Strength training is key to becoming a stronger runner, and helps reduce the chance of getting running-related injuries, writes running coach Jenny Dixon.
Unilateral leg exercises (exercising one leg at a time) are important because running requires a good balance of strength in each leg. We tend to have a stronger and a weaker side, and exercising each leg independently prevents the stronger side from compensating for the weaker. Single leg exercises are hard work though, so you may need to build up to them by working both legs at the same time for a while. Full squats, deadlifts and calf raises are ideal for this.
The 5 exercises below require no special equipment and can easily be done at home. These techniques are great for strengthening the legs and core muscles. Some require good balance; if you find that tricky, try lightly holding onto a fixed object (such as an item of furniture) while you do them.
1. Single leg deadlift
Balancing on one leg with a slight bend in that knee, reach down towards the floor allowing your other leg to extend behind you, keeping your spine neutral. Aim for your upper body to reach a position that is parallel to the floor before coming back up to the start position. If you can keep the extending leg off the ground in between each repetition you will be working the other leg a lot harder and challenging your balance.
2. Single leg squats
Balancing on one leg, hold your arms out straight in front of you and extend your other leg out in front, keeping it off the floor. Squat down keeping your spine neutral, but with a slight lean forward from the hips. Your weight should be felt going into the heel of your foot. Squat as low as you can without allowing your heel to lift off the floor and then return to the starting position.
3. Single leg calf raises
Balancing on one leg, bend your knee slightly (don't lock the knee straight), and raise your heel off of the ground, bringing you up onto your toes. Then slowly lower your heel back down to the floor.
4. Forward lunges
Keeping your spine neutral and your upper body upright, take a big step forward with one leg, and lower the knee of the back leg towards the floor. Your front knee should be bent at about 90 degrees, aligned directly above the ankle (if your knee is further forward than your toes, take a larger step). Now, without lifting the back foot off of the floor, push yourself upward and return to the starting position.
5. Plank variations
Forearm plank - Rest your weight on your forearms whilst lying face down on the floor. Now lift yourself up so that only your toes and forearms are in contact with the ground. Ensure you are forming as straight a line as possible from your ankles to your head, avoiding any sagging at the hips. Hold for 10-40 seconds.
Side plank - Lying on your side, lift your body up off the floor balancing only on the side of your foot (with the other foot stacked on top or on the floor in front of the lower leg) and your forearm. Forming a straight line from the ankles to armpit, reach up towards the ceiling with your other arm and hold this position for 10-40 seconds.
Now watch Jenny's video to see how it's done:
Jenny Dixon is a personal trainer and running coach at Fit4LIfe , who is kindly donating her time and expertise to The Lily Foundation. Look out for Jenny's training tips in the Lily newsletter, Twitter and Facebook.
Training for a Lily fundraising event is a great way to get fit without paying expensive gym fees! Sign-up is free, and we have places available at some of the UK's most popular runs, rides and obstacle courses. To find out more visit our events page.