Best exercises to develop running performance

In my many years in the fitness industry I have coached a wide variety of athletes, from total beginners to GB & Internationally competitive athletes. I have also coached a wide variety of long distance runners including Triathletes, Iron Man Athletes and Marathon Runners.

In my experience - very often, running athletes have had little to no exposure of true Strength & Conditioning (S&C) work. If they do any gym work it is usually unformulated, random workouts which, although can be of use, really is not the best way to develop themselves in their sport.

I am often telling my family, friends and gym members that a well periodised S&C programme is just as crucial for them as it is for any sport in the world. S&C is not only crucial for athletic development but also for injury prevention - something that many runners have had provlems with in my experience.

Below are a list of my 5 top exerices for developing running performance. It is worth noting the difference between primary, secondary and tertiary exercises. Primary exerices are those that are performed in the sport itself. In this case, the primary exerice is running. Secondary exercises are exercises that develop the skills and attributes of the primary exercise. In this case, secondary exercises are running drills and technique work, Squats, Deadlifts etc. Tertiary exercises help improve the performance of the secondary exercises (which in turn help the primary exericse). In this blog we shall be looking at secondary and tertiary exercises that can be performed in a standard gym

Back Squat

1) Back Squat - This exercise is extremely useful when the goal is to develop knee and hip extension force and/or power output. There are other squat variations that can be used to develop leg extension strength, but the back squat (if performed correctly) ensures the bar is kept in your centre of mass - therefore more weight can be added, thus challenging leg extension more. Other squats will be more appropiate depending on injury status, mobility and personal antropetrics.

Power Clean (during the pull)

2) Power Clean/Hang Power Clean - These variations on the traditional olympic weightlifting movements have been proven to improve knee and hip extension strength and power. Another additional benefit of them is that they develop Rate of Force Development (RFD). Improving your RFD will ensure that you can apply more force in a shorter amount of time. This is crucial, as applying more force per step will propel you forward with less fatigue and will allow you to run for further and faster.

Russian Step - Up

3) Russian Step Up - As well as developing unilateral (one side at a time) leg and hip extension, this exercise also develops the gait cycle of running (the cycles of how the hip and knees behave during a running cycle). You can also imbalance this exercise by adding a weight in one hand (making it contralateral). The imbalance will challenge more planes of movement (frontal plane) so will challenge your core and hip muscularity. It will also develop the stiffness in your thoracolumbar facia which is crucial for running development.

Contralateral Single Leg RDL

4) Single Leg Romanian Deadlift - Hamstrings are often neglected, which is dangerous for any runner. Hamstrings work in the late phase of the gait cycle to control the knee extension. If the Quadricep is over developed, the Hamstring simply cannot control the force of the leg extension and can tear (this mostly happens at high velocity sprinting). They will also ensure that the hip position is correct and condition the thoracolumbar facia.

Pall Off Press

5) Pall Off Press - this exercise develops the abs to resist transverse plane forces. This is crucial as the force developed through the cycling of the hip and knee extension (and flexion) does not want to be wasted by leaking side to side. Ensuring the runner has adequate stiffness through the abs in the correct plane of movement will ensure running effeciency is maintained.

There are many more exercises that can help with running performance, the above exercises are my top 5. However it is also crucial that they are placed within a programme correctly, and that the programme is properly periodised for your goals.

If you have any further questions on this topic then please get in touch!

Stay Strong,