Strength Training For Runners – What Are The Best Muscles To Train?

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strength training for runners

Strength Training For Runners – What Are The Best Muscles To Train?

Most of us spend 8 hours a day sitting on our bums at work. This isn’t a problem for most people, but as a runner your killing the posterior chain.
By sitting down on your but all day you are weakening your glutes muscles, tightening your hip flexors and hamstrings.

Here are some of the facts that you need to know

  1. To become a faster, stronger and more efficient runner you need to build your posterior chain as it is neglected by most runners.
  2. Include at least 2-3 lower body exercises 1-2 times a week that emphasize working your hamstring and glutes
  3. Use a four week program containing stiff legged dead lifts, hamstring curls and deadlift variations and more to build your posterior chain.

What is the posterior chain?

The posterior chain are the muscles located at the back of your body. They are:

  • Calfs
  • Hamstring
  • Glutes
  • Back

Why is the posterior chain so important?
If you would prefer to visually see running mechanics then this video will help:

During running after your fit hits the floor it propels you forward. Think of a skate boarder pushing backwards to move forward on there skate board.
posterior chain for runners
This is the same thing that happens when you run. Your foot hits the floor and pushes backwards to push you forward.
long trailing leg 1
During this phase of running the muscles of the posterior chain (calf, hamstrings and glutes) get activated to propel the body forward.
To run faster you need your glutes and hamstrings to be extremely powerful to repeatedly propel your body forward. Also, if your back (and core) is strong it allows you to maintain good posture for ideal running mechanics.

What do the muscles of the posterior chain do?

Your lower back extends your spine and keeps it straight. Your hips are extended by your glutes muscles.
Your hamstring muscles bend the knee and extend the hip while your calf muscles extend your foot for the toe off phase of running.

20869804 – glutes gluteus maximus anatomy muscles

What happens if my posterior chain is weak?

In todays society it is easy to become quad dominant due to the fact that you are sitting on your bums all day.
Being quad dominant means that the your hip flexors and qudriceps muscles do most of the work. Remember that the muscles at the front of your legs are not suppose to be doing this type of work.
However, if you are like most runners and your posterior chain is not as strong as it should be this is precisely what will happen.
You will find that this will lead to various types of muscle imbalances that may lead to injuries, niggles or pain in your body.
You will also find that your running performance will be impeded by a lack of posterior strength as well!

How can I tell if my posterior chain is weak?

Your posterior chain is probably weak. If you are like most people that sit down all day at work on a computer then you can almost guarantee that your posterior chain needs some work.
Other signs and symptoms could be that you experience knee pain and this could be a sign that your quadriceps/hamstring ratio needs to be improves.
Also, if you experience a lot of lower back pain when you run this may be due to having an imbalance in your posterior chain.

Posterior chain muscle imbalance

It is possible that you have good strength in your:

  • Calf
  • Hamstring
  • Lower back

However, your glutes may not be firing. In a situation when there is a team member not pulling their weight other members of the team pick up the slack.
When the glutes that are not firing properly your lower back often does extra work and this leads to overuse of your back muscles. This in turn often leads to lower back pain.
When this happens it can often mean that the following muscles are too strong:

  • Quadriceps
  • Lower back
  • Hip flexors

While the following muscles are too weak

  • Glutes
  • Rectus abdominus (abdominals)
  • Internal obliques (muscles at the side of your abdominals)
  • hamstrings

What can you do to improve your posterior chain if it is weak?

There are two options to improve the strength of your posterior chain:

  1. Strength training
  2. Correct your running mechanics


Strength training

This is probably the easiest way to improve your posterior chain. The key thing is to know what exercise to do that isolate the muscles of the posterior chain,
Some good exercises are:

  • Glute bridges
  • Hip thrusts
  • Hamstring curls
  • Hamstring extension
  • Forward lunges
  • Walking lunges
  • Single leg squats
  • Single leg hip thrusts
  • Stiff legged dead lifts

Don’t worry if you are not sure how to do these exercises as most of these exercises are included here.
It must be noted that once you have strengthened these muscles you must have the right running mechanics to use these muscles optimaly.

Running mechanics

It is worth seeing a running coach who specialsises In running mechanics to improve your running form.
Most runners do not raise their trailing leg high enough, which means that the leg will be heavier and slow down the running cycle.


  • You will see in the first picture that the trailing leg is too straight and long, which takes longer to complete the running cycle.
  • The second example of running form shows that the trailing leg has greater bend is shorter and increases running cadence.
  • It also engages the posterior chain to maximize running power

This video shows a client I worked with on running form. In both videos she is running at the same speed. However, by changing her running mechanics I have got her fireing her posterior chain and improved her running cadence.

Topic: Posterior chain for runners

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Gerald has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise, Nutrition & Health. He is an ASA qualified swimming teacher, and a qualified personal trainer. Gerald has developed his own exclusion diet, which he uses to help his clients lose weight.