5 Best Exercises for Long Distance Runners

Magical races and sparkly tutus are indeed two of my favorite things in life. Today however, I’m going to put on my personal trainer hat and talk about something a little less magical yet equally important: exercises that you can do in the gym to make you a safer and stronger runner.

I’ve seen so many posts on social media and message boards about runner injuries and it really bums me out. I also sometimes see a runner go by and I can instantly tell they’re prone to injury based on the movement patterns in their knees or ankles.  I am not saying that all injuries can be avoided. There will always be somethings we can’t control, like a spectator dropping their Mickey ice cream pop on the course and creating a death trap. What I’m saying is that there are several things we can do to make ourselves stronger and safer runners. Below you will find my list of the 5 best exercises for a safe and strong race day.

1. Toe touch to calf raise 

Balance exercises are super important for runners. They strengthen the muscles in your feet and ankles making you less prone to things like ankle sprains. You’re also less likely to fall in general if your balance improves. I like to perform this exercise barefoot to get the muscles in my feet and toes more involved, but this isn’t required. You may want to start with a supportive shoe if you’re a beginner. If you’re more advanced, you can stand on an unstable surface like a balance pad.

  • Step 1: Start to bend your standing leg and reach down for your foot. You want to reach for your foot by really bending your leg and squatting down – not by just dropping your chest forward.
  • Step 2: Still on one leg, stand back up and lift your knee high
  • Step 3: Lift up onto your tippy toes for a calf raise

Try 8 or so of these in a row on one leg and then switch. 


2. Lateral Band Walk

This exercise is great for strengthening your hips and glutes. Anything you can do to strengthen your hips is going to make you more stable. Everything in our body is connected, so strong hips means stronger and safer knees and ankles. Runners with weak hips and glutes will often run with their knees caving in. This makes you more prone to ACL injuries and knee pain.

knees cave in1 360

See how the knees go inward? This is bad.

The lateral band walk is a great way to prevent or correct this movement pattern and strengthen those often neglected muscles!

  • Step 1: Hook the mini band on your ankles. (You can get a set of mini bands here . Start with the yellow band for the least resistance then work your way up as you get stronger.)
  • Step 2: Staying in a straight line pattern, take a big step to the side with your right leg
  • Step 3: Bring your left leg in to meet the right, but don’t step your feet all the way together. There should be resistance in the band throughout the entire exercise.
  • Step 4: Continue stepping to your right for several steps, then switch directionsunnamed-3

3. Deadlift 

It’s always a good idea to pair long distance running with strength exercises. If you run long distances without doing any strength training, you could start to lose muscle mass. We want muscles! They make us awesome and healthy! On top of that, being stronger will make you run faster.

My number one recommended strength exercise for runners is a deadlift. I completely realize that this exercise may be intimidating, but I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and give it a try. Deadlifts strengthen the glutes, hamstrings and back and can even help lengthen the hammies. In the pictures, I’m performing a deadlift with a barbell, but this can also be done with dumbbells. While I’ve included a picture, I’ve also linked an excellent instructional video by Jim Bathurst, the CrossFit Director at Balance Gym Foggy Bottom. (To be extra sure you’re doing this one correctly, talk to a trainer)


4. Box Step Off

This may seem really simple, but being able to land safely from impact is crucial for everyone and especially runners. I would recommend starting just a few inches off the ground then graduating to a higher step.

  • Step 1: Stand on a box or step
  • Step 2: Slowly step off with one leg (just a step, not a jump)
  • Step 3: Land as quietly as possible in a proper squat

box landing

5. Kneeling Lunge Matrix

I love this exercise because it can both diagnose and correct stability problems in a person’s gait. If you’re unstable during this exercise, you are also unstable when you’re running or walking. Keep at it though and you won’t be as wobbly! It will both strengthen and loosen your hip flexors.

  • Step 1: Kneel down with a pad under your knee. You can start with your hands on your hips and then progress to reaching overhead
  • Step 2: Take a big step forward and plant your foot, leaning into it to stretch the hip
  • Step 3: Pick the foot up and step back to the start position

If you feel pretty stable during these steps, you can make it more challenging by stepping out to the diagonal or to the side, always returning back to that same start position.


And that’s it! I hope this post has been helpful. Remember to consult a physician before starting a new exercise program, and if you are unsure about any of these exercises you may want to meet with a trainer for feedback. Feel free to email or tweet us and let us know how it goes! Now here’s an exit song for motivation. You’ll bring honor to us all!

*Special thank you to fellow trainers Robert Newcomb and Brian Dunlap for helping me brainstorm exercises!



  1. These are great! Thanks, Amanda! 😀


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