The squat is a simple, classic exercise that should be part of every runner's routine. That's because it builds functional strength that carries over to better running. Squats activate the glutes, hips, hamstrings, quads, calves, and core muscles in a bent-knee position, which builds running-specific power to propel you forward.
Strengthening these muscles also guards against injuries like runner's knee and iliotibial-band syndrome. While you're probably familiar with the basic squat, these variations have big payoffs for runners, says Robert Gillanders, P.T., director of the Running Performance Program at Sports and Spinal Physical Therapy in Washington, D.C. (Watch this squat-routine video to follow along.)
Good-Form Tips That Protect Knees
1. Maintain a tall torso with shoulders back, chest out, and gaze straight ahead.
2. Lower down until your thighs are parallel to the ground (no deeper).
3. Watch your knees: Don't let them extend past your toes or collapse inward.
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Targets glutes (a common weak spot)
To Do: Step your left foot out to your left side. Bend your left knee and lower down into a squat. Push off the floor with your left foot to return to standing. Repeat on the right. Continue alternating legs for two sets of 15 reps.
Video: Dynamic Warmup for Runners
Strengthens the glutes plus your core muscles
To Do: Lower down into a squat. Then rise up as you extend your arms and rotate your torso to your left. Return to center, lower down into a squat, rise up, and rotate right. Alternate sides for two sets of 15 reps. For a greater challenge, hold a weight or medicine ball.
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Works the glutes, quadriceps, and core, while also stretching the back to improve posture
To Do: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold a towel overhead, hands wide. Tighten your abs and bring your shoulder blades together as you squat down. Return to standing, hands still overhead. Do two sets of 15 reps.
Enhances power in the glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves to help you charge hills and finish races with a strong kick
Tweaks to Your Favorite Workout Moves
To Do: Lower down into a squat position, keeping your back straight. Jump up quickly. Focus on landing softly and avoid letting your knees collapse together. () Do two sets of 10 reps.
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Builds muscular endurance to help you fight fatigue and maintain form on long runs
To Do: Step forward with your right leg. Lower down so your left knee hovers above the floor. Slowly raise back up to a count of three, and then slowly lower back down to a count of three. After 15 reps, switch legs. Do two sets on each leg.