Forget weights — improve your running with these 3 bodyweight strength exercises

Group of runners' legs while working out
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Runners, as much as it may seem like a chore, keeping up with practicing the best strength exercises to improve your running performance is an essential part of being a runner. But to keep things easy, you can begin to tackle strength training with just three no-equipment exercises.

This short routine comes from running physio and coach Jimmy Pipe on Instagram, where he shares useful tips and exercises for runners to improve their performance and protect their limbs. 

These three specific exercises aim to prevent common muscle tightness or aches and pains that you may be suffering from on your runs. And you don't need any weights or technical equipment, so you can do them wherever you want, whether that's in the comfort of your home or at the local park.

Three-move runners strength workout

As a keen runner myself, I have been following Pipe's running advice for a while now and want to share the beauty of how easy it can be to strengthen important muscles to keep your body in top running condition. 

The following sequence of exercises will help to strengthen your quads, glutes, calves and hips. This will help improve your running efficiency, power generation, stability, and injury resilience, ensuring improved performance and longevity in your running journey.

Aim to do 8-12 repetitions of each move, and you can practice your technique with Pipe's demonstrations before starting to ensure you are practicing the exercises with the correct form, get the most from your training, and avoid injury. 

Watch Jimmy Pipe's three-move runners strength workout

Reverse Nordic

In Pipe's demonstration, you can see him starting off this exercise in a kneeling position. We like to roll out one of the best yoga mats when performing a floor based move like this to help keep our joints protected against the hard ground. 

Next, Pipe slowly leans back, hinging at the hips and keeping his torso straight. He lowers his body as far back as possible until he reaches his range of motion before using his hamstrings and glutes to pull himself back up to the starting position. 

Step downs

Pipe performs this move on a box, but a strong and sturdy chair can be subbed in if you are trying this at home. He starts by stepping onto the box with one foot, ensuring his entire foot is planted onto the surface.

He engages his core, keeps his chest lifted and maintains a neutral spine. Then Pipe slowly lowers the other foot down towards the ground, bending at the knee and hip of the supporting leg (on the box/chair).

He lowers until his other foot touches the ground before pushing through the heel of the supporting leg to return to the starting position. That's one repetition. 

Calf raises

If you own a weight plate this is what Pipe is using for the calf raises. But if not, you can just use the floor or a wide hardback book. Pipe can be seen standing with one foot on the raised surface and the heel of that foot hanging off.

The other foot is hovering next to it, not touching the surface or ground. Then he slowly raises his heel that is on the surface as high as possible, pushing through the ball of the foot.

Focus on contracting the calf muscle as you perform the movement and hold this for a brief moment at the top of the exercise. Pipe lowers his heel back down. That's one repetition, so repeat until you complete the set. 

What are the benefits of each exercise?

Reverse Nordic: This exercise targets the quadriceps which are essential for powerful strides and injury prevention. While primarily targeting the quadriceps, the reverse Nordics also engage the hamstrings and glutes, aiding in balanced lower-body strength for runners. It also can improve knee flexion strength, aiding in shock absorption and reducing the risk of overuse injuries.

Step down: This move can help to enhance stability and control in the knee joint, which is good for injury prevention, especially for runners prone to knee issues. Step downs also strengthen the quadriceps and glutes leading to improved lower body strength and balance.

Calf raise: This will strengthen the calf muscles, which are essential for push-off power during running and maintaining proper foot mechanics. It can help to improve ankle stability, reducing the risk of ankle sprains and other lower leg injuries.

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Jessica Downey
Fitness Writer

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her love for keeping fit and fueling her body with healthy and enjoyable food quite naturally led her to write about all things fitness and health-related. If she isn’t out testing the latest fitness products such as the latest running shoe or yoga mat for reviewing then she can be found writing news and features on the best ways to build strength, active aging, female health, and anything in between. Before then she had a small stint writing in local news, has also written for Runners World UK (print and digital), and gained experience with global content marketing agency, Cedar Communications.

Born and raised in Scotland, Jessica is a massive fan of exercising and keeping active outdoors. When at home she can be found running by the sea, swimming in it, or up a mountain. This continued as she studied and trained to become a PPA-accredited magazine journalist in Wales. And since working and living in London, she splits her time between weight training in the gym, trying new fitness classes, and finding scenic running routes. Jessica enjoys documenting this on her fitness-inspired Instagram page @jessrunshere where she loves engaging with like-minded fitness junkies.

She is a big fan of healthy cooking and loves learning more about this area with expert nutritionists she has met over the years. Jessica is a big advocate for building healthy relationships with food rather than building restrictive attitudes towards it. When she isn’t eating or running she also enjoys practicing yoga in her free time as it helps her to unwind and benefits her performance in other sports.