6 Essential Bodyweight Exercises For Runners

Add these key moves to your strength routine for results.

You probably already know that running is excellent for building your cardiovascular health.

But what about muscular health

By improving your muscular strength, you will improve your overall health and running performance, as well as help reduce and minimize injuries.

Some basic strength training is an important part of any good marathon training plan.

So, what are the best exercises you can perform, and why should you consider doing bodyweight exercises alongside your running program?

In this guide, we will provide the six best bodyweight exercises for runners, which you can add to your strength workouts to boost your running game.

The best thing about these exercises is that you can do them at home, with no equipment.

You don’t need to be a gym rat, either—all of these exercises are simple to follow, are low-impact and low-risk, and perfect for beginners

bodyweight exercises for runners pin

Should Runners Do Bodyweight Exercises?

Whether bodyweight, weight machines, or free weights, all runner should add strength training to their fitness regiment.

Why should you consider doing bodyweight exercises for runners?

Firstly, and most importantly, bodyweight exercises are free.

Many people put off exercising outside of running because of pricey gym memberships or expensive equipment.

To perform these bodyweight exercises for runners, you just need yourself and gravity.

At most, you can invest in a decent pull-up bar for your home workouts if you don’t have anywhere you can safely perform them, such as a tree branch or sturdy pipe.

Secondly, you are much less prone to injury compared to using progressively heavier-weighted exercises. Plus, stronger muscles and a healthier body will prevent muscle imbalances and common injuries that can be caused by running.

As a running coach, I strongly suggest to all of my athletes that they add two strength training sessions a week to their training plan.

Looking for a more complete workout? Check out our 20-minute follow-along bodyweight workout.

What bodyweight exercises for runners should you Add To Your Full Body Workout?

Strength training is all about progression and balance while tuning your program so that it complements your regular sports.

In the case of balance for running, while a good amount of focus should be on your legs and lower body muscles, working your upper body provides strength that can help with your posture, running form, and running economy.

So, to hit all muscle groups and get in a balanced bodyweight strength workout, we will include a pushing exercise, a pull exercise, two core exercises, and two leg exercises to target your more important areas but not neglect the rest of your body.

The 6 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Running

Remember, before any gym workout, warm up with 10 minutes of light cardio and dynamic exercises that mimic the movement patterns you will use in your bodyweight exercise routine. You want to warm those muscles up and get your heart rate pumping.

#1: The Squat

bodyweight exercises for runners squats

The king of strength exercises. A well-performed squat works your legs and core as well as helps with some active flexibility for your muscles. Strong legs help greatly with improving your run times and preventing injuries.

The squat is a simple movement but must be performed correctly to prevent injuries and damage.

To perform the squat:

  1. Stand straight with your legs hip-width apart.
  2. Keep your back straight and your chest upright, and bend at the knees to lower yourself as if sitting in a chair.
  3. Once your hips are parallel to your knees and you are in your squat position, drive upwards through your heels to raise your body back to a standing position.
  4. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, and increase the rep count as you improve.

Note: Keep your feet flat on the floor throughout the movement, and don’t allow your knees to track over your toes. Always keep your back straight and your chest upwards. Don’t allow your back to bend.

#2: The Lunge

bodyweight exercises for runners lunges

The lunge is another excellent exercise for working your legs, but in a much more unilateral way.

This unilateral (single-leg) work will help to keep your legs even in their strength, preventing one from overworking compared to the other (muscle imbalance).

The lunge is similar to the squat in that both work the legs with a focus on the quads. Again, the lunge is very simple but requires some focus to ensure you perform it correctly and prevent injuries and issues.

How to perform the lunge:

  1. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart, and take a long step forward with one leg. Keep your back straight and your chest up through the entire motion of the lunge.
  2. Land with that front foot far enough forward that your back leg is stretched, but not all the way. Land flat on your front foot.
  3. Bend your rear knee to the ground carefully so your front leg must also bend to accommodate. Don’t allow your front knee to track over your toes. Both your legs will be nearly at 90-degree angles.
  4. Push off your front leg so that you come back to a standing position.
  5. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps, and increase the rep count as you improve.

Note: Don’t allow your knee to slam to the ground, or you risk injuring yourself. Keep it slightly above the ground as you lower it. Keep your feet at the same shoulder-width distance through motion.

You can also perform walking lunges, side lunges, and reverse lunges.

#3: Single-Leg Deadlift

bodyweight exercises for runners single-leg deadlift

The single-leg deadlift is perfect for building your glutes and lower back and helping with your balance.

Just make sure to always perform the same number of reps on both legs. Just as the squats work the front of your legs and your core, this single-leg deadlift will work your hamstrings and the core, giving you an even workout.

How to perform the single-leg deadlift:

  1. Pick a spot to lean forward and stretch your leg behind you as you perform the exercise. Start with all of your weight on your right leg.
  2. Start by hinging at the hips and tilting your body forward. Keep your back straight throughout the motion.
  3. Reach your hands to the floor before you and hinge your upper body towards the ground while simultaneously raising your right leg in back of you. 
  4. As your upper body reaches 90 degrees with your leg still on the ground, your body and rear leg should be in a straight line.
  5. Return your body to your original standing position while keeping your torso straight. Throughout the exercise, your body should not bend.
  6. Repeat the exercise on the left side and the right side performing the same amount of repetitions on both legs.
  7. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps for each leg, and increase the rep count as you improve.

#4: Plank

bodyweight exercises for runners planks

The plank is a miserable time for most, but a simple, brilliant, no-impact core exercise.

How to perform the plank:

  1. Pick a flat spot on the ground that you can lie comfortably on, face down for your starting position.
  2. When ready, push yourself up onto either your hands with straight arms or your elbows and forearms. Your only other point of contact with the ground is your toes.
  3. Keep your body straight and your abs and glutes tight while in the plank position.
  4. Begin with 30-60 seconds, and try to add 5 seconds each time you perform the plank.

Note: Your body should be straight and tight throughout the exercise. Don’t dip at the waist or raise your hips too high otherwise you won’t feel the exercise working.

You can also perform mountain climbers from this full plank position, or do side planks to work your obliques.

#5: The Pull-Up

bodyweight exercises for runners pull-ups

The pull-up is a hard exercise but is perfect for working your upper back, arms, and core.

All you need to perform the pull-up is a sturdy bar or ledge around 12 inches above your head-height, or at least high enough that you can lower yourself to full arm extension without any other part of your body touching the ground.

How to perform the pull-up:

  1. Grab your chosen bar or ledge with either an overhand or underhand grip.
  2. Keep your arms extended at full length and lift your feet off the ground so your hands support you only.
  3. Using your arms and back muscles, lift your chin to and above the bar or ledge. Keep your body straight throughout the motion and avoid kicking your legs up (kipping) for momentum to truly build the strength in your back.
  4. Control your descent and lower yourself back down to full arm extension.
  5. Aim for 3 sets of 5 reps. As you improve, increase the rep count.

Note: The pull-up is difficult to master. If need be use a resistance band to assist you or use your feet to push yourself above the bar and focus on controlling the descent until you can perform the pullup fully.

If you still struggle, look into performing horizontal rows until you build up the strength to do a full pull-up

#6: The Push-up

bodyweight exercises for runners pushups

The classic pushup will work your triceps and chest and will provide the PUSH part of your workout.

Again, this is a simple exercise but can take some time to build up the strength to perform correctly.

How to perform the pushup:

  1. Like the plank, pick a flat spot on the ground to lie face down.
  2. Place your hands on the ground, palms down, at around chest height, just below the shoulder.
  3. Using your chest and triceps, extend your arms and push yourself upwards. Your only other point of contact with the ground is your toes.
  4. Extend your arms to full extension and lower yourself to the ground, but don’t allow your body to touch it. Keep your chest around 2 inches off the ground. 
  5. Aim for 3 sets of 5-15 reps. As you improve, increase the rep count.

Note: your body should be straight through the movement. Think of it as a moving plank.

If you struggle to do a pushup, to begin with, start by performing them on your knees before moving to your toes. This will make it easier while you progress through the movement.

Takeaways – Bodyweight Exercises For Runners

Bodyweight exercises for runners are essential for a runner to build a powerful and strong body and core that will help them run better, faster, and for longer.

A stronger body helps build balance and core strength that improves posture and physical ability that will help prevent injuries down the line and make you a better runner overall. 

While this list covers the basics of bodyweight training, there is so much more that can go into your training that you can neglect your running training entirely.

Remember that, especially in this case, bodyweight training is being used to supplement your running program and not the other way around.

But if you take the time to master some basic bodyweight training you can make a serious improvement to your running game and overall health. Dedicate that little bit of time each week to these 6 bodyweight exercises and you will see excellent results quickly.

If you want to add in a few more, throw in some glute bridges, calf raises, step-ups and hamstring walk-outs.

For a full body strength dumbbell workout, read this next guide:

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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