8 Essential Strength Exercises for Runners, According to a Trainer

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I hated the first yoga class I attended. The problem wasn’t my flexibility. I was familiar enough with stretching from running. The problem was that yoga was intense—much more intense than I’d expected—in terms of its demands on my strength.

We were cued into a pose and then asked to hold it for what felt like an eternity while the teacher walked around the class offering adjustments. Oh, no, I thought, he’s forgotten we’re all in the pose! My muscles were burning, my legs were shaking, and I was left to silently ask myself how is this generating inner peace?! I left class with legs like jelly, feeling humbled and much, much weaker than I’d thought myself to be.

What eventually brought me back to yoga was knowing that I needed to create balance between the strength I’d built in my marathon training and my waning flexibility. By adding a class once a week and revisiting a few poses at home after my runs, I practiced enough strength exercises for runners to bring my body back into enough balance to finish my first marathon in just under four hours.

How Yoga Is Essentially Strength Exercises for Runners

As a runner, you need both strength and flexibility in the hips and the thighs to run well and avoid injury. Yoga builds both. It also helps you find balance between them, whether your goal race is 100 meters or 100 miles. As I discovered in my first yoga class, a physical yoga practice can quickly reveal your limitations. It can also correct them.

Yoga poses use your body strength for resistance. Proper stretching helps you balance the relationship between loosening tight muscles that hamper a fluid, full range of motion. In yoga’s static stretches, you will stretch not only muscles but also the fascia that surrounds and intersperses your muscles. This connective tissue can be elastic, but it can also stick to itself like a wad of plastic wrap. Proper stretching helps to smooth it back out.

8 Strength Exercises for Runners Based on Yoga

When you flow from pose to pose, use your breath. Generally, inhale to lift yourself, exhale to lower yourself. When you hold the pose, allow your breath to come and go freely.

For some runners, yoga can suffice as a strength practice; for others, a gym-based routine is a useful supplement. If you are an efficient runner and powerful on hills, yoga may be all the strength-training you need. If you feel weak compared to others in your training and age group, combine yoga with a gym-strength routine.

Warrior 2 strengthens your quads, enhances support for your knees, and stretches your hip flexors. (Photo: Allie Jorde Creative)

1. Warrior 2

Why it’s helpful for runners: It supports knee health. Also, Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II) releases tension in your hip flexors.

How to: Take a wide stance. Turn your right foot away from you and angle your left foot slightly in the same direction. Inhale and reach your arms straight out from your shoulders and parallel to the ground. Exhale and bend your right knee into a lunge. Keep your shoulders stacked over your pelvis and squared to the side. Turn just your head to look over your right hand.

Variations: Tight hips can make any lunge difficult. If your front knee wants to fall inward, shorten your stance and step your back foot out to the side.

Woman on a sidewalk in central Phoenix practicing strength exercises for runners
Keep the bend in your front knee to maximize the strengthening in your legs as you experience lengthening along your side body. (Photo: Allie Jorde Creative)

2. Reverse Warrior

Why it’s helpful for runners: Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana) delivers all the same strengthening and stretching as Warrior 2 while adding a side stretch to Warrior 2.

How to: From Warrior 2, lift your front arm toward the sky as you relax your back arm toward the ground.

Woman practicing Warrior 3 on a sidewalk in an urban downtown
Balance exercises such as Warrior 3 challenge you to bring a little ease and grace to a demanding situation. (Photo: Allie Jorde Creative)

3. Warrior 3

Why it’s helpful for runners: Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3) builds strength in the glutes and other hip stabilizer muscles while stretching the back of the standing leg. It also challenges your core stability and demands that you focus on your balance.

How to: Stand tall and shift your weight onto your left leg. Hold your shoulders, core, hips, and right leg in a long line as you hinge forward at your hips and lift your right leg behind you. You can bend your standing leg slightly to help with balance. Reach your arms straight behind you, bring them together at your chest, extend them alongside your ears, or take them to the ground to help steady your balance.

Variations: Coming into and out of the pose with the breath makes a good dynamic warmup and workout for the hip muscles. Alternatively, holding the pose for a number of breaths is a good core challenge. To increase or decrease intensity, change the position of your arms. Hands can reach back alongside your body, straight out to the sides, or alongside your ears for more work. Try holding hands in prayer position or interlacing your fingers behind your back to stretch your chest.

Woman practicing Triangle Pose on concrete in central Phoenix as part of strength exercises for running
Equal parts strengthening and stretching, Triangle Pose delivers a balanced challenge for the lower body. (Photo: Allie Jorde Creative)

4. Triangle

Why it’s helpful for runners: Triangle (Trikonasana) stretches the hamstrings and inner thigh on the front leg, the outer hip and calf on the back leg, and the side body as well as the chest.

How to: From a wide stance, turn your right toes forward and angle your left foot roughly 90 degrees relative to the right. Keep your spine straight as you lean your side boy forward over your right thigh and rest your right hand on your thigh, shin, or ankle. Reach your left arm upward. Choose a position for your neck and head that works for you. You can look down,
forward, or up.

Variations: Use a block on either side of your front leg to rest your hand or go hands-free for a strengthing challenge.

Woman practicing a strength exercises for runners
It’s easy to forget about the back leg. You need to continue to press through the outer edge of that foot to optimize the strengthening and stretching. (Photo: Allie Jorde Creative)

5. Extended Side Angle

Why it’s helpful for runners: Like Warrior 2, Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana) offers an inner-thigh stretch while building strength isometrically. It also stretches the entire side of the body and the chest.

How to: From Triangle Pose, bend your right knee and rest your right elbow on your right thigh. Take your left arm alongside your ear, creating a diagonal line from your left heel through your right hand.

Variations: For a deeper stretch, take your right hand to a block or to the floor, either
inside or outside your right foot. To stretch your chest more, reach your left forearm behind your lower back, tucking your left fingers between your waist and right thigh.

Woman outside on a concrete sidewalk just before sunset practicing Pyramid Pose as a strength exercises for runners
 Pyramid Pose provides strength training throughout your core, including along your back body. (Photo: Allie Jorde Creative)

6. Pyramid Pose

Why it’s helpful for runners: Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana) provides a deep hamstring and hip stretch for the front leg, a calf stretch for the back leg, and a challenge for the entire back body.

How to: From Extended Side Angle, straighten your front leg and inch your back foot moderately forward while still angling  your back heel in slightly. Turn your hips to face forward and fold your chest forward over your front leg until you feel a hamstring stretch. Hold your spine parallel to the ground.

Variations: For a core workout, take your arms straight out to the sides or reach them alongside your head. For a less intense version, rest your hands on your front thigh, shin, blocks, or the ground.

Woman practicing yoga on the sidewalk in central Phoenix just before sunset
Your body engages to reach in opposite directions in Warrior 1. Your feet ground down while your arms reach up, and your hips point forward while your back heel tries to draw your hip slightly backward. (Photo: Allie Jorde Creative)

7. Warrior I

Why it’s helpful for runners: Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana I) builds balanced strength in the muscles that act on the front-leg knee and creates flexibility in the back-leg hip flexors and in the lower leg.

How to: Standing tall, step forward with your right leg and angle your left heel in slightly. Start with your feet approximately hip-distance apart. Point your pelvis straight ahead, inhale, and lift your arms alongside your ears. Exhale as you bend your front knee toward 90 degrees.

Variations: The width and length between your feet can either confer stability to your Warrior 1 or challenge your balance. Play with your stance until you find what’s right for you. If you feel a pressure on your back knee, come onto the ball of your back foot and lift your back heel in a High Lunge. If you feel unsteady, step your back foot further out to the side. Your arm position can also change here. You can keep your arms parallel or bring your hands to touch, bend your elbows and take cactus arms, or clasp your hands behind your back.

Woman in yoga leggings and sports bra practicing hip flexor stretches on concrete in downtown Phoenix.
A lunge simultaneously strengthens both legs while also stretching the hip flexors along the front of your back leg. (Photo: Allie Jorde Creative)

8. High Lunge

Why it’s helpful for runners: Like Warrior I, High Lunge builds strength in both legs while stretching the back-leg hip flexors. Lunges are one of the most useful exercises for runners, echoing the split stance of the running stride.

How to: Take a lunge with your right knee over your right ankle and your left leg long. Rest your hands on your thigh or, for a greater stretch in the hip flexors of your back leg, reach your arms alongside your ears.

RELATED: For answers to all your running-related questions, see Outside Run

Excerpted from The Runner’s Guide to Yoga by Sage Rountree (VeloPress).

About Our Contributor
Sage Rountree is the author of The Runner’s Guide to Yoga, The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga, and The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery, now in a second edition. In the last twenty years, she has worked extensively with runners, cyclists, NBA and NFL players, Olympians, and college athletes. Sage also teaches vinyasa flow and meditation in North Carolina, on her website, at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and at festivals and conferences around the country. Her upcoming book is The Art of Yoga Sequencing.

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