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Strength Training for Runners

Giles Gyer, co-director of Osteon physical therapy, introduces you to single leg strength training, a way of improving your power, your performance, and overall stability.


Now before we start, at no point during this article will you read the following phrases, "Go heavy or go home", "Train through the pain" or "Believe it, and you can achieve it". Let's leave that advice to the guys in the gym that walk around with protein shakes and look like they are carrying invisible rolls of carpet under each arm.

Going back to basics, when we run; we in essence run with one foot on the ground at any one time, it's pretty much a single legged action which forms into a series of bounds. So if we are using our legs one at a time, then why when we train in the gym do we tend to only favor exercises that focus on training both legs at the same time?

Just as if someone is left or right handed, with our legs, we will have a strong side and a weak side. Normally there will be a number of imbalances between them, whether that be one stronger quad, one tighter hamstring, or the feeling that you're left ankle is just not as stable as the right.

Now I am not saying this is the end of squats, they are a foundation exercise in any strength program, but for runners, single leg exercises are much more sports specific and should play a key role in the gym, so let's train smarter not harder. Welcome to single leg training, a beginners guide.

What are the benefits of single leg exercises?
  • Injury Prevention, by balancing out any weaknesses between legs
  • Improves leg stability by recruiting more muscles during the exercise
  • Will strengthen those hard to reach muscles that help stabilise the hips, knees and core
  • Improves functional leg power, endurance, flexibility and performance
  • Some of the most challenging exercises you'll do

 

Just remember, always warm up effectively before you start any training program, use proper form with all exercises, and if in any doubt on the execution of any of these exercises, ask a qualified gym instructor to show you what to do, now lets push it up a gear with 4 of the best.

1 - The Pistol Squat

The ultimate single leg exercise

Preparation

Balance on one leg with opposite leg extended straight leg forward as high as possible. Trust me, it's not as easy as it looks.

Action

Squat down as far as possible while keeping leg straight and off the floor. Keep your back straight and the supporting knee pointing in the same direction as the supporting foot. Raise your body back up to original position until knee and hip of supporting leg is straight.

2 - The Split Squat

Preparation

Standing facing away from bench. Try initially using body weight then build up to using a dumbbell held to the front in a goblet hold. Extend leg back and place top of foot on bench.

Action

Squat down by flexing knee and hip of front leg until knee of rear leg is almost in contact with floor. We are not lunging forwards, we are moving up and down. Return to original standing position by extending hip and knee of forward leg.

3 - Single-Leg Dumbbell Straight-Leg Deadlift

Preparation

Hold dumbbell in each hand. Position dumbbells down in front of upper thighs with arms straight. Stand with feet together. Lift leg slightly so foot is just off floor, be prepared to have a good wobble, steady yourself and feel the hamstring tighten.

Action

Lower the dumbbells to floor while raising lifted leg back behind. Keep back straight and knee of supporting leg slightly bend. Keep hip and knee of lifted leg extended throughout movement. Once stretch is felt or dumbbells contacts floor, return to original position by raising your body while lowering lifted leg. Straighten knee of supporting leg as your body becomes upright.

4 - Single-Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises

Preparation

Grasp dumbbell in one hand to side. Position toes and balls of feet on calf block with arches and heels extending off. Place hand on support for balance. Lift other leg to rear by bending knee.

Action

Raise your heel by extending ankle as high as possible. Lower heel by bending ankle until calf is stretched, and get ready to feel the burn.