Squats for Runners Guide: How To, Benefits, + 20 Variations To Try

If there’s one staple exercise in a runner’s strength training program, it’s, you guessed it, squats! Bodyweight squats, goblet squats, pulse squats, squat jacks, the list goes on; these squats for runners are full of excellent benefits. 

Squats are a compound exercise that strengthens legs, improves running, and even helps avoid overuse injuries. They work the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and hips. Even though squats mainly focus on the lower body, different variations can shake up the muscle groups targeted. Some even add in upper body work, making it a full-body workout. 

To mix up your workouts, there are endless variations of squats for runners that can make them entertaining to add to your program.

In this squats for runners guide, we will look at:

  • Do Squats Help For Running? Benefits of Squats For Runners 
  • How To Do A Basic Squat Correctly
  • Squats For Runners: 20 Variations To Try

Ready?

Let’s jump in!

A person doing a squat.

Do Squats Help For Running? Benefits of Squats For Runners 

Before we get into doing squats, let’s take a look at some of the benefits that are in store for us and see why they help for running. Squats for runners,

  • Strengthen glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, hips, core, and even upper body depending on the variation 
  • Increase knee stability
  • Improve flexibility 
  • Are easy to perform just about anywhere 

How To Do A Basic, Bodyweight Squat

The most basic of squats is the bodyweight squat, and like any other exercise, it must be performed with the correct technique. This ensures you will reap all of the benefits while avoiding unnecessary pain. 

Bodyweight Squat 

A person doing a bodyweight squat.
  1. Stand tall with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart, and your toes slightly turned out.  
  2. Tighten your core, keep your chest up, and look ahead.
  3. Bend at the knees and hips as you sit back, as if sitting back into a chair, until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Driving through your feet, push yourself back up into your initial standing position.

Notes: To ensure the correct form, be aware of the following tips: 

  • Keep your knees from caving inward by constantly pushing them outward. 
  • Keep your back straight with your torso slightly leaning forward throughout the movement. Do not let your shoulders or head come forward. 
  • Keep your gaze straight ahead.
  • If at any time during the descent of your squat your back begins to round, raise yourself back up to the point where your back is still straight. That will be your squatting point.

Squats For Runners: 20 Variations to Try 

Once you’ve mastered the basic squat, there are plenty of squat variations to keep your strength training workouts interesting while working out your entire body. 

#1: Isometric Squat 

A person doing an isometric squat.

This is the only variation in our squats for runners that does not involve movement. Isometric exercises are often used to improve stabilization or for someone who suffers from joint pain during movement. 

  1. Stand tall with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart, with your toes turned out slightly. 
  2. Tighten your core, keep your chest up, and look ahead.
  3. Bend at the knees and hips as you sit back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Maintain the basic squat position for the desired amount of time. 

#2: Squat With Calf Raise

A person doing a squat with a calf raise.
  1. Begin by lowering into a basic squat position.
  2. Using your glutes and quads, push yourself back up into your initial standing position and immediately push yourself up onto your toes, performing a calf raise. 
  3. Lower down from the calf raise and return to your starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

#3: Narrow Squat

A person doing a narrow squat.

For this squat variation, we switch up our starting position, beginning with our feet together. 

  1. Stand tall with your feet together, and your toes pointed straight ahead.
  2. Tighten your core, keep your chest up, and look ahead.
  3. Bend at the knees and hips as you sit back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Push yourself back up into your initial standing position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

#4: Pulse Squat 

A person doing a pulse squat.
  1. Stand tall with your feet a bit wider that hip-width apart.
  2. Lower down into a basic squat position.
  3. When you reach the seated, 90-degree position, pulse 2 times by moving your hips up and down.
  4. Return to your starting position. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

#5: Plié Squat 

A person doing a plié squat.

This squat works our hip mobility as we are in a broader stance, which opens up our hips.

  1. Stand tall with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart and your toes turned out at a 45-degree angle.
  2. Tighten your core, keep your chest up, and look ahead.
  3. Bend at the knees and hips as you sit back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Push yourself back up into your initial standing position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

#6: Split Squat

A person doing a split squat.
  1. Step forward with your left leg and lower into a lunge position with your back (right) knee hovering just above the ground.
  2. With control, extend your knees as you come up into a V position.
  3. In a controlled manner, bend your knees again and bring yourself back down into the split squat position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

#7: Bulgarian Split Squat 

A person doing a Bulgarian split squat.

 Let’s take the split squat to another level by lifting our back foot. For this variation of squats for runners, you will need a step or bench to place behind you

  1. Place the instep or flexed toes of your left foot on the step behind you. Choose whichever position is more comfortable for you. 
  2. Lower the knee of your back leg down to the floor.
  3. Your front leg should be at 90 degrees in front of you in a lunge position. Most of your weight should be on your front foot.
  4. Extend your back knee lifting yourself from the ground. 
  5. Drop back down into the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  7. Repeat on the other side.

Note: Ensure your front foot is placed far enough away that your knee does not go beyond the front of your toes when in a flexed position. 

#8: Squat To Box Jump 

A person doing a squat to box jump.

For this variation of squats for runners, you will need a plyo box or step.

  1. Stand tall with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart, and your toes slightly turned out. 
  2. Bend at the knees and hips and sit back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  3. As you lower yourself down, bring your arms back behind you.
  4. From the squat position, swing your arms and jump explosively onto the box in front of you.
  5. While on the box, extend your knees and hips, pushing yourself up into a standing position.
  6. Step down from the box one foot at a time.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

Note: When jumping, try and land on the box as softly as possible, avoiding any unnecessary impact.

#9: Jump Squat

A person doing a squat jump.

Ready for some power? These jump squats will help with your strength and reaction time and, simultaneously, bring your heart rate up! 

  1. Lower down into a basic squat position.
  2. As you extend your knees and hips, launch yourself off the ground bringing your arms back behind you.
  3. Land softly and repeat immediately as your feet hit the ground.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Note: These jumps should be explosive and full of power while taking care to land softly to avoid unnecessary impact. 

#10: Jump Squat With Heel Tap

A person doing a jump squat with a heel tap.

Let’s add a twist to the jump squat with a little Wizard of Oz variation. 

  1. Lower down into a basic squat position.
  2. As you extend your knees and hips, launch yourself off the ground bringing your arms back behind you, and quickly tap your heels together, getting your feet back in place for a soft landing.
  3. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

#11: Squat Lunge Mix

A person doing a squat lunge mix.

Now let’s try out this jump combo for another variation of squats for runners! This one’s a bit advanced as it takes power, coordination, balance, and great technique to do it successfully. 

  1. Lower down into a basic squat position. 
  2. Jump up as if doing a jump squat, but land into a lunge position.
  3. Jump back into a squat position and then repeat a lunge on the other side.
  4. Repeat this combo for the desired number of reps.

#12: Squat Jack 

A person doing a squat jack.

Another plyometric variation to add to our list. This one is a mix between a squat and a jumping jack and works well to get that heart rate up. 

  1. Begin by standing tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Jump into a basic squat position, bringing your arms between your feet as you touch the ground.
  3. Spring back up immediately, bringing your feet together in the middle and your arms together above your head as in a jumping jack. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

#13: Squat With Resistance Band

A person doing a squat with a band.

Another way to add difficulty to squats for runners is to use resistance bands. These bands often come in sets of three weights, easy, medium, and hard, so you can start off easy and work your way up. For the following squats for runners, you will need a set of mini resistance bands. 

  1. Begin in a basic squat position with a mini resistance band looped just above your knees.
  2. As you lower down into your squat position, ensure you keep your knees pushed out, do not allow them to collapse inward. This is the challenge added with resistance bands. 
  3. Hold the squat position for 3 seconds, then raise yourself to the starting position.

#14: Lateral Leg Raise Squat With Resistance Band

A person doing a banded squat with leg raise.

Let’s add some difficulty to this squat by throwing some balance work into it.

  1. Begin in a basic squat position, standing tall, with a mini resistance band looped just above your ankles. 
  2. Lower into a basic squat position and hold for a few seconds. 
  3. As you extend and return to your starting position, lift your right leg to the side until you create tension on the band. 
  4. Return to your starting position.
  5. Squat down and repeat on the other side.
  6. Alternate sides for the desired amount of reps.

#15: Lateral Squat Walk With Resistance Band

A person doing a lateral squat walk.
  1. Begin in a basic squat starting position, standing tall, with a mini resistance band looped just above your ankles. 
  2. Lower into a basic squat position and take several steps toward your right side, ensuring your knees remain in position and do not collapse inward. 
  3. Then, take several steps to the left side. 
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

 #16: Goblet Squat 

A person doing a goblet squat.

We will add weight to the following exercises to add another level of strength. Most of our squats for runners can be accompanied by some sort of weight to increase difficulty. Let’s take a look at a few: 

For this variation of squats for runners, you will need a kettlebell or dumbbell.

  1. Stand tall with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart, and your toes slightly turned out. 
  2. Hold a kettlebell to your chest, keeping your elbows together, shoulders back, and chest up.
  3. Bend at the knees and hips as you sit back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. 
  4. Extend your knees and hips, pushing yourself back to your initial standing position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

#17: Dumbbell Squat (At Sides) 

A person doing a dumbbell squat.

Let’s add some difficulty to these basic squats for runners by adding dumbbells.

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, extend your elbows and hold the dumbbells at your sides, palms facing in.
  2. Keeping your shoulders back, back straight, and dumbbells close to your body, lower down into a basic squat position. 
  3. Pause for two seconds in the squat position before pushing through your feet and extending your knees and hips to return to your starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

#18: Dumbbell Squat (At Shoulders) 

A person doing a dumbbell squat.

We can also place the dumbbells at shoulder level instead of at our sides.

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbows and hold the dumbbells at shoulder level.
  2. Keep your shoulders back, and back straight, and lower down into a basic squat position. 
  3. Pause for two seconds in the squat position before pushing through your feet and extending your knees and hips to return to your starting position.
  4. Repeat for the desired number of reps or amount of time.

#19: Kettlebell Sumo Squat

A person doing a sumo squat.

This is a bit of a deeper squat requiring more flexibility. If you cannot get into this position without sacrificing technique, stick to the 90-degree position for now.

  1. Place a kettlebell on the floor below your reach.
  2. Stand tall with your feet a bit wider than hip-width apart, and your toes slightly turned out.  
  3. Tighten your core, keep your chest up, and look ahead.
  4. Bend at the knees and hips as you sit back, taking hold of the kettlebell with both hands.
  5. Extend your knees and hips as you rise with the kettlebell in hand. 
  6. Lower yourself back into the squat position, not allowing the kettlebell to rest on the ground, and repeat.
  7. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

#20: Squat To Overhead Press 

A person doing a squat to overhead press.

For this variation of squats for runners, you will need a pair of dumbbells. This is a great exercise that works your upper body as well as your lower body.

  1. With a dumbbell in each hand, bend your elbows at 90 degrees, palms facing one another, and hands directly in front of your shoulders. 
  2. Lower down into a basic squat position, keeping the dumbbells in place.
  3. As you extend your knees and hips, returning to your standing position, simultaneously push the dumbbells up overhead, extending your elbows.
  4. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.

There you have it! 20 variations of squats for runners to work into your strength training programs.

If you are looking for plank variations to work that six-pack, take a look at our 20 Plank Variations for runners article for a full rundown.

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Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community she is known for her ear to ear smile even under the toughest race conditions. She loves sharing her knowledge and experience with everyone and has a great desire to motivate others to hit the trails alongside her. Run for fun!

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