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6 Leg Workouts: Strengthen. Injury Prevention. Stability.

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

Strengthen Your Legs Without Adding More Miles

Is leg day your least favorite workout during the week? Do you feel overwhelmed with the numerous options to work out all the different muscles? I get it. As a runner leg day couldn't be more important.

After running for so many years, your body becomes accustomed to the motions and eventually, it becomes second nature. While this has many benefits such as improving your endurance and cardiovascular health it does come with disadvantages such as straining certain muscles, causing shin splints, or Achilles tendonitis. Luckily there is a way to prevent this from happening with the right strengthening exercises.

A great way to prevent those things from happening and any long-term damage to the body and joints is by strengthening your thighs and calves. Now, you're probably thinking that your gonna have to increase your miles to get stronger. Luckily for you, there are plenty of ways beyond just adding more miles onto each training session to build up your leg strength.

Why Strength Train If You're a Runner?

Outside of running, there are other ways to build leg strength. But before we get to that, you may be wondering, why this matters.

Strength training is an important component of a runner's fitness routine. If you're looking to improve your running speed and power, run faster while using less energy, or get more out of every mile you log on the road, strength training can help.

Any athlete at any level can benefit from these 6 leg workouts. And the great thing is these can all be modified to be more or less difficult.

If you're just starting your journey I recommend:

  • Start with bodyweight exercises (push-ups, squats, lunges, etc.) before adding external weights

  • Focus on compound lifts that work multiple muscles at once (squats vs leg extensions)

1. Deadlift

The deadlift is a full-body exercise that works your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. It also strengthens your grip strength, making it an ideal exercise for runners to add to their workouts. A strong posterior chain is essential for runners because it helps keep you upright during running and makes you more stable when pushing off from the ground. The deadlift can improve posture by strengthening the muscles of your lower back and core while also improving balance because of its standing nature.

Types of Deadlift Variations

  1. Dumbbell Deadlift

  2. Kettlebell Deadlift

  3. Hex Bar Deadlift

  4. Romanian Deadlift

  5. Rack/Block Pull Deadlift

  6. Paused Deadlift

  7. Snatch Grip Deadlift

  8. Deficit Deadlift

  9. Single Leg Deadlift on Bosu Ball

2. Pistol Squat

The pistol squat is one of the most challenging and rewarding leg exercises out there. If you can do a pistol squat, it means that your quads and hamstrings are strong enough to keep you upright on one leg—and it also means that this exercise will help build muscle in those areas!

To do a pistol squat, stand on one foot with your other foot raised behind you as if standing on an invisible stair step. Plant both hands firmly on the floor in front of you, then bend at the waist until your butt almost touches the ground (or as far as possible). Rise back up again using only your legs without putting any weight onto either hand. Repeat 10 to 15 times per side.

If this seems too challenging at first, try these progressions: single-leg squats; assisted pistol squats; and finally (with practice), regular pistols!

Avoid This Mistake When Doing Pistol Squats

Not activating their core or pelvis before starting their rep; makes it hard for them to remain stable throughout their set

3. Lunge

Lunges are a great exercise for runners. They can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell. You can do them on one leg or both legs, depending on what you need to improve at that moment in time.

Lunges are also easily modified so they're not too intense if you're feeling particularly sore from your last run!

Here's how it works:

Take a step forward with one foot while bending the opposite knee until your front thigh is parallel to the floor (or lower). Pause briefly at the bottom of this position before stepping back up into starting position. Repeat with your other leg!

Types of Lunge Variations

  1. Forward Lunge

  2. Backward Lunge

  3. Lateral Lunge

  4. Curtsey Lunge

  5. Backward Lunge with Twist

  6. Lunge Jump

  7. Deadlift to Backward Lunge

  8. Single Leg Deadlift to Backward Lunge

  9. Curtsey Lunge with Kick

  10. 5 O'Clock Lunge

  11. Reverse Lunge to Overhead Press with Knee Drive

  12. Step-Up to Reverse Lunge

  13. Explosive Sprinters Lunge

All variations can be done with body weight (recommended for beginners) resistance band or with weights (dumbbells or kettlebells, whichever is more comfortable).

4. Goblet Sumo Squat

The goblet squat is a great exercise to include in your leg workouts. It targets the quads and glutes, but it doesn't hit the hamstrings or calves like other exercises do. Additionally, since it's done with dumbbells instead of barbells, you can use a lighter weight while still getting a good workout.

The goblet squat also doesn't require that much balance—the weight of your arms and torso give you support as long as you keep them up straight—so if you're just starting out with weights, this one is perfect for you!

To perform a goblet squat:

Hold two dumbbells at chest level by gripping them firmly (or hold one dumbbell at both ends). Standing with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes pointing outwards slightly, slowly lower yourself into position by bending at knee joints until thighs are parallel to the floor or until full extension cannot be reached without rounding back excessively.

Hold for 1 second before returning to the start position by pushing up through heels as hips rise upwards until the original standing posture is regained; repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

5. Leg Press

The leg press allows for a variety of foot positions to target the outer quads, inner quads, glutes, or hamstrings. Just be careful not to lower the sled too far!

Types of Lunge Variations

  1. Narrow-Stance Leg Press

  2. Wide-Stance Leg Press

  3. Single-Leg Leg Press

Avoid These Mistakes When Doing Leg Press

Lowering the sled too far causes your bottom and the lower region of your back to lift off the pad. This puts your lumbar disks at risk, especially if you aren't in total control of the sled.

Doing partial reps doesn't target all the muscle fibers of the legs. You won't adequately work the target muscles by doing only quarter-reps or even half-reps.

Lifting your heels can leave you unbalanced and reduces your ability to perform a controlled rep. Half a foot on the plate means half the force production to perform this exercise. Lifting the heels will also cause increased shear force on the knee meaning you won't be able to lift as much, have less control over the weight, and will be putting further pressure on your knees.

Running Body Mechanics

While you may think that running is a leg-centric activity, the truth is that your upper body offers just as much support to your running. Your arms and shoulders are responsible for propelling you forward, while your core provides stability during each stride. While it’s important to strengthen both of these areas, you can also benefit from strengthening your lower body as well.

Strengthening the legs of a runner can help prevent injuries and improve strength and power. Since runners spend so much time on their feet, they often experience muscle strains in the legs or back that prevent them from running at full capacity. Strengthening these areas will increase overall flexibility while preventing injury so that runners can run longer distances without getting tired easily.

Stay mindful of your body mechanics to save energy and reduce unnecessary movement to help you run stronger.

Looking for a training plan to boost your running performance?


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