with your left leg and repeat.

How many: 10 lunges on each side x 2 sets

The Move: Hip Bridge

Why you want it: This move works your glutes and hamstrings along with your core.

How to: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms by your sides. Squeeze your butt muscles and lift your hips off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your neck. Hold for 20 seconds, then relax. “There are also variations of this — you can extend one leg out and hold it, for instance,” says Luff.

How many: 8 reps of 20 seconds each x 2 sets

The Move: Running Sit-Up

Why you want it: This move, which engages the core and psoas muscles, mimics the motion you use to lift your legs when you run.

How to: Lie on your back, arms by your sides, legs extended. Sit up and as you do, bend your right knee and left elbow, raising them toward your centerline. Straighten both as you like back down. Repeat on opposite side.

How many: 20 reps x 2 sets

The Move: Standing Wood Chop

Why you want it: “Some people absolutely hate floor work for abs,” says Luff. “This is a good one that gets a lot of core muscles engaged.” Bonus: Your pecs, biceps, and triceps get in on the action too.

How to: Grab a water jug or small heavy box with both hands. Stand with feet hip-width apart and staggered, left foot slightly in front of right. Keeping arms straight, twist your torso and hips to the left and raise your arms above your left shoulder. Allow your right foot to pivot to the left side. Next, twist torso and hips to the right, lowering your arms to the outside of your right hip (bend right knee for stability if necessary). Repeat.

How many: 15 to the left; 15 to the right x 2 sets

The Move: Single Leg Alphabet

Why you want it: This exercise works your core, improves your balance, and increases dexterity and mobility of your ankle — key to running, but often overlooked.

How to: Stand tall with feet together, arms by your sides. Keeping your leg straight, raise your left foot several inches off the floor in front of your body. Engage your core to maintain balance as you begin to trace letters of the alphabet in the air with your left foot. Work your way from A-Z, then switch feet and repeat with your right foot.

How many: One full alphabet on each side

The Move: Jug Swing

Why you want it: Adding resistance while pumping your arms builds strength in the muscles you need to plow through any finish line in style.

How to: Grab a water jug in each hand. Standing with feet shoulder-width apart, bend your elbows and begin pumping your arms back and forth as fast as you can for one minute, making sure you complete the swing forward and back.

How many: Count how many you did in 60 seconds; rest 30 seconds. Repeat two more times, each time trying to squeeze in a few more swings in the 60-second bout.

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