Key leg strength exercises for runners

Mike Chambers is a Strength & Conditioning Coach who specialises in working with runners of all levels on their strength programme. Here he shares with us the key leg strength exercises he includes in weekly sessions.

(RDL) Romanian Deadlift

The Deadlift can be an intimidating lift and comes in various forms but is worth spending time perfecting your technique as adds so great value to a runner, hitting our glutes and hamstring as well as core and upper body!

The RDL (Romanian deadlift) adds a more hamstring-focused lift with a focus on returning the bar to the floor for each rep, but keeping the hips high and hamstrings fully loaded.

Work in the 6-8 rep range and gradually build up the load so the last 2 reps you can really start to feel your muscles being challenged but still holding form.

Engage your abs and squeeze your glutes, keep your back straight and drive through your heels – ‘push the floor away’.

You can start off with a kettlebell and progress to a barbell when confident with the technique and weight. And again start with lower weight and working 8-10 reps to develop good movement patterns.


Over time reducing the reps to the 5-8 rep range going for higher weights.

Single Leg Deadlift

The other deadlift variation that should be a staple of any runner’s strength programme is the Single Leg Deadlift. 

We are only ever on one leg when we run so it is vital we train that way.

This exercise will strengthen the glutes, hamstring and calves on each leg independently, but as there is a balance element you will engage more core muscles and benefit from neuromuscular development and proprioception – all great wins for running!

Stand tall with weight focused on one leg and hold a kettlebell on the opposite side.

Drive your non-weight-bearing leg backwards keeping it straight, hinging at the hip and allowing the kettlebell to travel straight down towards the floor, engage your glutes and drive back up to start position performing 8-10 reps.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

Any form of squat will still assist in glute development but are overall more quad dominant and it’s important we develop both our posterior and anterior lower leg muscles.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats again have the benefit of training our legs independently forcing our weaker less dominant side to work. With one foot elevated on a step or box, step forward to open up your stride.

Working with bodyweight, dumbbells or kettlebells, keep your body weight through the front heel and lower the rear knee down to within a few inches of the floor. Push through the heel of the front leg and return to the start position.

This is a great exercise with just light weights or even bodyweight for 10 or more reps or progressing to using a barbell racked across the shoulders and taking the reps down to 4-6 reps.

Hip Thrusters

The Hip Thruster is possibly the king of glute focused exercises, really requiring power to drive the hips through to extension.

This exercise can be performed with body weight, or using a free weight or barbell and can really load the glutes. This is about really thrusting the weight through the hips with force.

Squeeze your glutes at the top but keep the load constant by not fully returning to the floor at the end of each rep. Keep your back straight and chin tucked to ensure the load is taken by your glutes and not lumbar.

You will be surprised what load you can use in this exercise with most clients I work with pushing 40-60kg for 5-10 reps.

Calf Raises

It’s easy to neglect our calves in a strength session, given the huge role they play in tolerating our running load and the number of injuries that relate to calf and Achilles issues, we should never underestimate the importance of regular calf strengthening.

Calf raises or heel lifts are a great way to really focus on developing this key muscle group.

It is important to understand the role each element of our calf complex plays in running to understand how we best do these exercises.

The soleus muscle which sits lower and deeper to the more prominent gastrocnemius muscle actually plays a more significant role in distance running has more slow-twitch muscle fibres and assists with deceleration at ground contact and drives us forward at toe-off.

To really target the soleus muscle, keep your knee bent and raise your heel off the ground onto the ball of your foot using seated calf raisers or leg press machine – or even get your partner to sit on one knee!

Yes, you are looking to be pushing through at least your body weight around 6-8 reps on a single leg.

Mike Chambers
UKA Endurance and Strength and Conditioning Coach

Don’t forget to visit Alexandra Sports for industry-leading services such as gait analysis and custom insole fitting to help further your training and running potential.

Previous articleNot just a netball shoe – a versatile option for home workouts
Next articleLooking to run a 5K in 25 minutes?