6 Exercises Runners Should Be Doing During the Off-Season

Non-professional runners might never experience a true off-season, but winter is about as close as it gets. All that cold weather, snow, and ice are enough to make you want to stay under the covers rather than venture out for a sweat session. As tempting as it is to slack off for the next several months, doing so isn’t going to help you come spring racing season.

Regularly logging miles is a good place to start because building a base now will help you peak when you’re ready to toe the starting line. If you’re interested in targeting a new personal best (and who isn’t?), you’re also going to need to build strength in some more vulnerable body parts. Focusing on areas that are typically stiff or weak, such as your iliotibial (IT) band and ankles, will help you maintain the best possible form and minimize the chances of getting an injury when it really counts.

With so many exercises out there, it can be tough to figure out how to get started. While everyone is going to have specific areas that need a bit more work, these six moves are among the best for all runners.

1. Single-leg ball squats

man with stability ball, exercise ball, gym

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The best way to beat an imbalance is to work one side at a time. Imbalances anywhere in the upper legs or butt are especially problematic for runners because they can leave you with an uneven gait that will cause scores of injuries. One of the best moves for targeting all of these muscles at once is the single-leg ball squat. Because you have to work harder to balance, this exercise will challenge all of the smaller stabilizing muscles that typically get neglected as well.

For these squats, you’ll need a stability ball and a wall. Stand so that you sandwich the ball between your lower back and the wall, beginning with your feet about shoulder-width apart and roughly a foot in front of your shoulders. You can put your hands on your hips, or extend them straight out in front of you. Lift your left leg off the ground. Moving in a slow, controlled motion, bend your right leg to lower yourself into a squat, rolling the ball with you. Keep your left leg off the ground and stop the squat when your right knee reaches a 90-degree angle, then push back up to the starting position. Complete all repetitions on one leg before switching sides.

The most important thing to remember during this move is to go slow. If you try to rush, you’ll just end up losing your balance. Focusing on keeping your weight over the heel of your foot will help.

2. Bird-dog

birddog exercise, plank, gym mat

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The classic bird-dog involves simply extending one arm and leg while in a table-top position on your hands and knees. It’s a great core move as is, but Runner’s World ups the intensity by adding a contraction prior to extending your arm and leg. As with the single-leg squat, this adds another element of challenge as your body is forced to work harder to maintain balance. It strengthens all the muscles around your core, including your lower back.

Get into position on your hands and knees with your knees directly below your hips and your hands directly below your shoulders. Make sure to keep your back flat and your gaze straight down. Simultaneously lift your right hand and left knee off the ground. Contract your abs as you bring your knee to touch your elbow, keeping your back as flat as possible, then extend your arm and leg so that your body forms a straight line from fingertips to ankle. Repeat the exercise, keeping your movements deliberate and controlled. After your desired number of repetitions, switch sides.

3. Single-leg glute bridges

yoga, glute bridge, hamstring bridge

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Having a weak butt doesn’t sound like it’s much of a problem for runners since the legs do all of the work. Unfortunately, that’s not the way our body’s mechanics work. Most of the power behind your stride is generated in your glutes, so a weak behind means all of your other muscles have to go into overdrive to compensate. According to Active.com this can lead to injuries in your Achilles tendon, shins, knees, and more. Basically, a strong butt means a strong runner.

One of the best exercises for targeting your backside is the single-leg glute bridge. It’s also a huge help for strengthening hip flexors, which are usually compromised from too much time sitting. It’s a simple move, but you really need to nail the form to score the benefits.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your hands at your sides, raise your hips off the ground until you forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Keeping your back and abs engaged, lift your left leg off the ground and extend it so it aligns with the rest of your body. Life by DailyBurn recommended you hold the pose for a few seconds before switching legs.

4. Clamshells

man lying on the ground expressing inner thigh pain to a woman

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Injury-prevention exercises can take up a pretty good chunk of your workout, so any move that strengthens multiple areas at once is a huge help. Clamshells definitely fall under this category because they’re good for your IT band, glutes, and hips. They’re also easy to adapt as you get stronger by incorporating a resistance band. Beginners should start with the basic move before trying to up the challenge.

Lie on your side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle, keeping your ankles and knees stacked. Contract your upper glute to raise your top leg, keeping your ankles touching. Close your knees back together, then repeat. Competitor.com suggested 20 to 30 repetitions. You can also head to the website to see a video demonstration about 50 seconds in. Repeat with the opposite leg.

5. Single-leg balance disc

bosu ball or balance disk in a gym

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When was the last time you strengthened your ankles? Most people don’t prioritize this body part, but it needs to stay strong and flexible to accommodate any uneven terrain. You’re a lot more susceptible to future problems once you suffer an ankle injury, so prevention is incredibly important. Thankfully, you need very little equipment to strengthen the area. Beginners should start with a simple balance move.

For this exercise, stand on top of a balance disk with one leg for as long as possible. That’s really it. If you don’t have this piece of equipment, you can also use a pillow. Men’s fitness recommended completing five sets.

6. Leg swings

kick, leg swing

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This last move is all about hip mobility. Instead of spending the first few miles of your run feeling stiff, try incorporating some leg swings before you set out. You just need a minute or two, and you’ll really feel the difference.

You’ll either want a chair or wall for stability to do this exercise. Start by standing with your side facing the wall or chair, and use your fingers to lightly keep your balance. Raise your inside leg by just bending your knee. Swing your leg as far forward as possible, then go right into a backward swing as far back as possible. Repeat the move several times before switching legs. Head to Muscle & Fitness for a video demonstration.

After the forward-to-backward movement, you’ll switch to side swings. The idea is the same, but you’ll face the wall or chair and swing your leg from one side to the next. Doing both moves gives you the best range of motion, so don’t skip either.

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