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RUNNING Away From Injury: Strength Part II

Runners often have tunnel vision.

View previous post in this series, RUNNING Away From Injury.

The only thing we turn is our heads.

Runners train in one direction- forward. Even triathletes who train in 3 sports still move straight ahead to swim, bike and run.

We can’t always run on perfectly groomed dirt paths. Most of us spend our time on roads, treadmills, tracks and unfortunately, sidewalks. Our feet may hit the road but the force reverberates up through our entire body. Not only can this cause injury, it adds to our fatigue.

If we want to improve our endurance and lessen our risk of injury, we must recruit supporting muscles and ligaments and strengthen them.

When our largest muscles fatigue, our body has no choice but to recruit strength from adjoining ligaments, tendons, and smaller muscles. If we do not train those “supporters” to step up to the plate, they will break down and cause us pain. Think about it. Rarely do runners have quadricep injuries. More often, it’s knee, foot, shin, achilles, lower back or hip pain.

Strength Exercises: Part II

Any cross training that involves lateral movements (side to side) is great for runners. Yoga, soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, kickboxing, martial arts, etc. The other option is to include specific exercises to work your inner and outer thighs, hamstrings, glutes, etc.

The focus today is on lateral movements and running simulation exercises.

I’m not a fan of weight machines but I do think abductor and adductor isolating machines at the gym are quite good at targeting and strengthening the inner and outer thigh. Check them out.

Round The Clock Lunges

    • Targets inner and outer thigh, lower back, core, ankles, quads and hamstrings.
    • Picture a clock. Lunge toward 10:00, 2:00, 4:00, 8:00. Add in 3:00 and 9:00.
    • Forward and backward lunges are great too. Just think about expanding that common exercise directionally.

Lateral Squat Walk

    • Step inside a wide elastic strap that is tight enough to give you a lot of resistance.
    • Squat as if starting to sit down and walk sideways maintaining tension on the strap. Doesn’t matter how big your step is, only that you maintain adequate tension to feel pressure on your outer thigh.
    • When you maintain a sitting posture, you’ll feel less tension on your knees and more pressure on your quads and outer thighs.
    • Straps can be purchased here.

Abductor Pull

    • Targets your upper, outer thigh (abductors).
    • Use a strap band attached to a stationary object. Wrap around outside ankle. Keep legs straight and gently raise outside leg out to the side creating tension on the strap. Hold for a few seconds before releasing and repeat.
    • I suggest tightly flexing the leg that is pulling the strap to protect your knee.

Bear Crawl

    • Targets your inner and outer thigh, calves, glutes, core, upper body, and hips. Gently stretches out lower back.
    • Whenever I do the bear crawl, it reminds me of playing the game, Twister, as a kid. (Which by the way, I highly recommend!)
    • The idea is to exaggerate the move. Unlike PE class, this isn’t a race but a chance to stretch your legs out to the side while making forward progress.
    • If you can, keep your hands flat. The more you bend, the more you benefit.

Explosive power is frequently ignored by long distance runners. Seek out Plyometric exercises or classes that not only increase your strength but raise your heart rate as well. The following exercises mimic some of the motions used when running.

Stair Run-Ups

    • Helps running flexibility and power. Targets quads, calves, ankles, core, and hip flexors.
    • Important- this move is different than you typical knee thrust exercise. Do it on stairs if possible. Notice my starting position. My leg is back so if you drew a line from my bottom ankle to my bent knee on the stair, it would be a straight line. Not only will you feel a stretch in your hip flexor but you gain a larger range of movement from that position to the knee thrust position adding more strength and power to the move.
    • Helps with push-off when running. It takes more power from your forefoot to explode upward from this position.
    • Do each side separately in sets of 10.
    • Advanced: speed it up while maintaining positioning. Really thrust the knee up and recruit your arms and core.

Variation: This exercise can be done on the ground also. Just keep your lunge wide.

Knee Pumps

    • Targets the hip joint, hip flexor, and foot. Specifically designed to improve your push-off.
    • Start in a comfortable lunge position. Thrust the knee forward and up high and immediately back down to lunge position. Concentrate on the push-off from your forefoot to a high knee.
    • Sets of 25 on each side fast.

Pelican Sit

    • Targets quads, calves, hips, glutes and core. Also requires focus, balance and coordination.
    • Best done over a chair or soft surface in case you lose your balance.
    • The key is to keep your upper body upright as much as possible. Leaning too far forward puts unnecessary stress on your knee.
    • Slow and controlled, one leg out in front, pretend like you are about to sit in a chair. Hold for 5 seconds.
    • Alternate sides.

Jumping Lunges (My personal nemesis!)

  • This is a great exercise to increase your explosive power. They are difficult (for me at least) and can make you sore. Build quantity over time.
  • Start in a lunge and explode (jump) upward switching legs to a lunge position on the other side. Keep repeating.
  • Variation: If these are too difficult, start with walking lunges.


  • Targets calves, feet and quads. Good for increasing explosive power.
  • So simple and yet annoyingly hard. 25 hops on each leg. Repeat 2-3 sets.
  • Variation: do between speed intervals on a flat surface that is free from debris. Propel yourself forward instead of in place.

Skitz Tip:

A good time to focus on these exercises is in the winter when you’re stuck indoors and tired of the treadmill. Instead of a longer run (or walk) on the treadmill, cut it back and add in these strength exercises.

[sneak peek message=”Stay tuned for Part V, the conclusion of RUNNING Away From Injury, Injured & Cranky”]


"The task ahead of you is never greater than the strength within you."



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  1. Mark L. Willens #

    Tell me again why you didn’t make the Olympic team this year?

    September 20, 2012
    • fitskitz

      Flipping on a 4″ wide piece of wood didn’t appeal to me this year.

      September 20, 2012
  2. Chloe Ortbals #

    I wish the XC team didn’t have to run on sidewalks 90% of the time. Unfortunately it’s all for safety. No wonder half of the team has shin splints!

    September 22, 2012
  3. Now that’s sutelb! Great to hear from you.

    July 20, 2016

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