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As runners, we often hear about the importance of strength training as an integral adjunct to all the miles we run, whether on the roads, trails, track, or treadmill. Strength training, or resistance training, increases the strength in your muscles, bones, and connective tissues. The more force your muscles can develop, and the greater loads your body can handle, the easier it will be to handle the impact of stride after stride of training without incurring an injury. Moreover, stronger legs can provide more propulsive energy when you run, which can translate to faster paces and improved running economy.
Additionally, strength training reduces the risk of injuries in runners by correcting muscle imbalances, increasing core activation, and building the muscular endurance needed to maintain proper running form at the end of long runs, races, and hard workouts.
However, finding the time and motivation to dedicate to your non-running workouts can be challenging, especially if you don’t have easy access to a gym or weights, or simply don’t have the time to get there and back.
Enter resistance bands, an affordable and portable—yet effective—way to strength train. With just a few bands and an investment of less than $40, runners can perform a total-body strengthening routine to support their training and become faster, stronger, more injury-resilient athletes. Ready to get started? Keep reading for our guide to the best resistance band exercises for runners and tips for how to use this handy, inexpensive tool to become a better runner.
Best Resistance Band Exercises for Runners
With just a few modifications, you can usually use resistance bands in place of dumbbells, weight machines, kettlebells, medicine balls, or other training implements in strength training exercises. However, certain resistance band exercises will give you more bang for your buck in terms of effectiveness for building strength that translates to your running. Our picks for some of the best resistance band exercises for runners are below. Complete 2-3 sets of each of these resistance band exercises for a total-body strength training workout to boost your performance and reduce the risk of injuries.
This is an excellent core exercise for runners that works your obliques, shoulders, and abs. You’ll need a strong resistance band, and you can modify the difficulty of the move with the width and thickness of the resistance band you choose. Use a thinner band for an easier exercise and a wider, thicker band as you get stronger.
- Attach a resistance band with a handle to a pole, doorway, or stationary object. You can perform the exercise kneeling or standing, but the band should be chest height and you should be far enough away from the anchor point that there’s a good amount of tension on the band.
- Position yourself so that your body is angled 90 degrees from the band. In other words, the anchor point is to your right or left side. Hold the handle of the band with your arms fully extended out in front of you. There should be significant tension on the band.
- Brace your core and contract your glutes, while pulsing the band side to side. For example, if the band is anchored to your left, pulse the band with extended arms to the right about 4 inches per pulse.
- Pulse 50 times and then switch sides.
This exercise can be completed at home or outside before or after a run to strengthen your glutes and quads. Stay as low as possible throughout the duration of the movement to really engage your quads.
- Place a loop band around your ankles.
- Get into a good squat position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, core engaged, chest up, shoulders back, hands on your hips, and knees bent to 90 degrees.
- Staying down in your squat position, step one foot forward at a time, maintaining tension on the resistance band.
- Walk forward 30 steps in total, striding as long as you can with each step and staying low to keep your quads engaged.
- Turn around and come back the same way.
Many runners have weak hip abductors. As a result, your knees can cave inward during squats and even while running, which places excessive stress on the knee joint itself as well as your IT band. This exercise not only strengthens the quads, glutes, and hamstrings like normal squats, but also works your gluteus medius, a key hip abductor, which can help you maintain proper loading forces through the lower body as you run. The usual rubber resistance bands can roll and bunch during this one, so we highly recommend investing in some fabric resistance bands for anything involving the thighs.
- Place a strong loop resistance band around your thighs just above your knees.
- Separate your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart to place a good amount of tension on the band.
- Perform squats while maintaining the constant tension on the band and being sure to keep your knee caps facing forward the whole time.
- Remember to sit your hips all the way back when you squat as if reaching your butt back to sit in a chair, and squat down until your knees are bent to 90 degrees and your thighs are parallel to the floor.
Another fantastic exercise for runners to strengthen the glutes and hips is resistance band side steps.
- Stand upright with good posture and a strong loop resistance band around your ankles.
- Place your hands on your hips, engage your core, and then step your right leg out to the side as far as you can.
- Maintain tension on the band while stepping the left foot over to the right.
- After 30 steps, return to the starting point by leading with your left leg.
Plank with Leg Extension
Planks are one of the best exercises to strengthen your core. Using a resistance loop band around your ankles while you lift one leg at a time not only makes the exercise more difficult for your core, but is also a fantastic way to strengthen your glutes, which are the powerhouse muscles of a strong running stride.
- Get in a forearm plank position with a loop resistance band around your ankles.
- While bracing your core and maintaining proper form, lift your right leg straight up as high as you can without bending your knee.
- Return to the starting position with control.
- Complete 15 slow reps, and then switch sides.
Split Squat and Row
You’ll work your lower body, back, and arms with this move.
- Secure a strong resistance band in a door or on a stationary object at chest height. It’s best to use a resistance band with a handle and double it so that you’re holding both ends and the middle is secured.
- Hold the resistance band handle or handles in your right hand. There should be a fair amount of tension on the band.
- Step your left leg forward and drop into a split squat, bending both knees to 90 degrees, while simultaneously pulling back on the resistance band to complete an upright row (pull your extended arm back towards your body by bending your elbow, retracting your scapula, and pulling backward). Keep your core tight, chest up, and back straight.
- Keep your feet staggered in the split squat position, but press through your feet to stand upright again while extending your arm forward to the starting position.
- Continue dropping into your split squat with every row.
- Complete 15 reps, and then switch sides.
This is a great exercise to build core and shoulder strength, both of which can help drive a more powerful running stride. A strong core also helps you maintain your running form in the later miles of a race or hard workout.
- Get into a push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and a loop resistance band around your wrists. There should be a fair amount of tension on the band in this starting position.
- While keeping your body in a straight line from your head to your heels (keep your hips down and in line with your body), step your right hand as far out to the side (3:00 position on a clock) as possible and then back in again.
- Complete 10 reps to 3:00, as well as 10 to 1:00, 2:00, 4:00, and 5:00.
- Switch and step your left hand out to 9:00 for reps.
- Follow up with 11:00, 10:00, 8:00, and 7:00.
Best Practices for Using Resistance Bands
Here are a few tips to help you get the best results from your resistance band workouts:
Progress the resistance.
Much like lifting the same dumbbells or running the same route every day at the same pace will limit your progress, so will using the same resistance bands. Gradually increase the difficulty of your resistance band exercises by using stronger bands and increasing the sets and reps for the best results.
Control the band.
The resistance band naturally wants to recoil. Control the eccentric contraction to get the most out of the exercise—don’t allow the band to do the work for you.
Check your resistance bands often.
Resistance bands can snap, which can be quite painful. Check them weekly for signs of wear and tear and replace old bands promptly.