A 30-Minute Upper Leg Bodyweight Routine for Runners – Kratos

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Hamstring Curls on Stability Ball

Photo Credit: LocalFitness.com.au

Update 10/15/12: In keeping with the designations established by Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect in his outstanding strength training progression, I named this workout “Kratos” after a Greek god of strength and power.  It should be considered a second step in a progression from the “Bia” hip routine.

Strength work adds several potential benefits for runners, including:

  • Improved resistance to injury
  • Gains in running form and economy
  • Ability to maintain form and efficiency late in a race

It can be tough to fit in traditional weight- or equipment-based training, when such involves a trip to the gym.  Fortunately, there are plenty of bodyweight exercises that can do the trick, within the comfort of your own home and whenever it is convenient to fit it in.

This routine is a general upper leg workout that focuses on muscles often left out of balance from running, as running tends to “excessively” strengthen the quads.  These muscles or ligaments include:

  • The gluteals (which, along with the tensor fascia lata, make up the hip abductors)
  • The hamstrings
  • The iliotibial (IT) bands
  • The hip flexors

This routine takes between 25 and 40 minutes to complete and the only equipment required is a Thera-Band or similar resistance band.  It is a combination of elements from Jason Fitzgerald’s ITB Rehab Routine on Strength Running, Jon-Erik Kawamoto’s Runner’s Six Pack from the January 2012 issue of Running Times, and a suggestion from Chip on a prior post about hamstring maintenance exercises.

Lateral Leg Raises

These work the hip abductors. Lay on your right side with the Thera-Band near your ankles.  While keeping your legs straight, lift your leg slowly to a 45-degree angle against the resistance of the band. Lower slowly, and repeat 25 times on each side.

Clam Shells

This exercise works the hip abductors and gluteals. Lay on your right side with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle and the Thera-Band wrapped around your lower thighs.  While keeping your ankles together, lift your left knee slowly to a 45-degree angle, opening like a clam.  Lower, and repeat 25 times on each side.

Side Steps

This exercise also works your hip abductors and gluteals. Stand with your knees slightly bent and legs spread sufficient enough to keep the Thera-Band around your ankles.  Step to the left against the resistance of the band, and then bring your right foot together (so you have moved to the left). Repeat 10 times to the left, and then 10 times back to the right, and do a total of 5 sets.

Hip Thrusts

This exercise works primarily the gluteals. There are a couple of single-leg versions of the exercise. I prefer the one with your shoulders supported by a couch, with your arms extended the length of the couch.  Both knees should be bent 90 degrees, with your weight supported by your upper back and feet.  Raise your right leg off the ground and keep it raised.  Lower your hips to the ground (but don’t rest on the ground) and use your left leg to raise back up, clenching your glutes at the top. Lower slowly, and perform 3 sets of 12 reps on each leg.

Alternative: These can be performed on the ground, with your weight supported on your shoulders/upper back and one leg. The other leg should be raised.  Raise and lower your hips using one leg.  Do either 3 sets of 12 reps or 25 reps straight on each leg.

Single Leg Squats, Rear Leg Extended

This is a broadly useful exercise as most squats are, targeting the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Stand a short distance in front of a couch on your left leg, with the right leg extended behind you and the top of your right foot resting on the couch. Lower your body slowly until your left knee is at a 90 degree angle, then rise back up.  Repeat this five times on each leg and do three to five sets.

Alternative: Pistol squats (with your non-active leg extended in front) offer additional challenge by requiring good balance during the squats.

Single Leg Deadlift to Standing High Knee

This exercise targets the glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors (iliopsoas).  Assume the single-leg deadlift position with your trunk bent forward and right leg extended behind, so that your body forms a tee.  After holding for a few seconds and feeling the stretch in the hamstring, raise your trunk while swinging your rit leg down and through, keeping it going to bring your right knee smoothly towards your chest. Hold with your knee above 90 degrees for 8-10 seconds, then return slowly to the deadlift position.  Repeat five times for each leg, and do three to five sets.

Hamstring Curls

This exercise develops strength in the hamstrings.  Lay on your back with your legs up on a stability ball, with the calves contacting the ball. Bend your knees and raise your back simultaneously, bringing your feet to the ball.  Continue raising until your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Hold for a second, then return slowly to the starting position.  Repeat 15 times and do three sets.

Alternative: If these become too easy, then you can move to a single leg version.

Performing this routine two or three times per week, maybe after a shorter anticipation run, can help simultaneously improve your running form and efficiency and increase your resistance to injury.  To get a good hour-long workout in, combine it with a core routine optimized for runners.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Reed/1053744112 Chris Reed

    Clamshells have been a major part of avoiding hip pain for me.  I am thinking of adding some of the others – thanks, Greg!

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Thanks for your comment Chris, I think we all have our weaknesses. Now I need to figure out how to keep my calves/achilles in balance, as I think I’m generally straightened out on the upper legs and core.

  • http://twitter.com/billroddy Bill Roddy

    good stuff, greg. i may need an image or video for a couple of these, because i’m having a hard time visualizing (especially the hip thrust). i’ll have to do some google searching.

    i’m heading to DC for a couple of days for my son’s class trip so i hope to get through your book during the bus ride.

  • http://predawnrunner.com Greg Strosaker

    Bill, Fitz’s site (Strength Running) has video of the first several elements in the routine, plus grounded hip thrusts. But I’m considering posting a video of my full routine as well, just a question on whether I do it in my magical Batman PJ’s.

    And thanks for buying the book, I hope you enjoy both it and the trip to DC, great time of year to go.

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