A Simple Plan for Stronger Running

Lack of core strength and hip stability can be debilitating to runners – don’t let this happen to you.

When I worked as a personal trainer, I had the opportunity to design a program for a master’s triathlete. Her main goal was to increase her total strength while reducing her knee pain in the three months leading up to her next competition.

The routine we followed, which ultimately led her to completing a pain-free race, is something I recommend for anyone with the goal of becoming a stronger, healthier runner.

Hip Stability and Body Awareness

There are a couple of things that impact many runners and the quality of their stride: hip stability and core strength. What is the biggest indicator of hip stability and core strength other than genetics? The amount of time we spend sitting in a chair. Something that a lot of us have in common is the amount of time we sit with a supported ass and back. No judgment passed – I am sitting on my couch right now as I type this. This is just something to take into consideration when assessing strength and movement.

As a result of this sitting, a lot of people have a noticeable lack of awareness as to where their bodies are in space. When watching runners in the city (because I am creepy like that), I see a lot of severe knee collapse (especially in women), flexed hips, clompy heel-striking, hunched necks, and rounded shoulders. All of these point to the same thing – blissful ignorance to a weak core and lack of hip stability.

“As a result of this sitting, a lot of people have a noticeable lack of awareness as to where their bodies are in space.”

When I started working with my client, we didn’t have a lot of time for rigid movement assessments. I am not FMS-certified, nor am I certain about the conclusions that the system tends to draw (I have both passed and failed separate components of the FMS when assessed by different people). What I did know is that we needed to focus on quality movement.

The Program

The first thing I tackled was teaching her a productive warm-up. Given our thirty-minute time cap for each training session, warming up together was not a productive option. We spent our first session going over the basics of rowing on the Concept 2, as well as two basic glute-activation and hip-opening exercises.

Depending on how early she was for our session, my client would row at an easy pace for about five to ten minutes, and then follow that with a glute circuit of hip bridges and side clams. If these are too easy for you, use bands to increase the resistance.

After that, we focused on single-leg squat progressions. The goal wasn’t to get her doing pistols, even though I think a 65-year-old woman doing pistols in the park would be pretty badass. Rather, single-leg squat progressions were the perfect way to get her to think about hip and knee stability while keeping her core active and engaged.

We started with an elevated progression – about a 24” bench plus one of those 1990s step aerobics things – concentrating on keeping her chest open instead of rounding forward, leaning back, pushing the supporting knee out without letting it cave in, and avoiding letting the opposite hip cross in and over. Our first couple sessions left her with a lot of hip and glute soreness, and although soreness wasn’t ideal, I knew we were on the right track. By her last sessions before her race, we had progressed to single-leg squats parallel to the bench. Rock on.

As far as picking a movement to develop total body strength, I needed something as “bang for your buck” as the big lifts, but that was easily learnable and more forgiving to mobility issues than the barbell. Enter the trap bar – the ultimate piece of equipment for athletic development.

Trap bar “deadlifts” are a squat/deadlift hybrid with the emphasis depending on the movement of the individual. The important thing is that the trap bar safely loads the spine and hips. The person simply stands up with the weight and puts it back down. Perfect. If you have a problem with knee collapse (like me), put a band around your knees and actively push against it while lifting. This can help groove some good movement patterns.

Lastly, with runners especially, it is important to recognize the body as a big connected “X.” It isn’t just about arms and legs – it is about the core, which connects everything and facilitates the proper transmission of force throughout the body. A weak back means less than ideal force transmission while pounding the pavement, as does an unstable anterior core. This can lead to weak and/or tight hip extensors and all kinds of running-related ailments like runner’s knee, foot discomfort, and low back pain.

In training the core, it is important to divide and conquer both tension and dynamic stability. Planks are about creating tension and teaching your body how to hold itself together under load. When executed properly, planks can help teach you to be a better exerciser. With that in mind, since running is moving and planks happen on the ground, we should also incorporate drills that teach the runner to stabilize through movement.

The Plan

Given all of that, this is the workout I prescribe for a person who seeks to be a stronger runner. It should take you about 45 minutes to complete and you can repeat this routine two to three times a week in conjunction with your regular running schedule:

Warm Up

  • 5-10 minutes easy-pace rowing (or similar)

Glute Circuit (3 times)

  • 12 hip bridges
  • 10 side clams (on each side)

Single-Leg Squat Progression

  • 6×3 each leg

Trap Bar Deadlift

  • 8 x empty bar plus 2-3 more warm-up sets
  • 8×3 working sets (add 5lbs every three sessions or whatever feels right – just keep the progress moving)

Core Work (you can do these as a circuit or rest between)

  • 10 x 3 TRX/ring/Jungle Gym rows
  • Max tension RKC plank
  • Side plank
  • Bottoms-up kettlebell carry (focus on stride and stability over distance)
  • Baby crawl (option to place 2.5lb plate on lumbar spine for stability)

Nothing to Lose

There you have it – a simple routine that will help you tackle mobility, strength, and stability that can help your performance when you hit the pavement (or track). Give this routine a try for a few months and see what happens. My guess is that you will find yourself to be a stronger and happier runner with a really, really nice ass.

You’ll also enjoy:

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.