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  • Writer's pictureEmma Carpenter

Exercises to strengthen legs for running

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

Do you suffer with knee pain, shin splints or hip pain?


I train a lot of clients who want personal bests in their full and half marathons. Next year I am taking part in the Colchester Half Marathon. To say it would be easy for me would be a lie, I have a poor technique, find running hard and to top it all off I suffer with a condition called shin splints. I get told a lot "you're a personal trainer though, you should be able to do a half marathon with ease." I always respond with "just because you're a personal trainer doesn't mean you are fit in all areas of fitness." Don't get me wrong I am well rounded with exercise however I don't train every day to run a half marathon, Yes I play netball as a centre which entails a lot of running however I mainly do weight training which is a completely different area of training than running a half marathon.


So in the new year I will be starting a 12-16 week running plan to ensure I am ready to run a half marathon on the 21st of May, Like myself a lot of people suffer with shin splints, knee pain and even hip pain. First thing I say to new potential clients is 'have you had your gate fitted?' 'have you got suitable running trainers for your stride?' Most people look at me confused as they think surely a running trainer is a running trainer for a reason? Yes they are good for running but it isn't a 'one fits all" scenario. Every individual, walks, runs and weight bares differently. So before you even decide to start running and trying out these exercises I would go to a running trainer store and get your gate fitted so the trainer is fitted to your way of running. I run flat footed hence having shin splints, my quads are really strong but in the calf department they are non existent. So in the new year I am taking another trip top runners world to get suitable footwear for my flat feet.


Shin splints, knee and hip pain can also be down to a weakness in leg muscles. When you think leg muscles most people think quads, hamstring and calves. There is much more into just your legs. Running includes your glutes (bum muscles) your hip flexes, core, lower back, abductors and adductor muscles. Now I am not going to go into depth with a biology lesson about each of these muscles. All you need to know is all these muscles need to be working at the best of their ability to help with your running technique and pbs. With the workout below these will use all these muscles sometimes more than one in each exercise. So if you want that personal best then read on and take notes as this workout is what you need.



So what I am going to break down today in my 'Let's keep it real' blog is 5 exercises you should incorporate into your training to help build endurance and strength when it comes to getting those personal bests in running. If your a beginner I would do these workout 1-2 times a week including your running training, please leave at least 2 days between each leg day workout.


3 rounds 8-12 reps of exercise- complete in a circuit based workout.


1. Squats- To complete a squat safely make sure you have safety bars set up or someone spotting you. For a barbell squats, set the bar so you can safely rack up. Once barbell is safely on your back have feet hip width apart, turn toes out slightly, look down in the space in front of you, rock hips back like your about to sit on a chair and make sure to keep those feet flat, if you go up onto your toes or rock back on your heels lower the weight as form is important. The saying ass to the grass is a great way of thinking as the lower the squat the more you will feel it. If you haven't got a barbell then use 2x dumbbells rest on both your shoulders and repeat the same technique just with dumbbells on your shoulder instead of a barbell on your back. You need that hamstring and quad strength especially if your route is hilly. Having stronger legs and building up the muscles has been found to build endurance and speed when it comes to running.


2. Step ups-You can use an exercise step or even a step in your house. Start on your weaker leg then once you

complete the reps repeat on your stronger leg. You want to stand up tall in the step up before you step back down. We want that explosive movement to help when we want to drive with our legs in running.



3.Deadlifts- With the weights on your barbell walk your legs into the bar so your shins are attached to the barbell. Next have a good grip and I measure by seeing where the smooth meets the rough on the barbell and I use my thumb to measure before wrapping my thumbs around the bar. Next you want to imagine you're a silver back gorilla, puff your chest up, retract your shoulders back, bum down, look directly infant of you then stand tall with the barbell not leaving your legs. Then bring the bar back down to the start position keeping the silver back gorilla stance and shoulders retracted. Please make sure you know the technique or get someone to spot you to make sure you are doing this lift safely, as the amount of people I see doing deadlifts with a round back panics me as that is your one way ticket to a back injury. Deadlifts are important as you need a strong posturer chain when it comes to running as well as a well conditioned trunk.


4.Walking lunges- When doing walking lunges you want to start standing tall, I have my hands on my hips, then looking forward I take a step forward and lunge bending my front leg and dipping my back knee

to the ground. your front knee should not bend over the front of your toes in your front foot. You don't need to bring that knee all the way to the floor just to a point where you feel it then stand back up tall then repeat with the other leg. Once your technique is spot on you can then add some dumbbells in each hand and have them by your side to challenge yourself.



5.Calf raises- Stand on an edge of a step so you can get full movement, with your heels off the step and toes on the edge lift up nice and tall then dip back down so heels go down towards the ground then lift straight back up tall. If like me you have no calfs this will be painful and sometimes I go for form as I want to work my calves so I set up next to a wall or rig to help with my balance. If you have hardcore calves then you can hold plates to your chest to make the exercise more challenging.



After this workout your legs will be like jelly and you may get Doms (delayed onset muscle soreness) but what I would do is have a recovery run the next day to flush out the lactic acid (the pain in your legs normally the next day or for us women it is normally 2 days after the workout). Including this workout into your running training program I guarantee your legs will get stronger and therefore your endurance, speed and those very important Personal Bests will improve. I am going to be including this workout into my program into the new year, I will run 3 times a week and then incorporate this twice a week...as well as playing netball...and training my clients...I love being busy! Remember to have rest days as the saying "gains don't happen in the gym, they happen at home" is very true as you need your muscles to repair to then get stronger, so have at least 2 days rest a week.


So like every blog I am going to leave you with some questions to think about! Who is joining me next year to train and complete a half marathon? What do you include in your training program? Have you suffered with shin splints or knee/hip pain? But remember guys 'Let's keep it real'.



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