Lower Body Exercises for Runners

Strength-training has numerous benefits for runners, from injury prevention to improved endurance and speed. Doing some lower body work 2-3 times a week can make a huge difference in your performance. Here are some effective lower body exercises to work into your routine.


Forward Lunge

Runner stretching in sunny rural field
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The forward lunge is a great exercise for strengthening your quads (front thighs) and glutes. Here's how to do it:

  1. Start by standing with good posture. Your feet should be hip to shoulder width apart, and your arms should be at your sides.
  2. Take a big step forward, keeping upper body as straight as possible (see photo).
  3. Lunge until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your back knee is close to the floor.
  4. Both knees should be bent at approximately 90 degrees. Make sure your front knee doesn't go past your toes.
  5. Keep your eyes looking straight ahead, and don't look down.
  6. Return back to the standing position, alternate legs and repeat. Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps on each side.

Too easy? Make it more challenging by adding light dumbbells.



Squats are an excellent move for runners because they'll help strengthen your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and even your core. Here's how to do a squat properly.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Look straight ahead and keep your chest up.
  3. Extend your arms out straight, with your palms facing down
  4. Bend your knees and push your butt and hips out and down behind you as if you're about to sit on a chair.
  5. Keep your weight on your heels and make sure your knees don’t go past your toes. Your heels should remain on the floor for the entire move.
  6. Lower yourself down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Make sure you keep your torso upright and raise your arms while squatting down.
  7. Straighten your legs and squeeze your butt as you come back up to a standing position. Bring your arms to your side on the way up, keeping your shoulders back.
  8. Do 3 sets of 15 reps.

Donkey Kick Exercise

Donkey kick exercises help build strong glutes or butt muscles. Here's what to do:

  1. Start on your hands and knees, with your abdominal muscles drawn in toward your spine.
  2. Lift your left leg up behind you, keeping your right knee bent, and raise your leg until it is in line with your body and your flexed foot is parallel to the ceiling (see photo).
  3. Then bring your left leg back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 12-15 times on each leg.

Wall Sit

The wall sit is a fantastic lower body exercise. You’ll build strength and endurance in your quadriceps (thigh muscles), glutes (butt), and calves. Here's what to do:

  1. Start with your back against a wall (or a tree if you’re exercising in the great outdoors) with your feet shoulder width and about two feet from the wall.
  2. Slowly slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground and your knees form a right angle.
  3. Adjust your feet so that your knees are directly above your ankles. They shouldn’t be over your toes.
  4. Hold the position for 30 to 60 second and keep your abdominal muscles engaged. Your back should stay flat against the wall. 
  5. Return to your starting posture by pushing up using your legs and repeat the exercise two more times.

Too easy? Try to increase your hold time by five seconds as you increase your strength.

Too difficult? Try for a shorter hold time until you can build up to 30 seconds. Start with 10 seconds and keep adding another five seconds as your strength improves.


Dumbbell Squat to Overhead Press

This squat is a bit more advanced than a regular squat and will also work your upper body. Here's what to do:

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder height with your elbows bent. Position your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Keeping your chest upright, bend your knees and lower until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Straighten out your arms so the dumbbells are out in front of you.
  3. As with a regular squat, keep your weight on your heels and make sure your knees don’t go past your toes. Your heels should remain on the floor for the entire move.
  4. As you stand, bend your elbows and press the weights up until your arms are straight up over your head.
  5. Return to the starting position to complete one rep. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.

Alternating Sprinter Lunge

Not only will this exercise build strength in your lower body, you'll also work on your endurance. Here's what to do:

  1. Start in a front plank position. Make sure your wrists are aligned with your shoulders.
  2. Bring your left knee towards your chest, so you're in a sprinter's starting position. Your right leg should be extended behind you, with your toes on the ground.
  3. Make sure that your feet are pointing straight ahead, not externally rotated.
  4. In one quick motion, switch the positions of your legs by driving your right knee toward your chest and straightening your left leg. Keep your knee between your arms — don't let it go outside your elbow.
  5. Switch positions of your legs again by driving your left knee forward and straightening your right leg. Once you've driven both legs forward, that's one rep.
  6. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.

Skater Lunge

You'll feel the burn when you do this variation of a reverse lunge. Here's what to do:

  1. Cross your left leg behind your right leg as you bend your right knee into a half-squat position.
  2. Extend your right arm out to your side, and swing your left arm across your hips.
  3. Leap to the side, bring your right leg behind you and switch the position of your arms. That's one rep.
  4. Continue hopping from side to side until you’ve completed 20 total reps.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.