Want to improve your running strength? Focus on exercises that duplicate the same joint action as running, therefore working the same muscles and tendons used when you hit the track.

6 ways to strengthen your running muscles - Women's Health & Fitness

Strengthening these muscles will help increase your endurance and pace, as well as boost your flexibility and posture to prevent injury.

1. Lunge with knee lift

•     Running movement: The beginning or push-off phase.
•     Muscle focus: hip flexor, quads and glutes.
•     In a lunge position, right leg back with knee slightly off the ground, left knee at a 90-degree angle. Slowly bring right leg forward and lift knee to chest while balancing on your left leg. Slowly return to starting position. Do 20 x 3 on each leg (use a chair for balance if needed).

2. Calf raise with resistance band

•    Running movement: The beginning or push-off phase.
•    Muscle focus: Calf, glutes, and inner muscles around ankle joint.
•    Stand on the edge of a step or platform about 10cm high. Place middle of band around balls of your feet and hold ends in each hand so you feel some resistance. Keep legs straight and hands by your sides. Lower heels to the floor until you feel a stretch up your legs. Push up onto toes and hold for two seconds. Repeat 25 x 3.

3. Leg pushback with resistance band

•    Running movement: the middle phase.
•    Muscle focus: hamstrings (helps to increase stride length).
•    Tie band to the right leg of a chair and tie other end around your right ankle so there is only about half a metre of band in between. Hold back of the chair with one hand and balance on left leg. Lift right knee to hip level. With a quick but controlled movement push leg back as far as you can, keeping hips as straight and still as possible, and upper body slightly forward. Return to starting position. Repeat 30 x 3 on each leg.

4. Dumbbell/barbell shoulder press

•    Running movement: similar to arm motion used when running.
•    Muscle focus: deltoids (shoulders) and triceps.
•    Stand shoulder-width apart, chest and head up, chin tucked in and abs braced. Hold dumbbell or barbell at shoulder level keeping forearms vertical. Push arms up above head, lower to starting position. Repeat 15 x 3.

5. Reverse sit-up

•    Running movement: for increased stability and better posture while running.
•    Muscle focus: Rectus Abdominis (lower stomach) and core strength.
•    Lie on floor, lift legs in the air keeping a slight bend in knees. Keep feet and knees together, lower legs as far to the ground as you can, or until you feel resistance in your lower stomach. Hold for four seconds and slowly return to starting position. Do 10-30 x 3.

6. Flexibility and stretching

Runners tend to get tight hamstrings, hip flexors (the muscle just under hips) and calves. Flexibility and stretching is important to prevent injury while running, and to increase your strength and the length of each stride by promoting longer, leaner muscles. Hold each stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat.

Push through the pain
To increase your running strength you need to be able to push past your current threshold. This means next time you feel out of breath, or your legs feel like jelly, try to keep going, even if it’s just for an extra 10 or 20 metres, it will eventually get easier. Running strength is made up of two components; physiological and psychological. You need to be mentally prepared to push your body past its limit, while being physically fit.
Keep your training varied to help increase strength and fitness, try incorporating long distance running, sprints, circuit training, interval training, weight-training and, of course, rest days to allow your muscles to repair and recover.

Start training today

How many times have you found yourself saying ‘I’ll start tomorrow’? Stop the excuses, the longer you put it off the harder it will be to kick start your training regime and discover the benefits of regular runs. Invest in some decent running shoes, such as Brooks or Asics and get on out there! There’s no better time like the present, so start today.

NEXT: Improve your running technique>>

Photo credit: Nikki Fogden-Moore