Strength Routine (Beginner)

Strength routine session for beginners overview
“Strength Beginner (39 Minutes)” from CCB Road Runners Marathon Project by Tyler Merren

Welcome to the Strength routine session for beginners. It’s time to work on strengthening our body and getting prepared for running.

Runners should strength train in order to reduce injury risk, increase efficiency and maintain muscle mass and motor control. Research has shown that including strength work can reduce your injury risk by 25%! Further, adding strength work can improve running efficiency by up to 9%! The number one goal of strength programs is to help improve coordination, balance and stability. The weakest area amongst runners is usually the lower limb. Strength in the lower limb has been shown to decrease more with age as compared to other areas of the body. Hip and core strength is also important as these muscles really power the running stride.

We have 10 exercises to get you going. Each exercise takes 60 seconds with a 15 second rest between exercises. Work through this routine and repeat two or three times at least twice per week.

You will need a towel or rope for this session.

Bear Position Shoulder Tap

Quick Description: Table top position with a neutral spine. Curl your toes under. Press into the hands and balls of the feet to hover the knees just off the floor. Hold this position and breathe. Then keeping your spine still, lift one hand to tap the opposite shoulder, then the other shoulder 10 times. Lower the knees to rest. You will feel your core working on this one! 

Starting Position: Let’s begin this exercise in the quadruped, also known as the table top position or hands and knees position. Come down to the floor and support your weight on your hands, knees, and the tops of your feet. The hands are flat on the floor, putting your wrists in an extended position.  Your hands should be directly under your shoulders with your fingers pointed in front of you toward 12 o’clock. Your hands should be just slightly wider than your ribs, and should be in line with your chest, not up by your upper shoulders or neck. Your elbows are fully extended, or straight and your scapula, or shoulder blades, are slightly retracted, or pulled back, creating a flat surface for your upper back.  In other words, you’re not allowing your back to round up toward the ceiling too much, but staying very neutral.  Your nose is pointed toward the floor, because this is in alignment with your spine which is currently parallel with the floor.  Retract your head back, or in this case, up, to maintain that good alignment.  Another way to say it is to keep your nose pointed toward the floor, but lift your head as high as you can, like you’re trying to touch the ceiling with the back of your head.  Your belly should be squeezed in tight with your lumbar with your lower spine, curved anteriorly, in this case toward the floor, very slightly.  For your spine from the top of your head to the top of your buttocks, we are aiming for neutrality, an elongated spine with shallow curves. Your knees are directly under your hips, and your knees and feet are the same width as your hips, approximately six inches of space. Now, dorsiflex, or point your toes into the ground, until the bottoms of your toes and the balls of your feet are touching the floor. Finally, shift all of your weight onto your hands and toes, lifting your knees off the floor only about 1-2 inches or so. Your knees should remain under your hips, and there should be very little movement as you maintain the exact same stance, just holding your knees off the ground.  

To Perform the Exercise: Now that you are in the bear position, maintain the exact stance you are in while not allowing your shoulders or hips to turn or drop, lift one hand from the ground and tap the shoulder of the opposite arm. Put that hand back down and repeat with the other hand. Continue until you have about 10 repetitions for each side. 

Muscles Targeted: Primarily the muscles of the core including the rectus abdominus, Obliques, and Transverse Abdominals, but also the muscles of the arms, shoulders, and legs in this full body core exercise. 

Ways to Increase Intensity: To increase the tension and demand of this exercise, you can reach your raised hand out to the side instead of tapping the opposite shoulder. This reach to the side will challenge your stability even more and target some of the muscles in the posterior shoulder as well. 

Ways to Decrease Intensity: To decrease the intensity of this exercise, instead of tapping the opposite shoulder, you can start by just lifting your hand off the ground a few inches and gently placing it back down. Work toward a higher and higher lift, perhaps tapping the elbow of the opposite arm, and eventually reaching across your body to the opposite shoulder. 

Common Mistakes: One common mistake with this exercise is dropping your head toward the floor. It is very important to maintain a neutral spine, which means pointing your nose toward the floor, but lifting your head up into alignment with your spine. 

Another common mistake is starting with your hands out in front of your body. Your hands should be at chest level, and not up by your neck or face. 

Another common mistake is slapping your hand back down to the ground as you change arms. This should be a steady rhythmic movement, as your hand comes back down to the floor, it should be a soft contact with control. 

Side Plank with Hip Thrust

Quick Description: Lay on your side propped up on your elbow. Stack your hips and knees. Knees are bent to about 90 degrees. Push into the elbow and knees to lift the hips up and push them forward, squeezing the glutes. Keep the neck in line with the spine. Sit back and down with the hips and repeat. Perform 10 reps on each side. You can also straighten the top leg and raise and lower the straight leg while you hold the side plank. This exercise targets the side body muscles of the lower back and hip. More specifically the Lats, Quadratus lumborum, obliques and Gluteus medius. These muscles are important to stabilize the pelvis while running and weakness can lead to lower back pain and Iliotibial Band tightness. 

Starting position: Let’s start on the floor on a firm but padded surface such as a carpeted floor or hard surface with a yoga mat. Imagine you are lying on a giant clock face, your hips are centered in the middle of the clock, your head is pointed toward 12 o’clock, your feet toward 6 o’clock and you’re lying on your right side with your belly facing toward 9 o’clock. Now flex, or bend your knees half way, or until they are 90 degrees, and the bottoms of your feet are pointed toward the wall behind you, or to 3 o’clock. Your feet, ankles, and knees are touching as your left leg is resting on top of your right leg. Prop your upper body up off the floor by placing your right elbow directly under your shoulder, pointing your right forearm and hand in front of you toward 9 o’clock while your palm and forearm are on the floor. Your left arm and hand are resting on your left hip and leg. Your hips are still on the ground, but your ribs and shoulders are elevated up off the floor. One final check, if viewed from above, there should be a straight line from your head, through your shoulders and hips, and to your knees. Don’t have your knees out in front of you, or your hips back as everything should be in a line. 

To perform the exercise: Keep your right knee and elbow on the floor, drive your hips up off the ground as high as you can, squeeze your buttocks and push forward and up. In this position, the only things touching the ground are the outside of your right foot and lower leg, and your right elbow, forearm, and hand. Drive your hips up and forward as high as you can reach, and hold this position for 5 seconds, and then gently lower your hips back down until you lightly touch the ground before pushing back up to your elevated position. Repeat about 10 times and then switch sides. If you feel too much pressure in your knee or elbow, double up your padding for extra support. 

Muscles targeted: Your hip abductors (the outside of your hips), your Obliques and quadratis lumborum (the sides of your belly), and several accessory muscles in your chest and shoulders.  

Ways to Increase Intensity: If your looking for more of a challenge, instead of stacking your legs, you can straighten and elevate your top leg. Take your top leg and line it up with the rest of your body, meaning that there is a straight line from your heel, through your hips and shoulders, to your head. Hold this foot off the ground several inches as you perform your repetitions for some added tension. 

Ways to Decrease Intensity: If this movement is a bit challenging, you can take your top hand and place your finger tips on the floor in front of you near your ribs. As you raise your hip up, you can push into that hand for a bit of assistance as you work toward performing the full exercise. Be sure not to lean forward as you place your hand on the floor in front of you. Keep your belly and chest pointed toward the room in front of you and not toward the floor. 

Common mistakes: One common mistake is allowing your hips to sag down and back when at the top of the lift. If I were to see you do this exercise from the ceiling, there should be a straight line from your shoulders, through your hips, to your knees, and from the back side of you, the same thing. You want to be as straight as you can be, lifting your hips up as high as you can, and forward as far as you can, really squeezing your buttocks.  

Another common mistake is allowing your elbow to drift up toward your ear. Make sure that you are keeping the elbow directly under the shoulder, even tucked in a little closer to your ribs rather than under your ear. 

Glute Bridge Variations

Quick Description: Lie on your back, with feet hip width apart and knees bent. Push into your feet to lift your hips and butt up off the ground and then back down. Repeat 5 times. Then, keeping the feet hip width apart, let the knees come together. Perform the glute bridge by raising the hips up and down in this position 5 times. Then bring the feet right together, let the knees fall out about half way and perform the glute bridges in this position, repeat 5 times. The hips don’t lie! The hip muscles power your stride and provide stability to the whole lower limb. 

Starting position: Let’s start supine, or face up,  on the floor, on a firm but padded surface such as a carpet or hard flooring with a yoga mat.  Flex, or bend the knees, pointing your knees toward the ceiling and place your feet flat on the floor about 6 inches from your buttocks, maintaining about 6 inches between your feet and knees.  The position of your arms and hands is preferential. You can leave them at your side palms up or palms down, or you can fold your arms across your chest. 

To perform the exercise: keep your feet flat and your shoulders and head in contact with the floor, and lift your hips up off the ground toward the ceiling as high as you can, squeezing your glutes (buttocks) at the top. Then, slowly lower back down to the starting position. Repeat 5 times. Now, keep your feet where they are and collapse your knees together. Repeat the hip lift, driving your belly and thighs toward the ceiling while keeping your knees touching. Repeat 5 times. Then finally bring the insides of your feet together, and let your knees fall open about half way, a few inches wider than your hips. Lift your hips again, squeeze your glutes and try for maximum extension just as in the other positions. Repeat 5 times.  

Muscles targeted: The hamstrings (or back of your legs), your glutes (or buttocks), and your lumbar Erector Spinae (or lower back).   

Ways to Increase Intensity: If you want a little more of a challenge, you can place your feet on a raised or unstable surface. Some examples are a bottom step, a foam roller, a stool, or small stability ball. 

Ways to Decrease Intensity: If this exercise is challenging, place your arms on the floor at your side with your palms down so that you can press into the floor with your hands and use a small amount of leverage from your arms as you lift your hips. 

Common Mistakes: One common mistake with this movement is not keeping the feet parallel, whether they are hip width or in close. There should be equal spacing between your toes and heels in either position. Don’t allow your toes to turn out or in, as this can place a twist in your knee. 

Another common mistake is not squeezing and activating the glutes at the top of the lift. Be sure to push your hips as high as you can, tightening your buttocks at the top. 

Dead Bug

Quick Description: Lay on your back, bring your knees up over your hips to 90 degrees. Extend your arms straight up over your shoulders, palms facing each other. Now extend your opposite arm and leg with your exhale. Alternate sides for 12 repetitions each side. Perform 2 sets.  

Starting Position: Let’s start supine (face up on your back) on a firm but padded surface, such as a carpeted floor or a hard surface with a yoga mat. Notice that with your legs straight out on the ground, your lower back is arched slightly away from the floor, creating a slight space. As you move into this exercise, that arch may expand or narrow slightly, but focus on maintaining that exact same spacing as you shift your arms and legs. Bend your knees to 90 degrees and raise them up toward the ceiling so that your knees are directly over your hips, and your shins are parallel with the ground and your toes are pointed straight up. There should be equal distance between your knees, ankles, and toes, approximately 6 inches or so. Now, extend both arms toward the ceiling, straight up over your chest with your palms facing in toward one another. Finally, contract the muscles of your core by imagining that someone is about to stand on your stomach, and focus on maintaining that contracted mid section through the entire exercise.  

To Perform the Exercise: Take one leg and the opposite arm, and as you exhale, slowly lower them toward the floor, your leg straightening as you push the bottom of your foot toward the room in front of you, and your straight arm dropping toward the floor directly over your head. Lower them down to just several inches from the ground, and then slowly lift them back up to your starting position again. Through the movement, focus again on contracting your core muscles and maintaining the same neutral arch in your lower spine. Repeat the movement on the opposite side, alternating back and forth until you have about 10-12 repetitions on each side. 

Muscles Targeted: This will target the majority of the core stabilizer muscles 

Ways to Increase Intensity: You can increase intensity by adding some resistance to your movement using ankle or wrist weight attachments. 

Ways to Decrease Intensity: You can decrease intensity by shortening your movement a bit. As you extend, you can keep your knee bent and just lower your heel toward the ground, and lower your arm down only about half way toward the floor. Focus on contracting your core and moving toward the full extension of the exercise. 

Common Mistakes: One common mistake with this exercise is relaxing and or shifting through the mid section too much. The idea behind this exercise is that as you move your arms and legs, there will be varying forces that pull on your core and hips. Keep your belly tight and your mid section still as a statue so you can to train your body to stabilize during alternating arm and leg movements. 

Y Squeeze

Extend your arms out over head, but widen them to approximately a 45 degree angle to make a capitol Y shape with your body. Turn your palms in toward each other so that your thumbs are toward the ceiling, you can keep your hands open or make a fist. Keep your legs on the ground and your neck in its neutral position as you  lift both arms up off the floor several inches, and then gently lower them back down. As your arms raise up, your chest will come up off the ground very slightly, but try not to raise your torso up too high, just focus on lifting your arms and squeezing your shoulders back. Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions. 

T Squeeze

Extend your arms directly out to the side to make a Capitol T shape with your body. Turn your palms so that they are facing behind you toward your feet and your thumbs are toward the floor, you can keep your hands open or make a fist. Keep your legs on the ground and your neck in its neutral position as you lift both arms up off the floor several inches, and then gently lower them back down. As your arms raise up, your chest will come up off the ground very slightly, but try not to raise your torso up too high, just focus on lifting your arms and squeezing your shoulders back. Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions. 

Inverted Y Squeeze

Extend your arms directly toward your feet and widen them approximately 6 inches from your hips to make an inverted Capitol Y shape with your body. Turn your hands so that your thumbs are toward the floor, you can keep your hands open or make a fist. Keep your legs on the ground and your neck in its neutral position as you lift both arms up off the floor several inches, and then gently lower them back down. As your arms raise up, your chest will come up off the ground very slightly, but try not to raise your torso up too high, just focus on lifting your arms and squeezing your shoulders back. Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions. 

Single Leg Balance

Quick Description: Standing on your left foot, lift the right knee and thigh up to hip level, and straighten and bend the right knee while you balance on the left leg. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 5 times each leg. For more of a challenge move the non stance leg forward and backwards while trying to balance. Improving balance will improve your running efficiency. 

Starting Position: Let’s start this exercise standing up straight next to a stable object you can hold on to for balance if needed. Center your weight over your grounded foot by moving your hips laterally, shifting to the side of that leg slightly, effectively putting your grounded foot right in the middle of your body alignment. Another way of saying it is that you’re not tipping to the side as your head and shoulders should stay right over your hips, but your whole vertical torso should be shifted just a little to the side so that your bottom foot is right in the middle of your body. Now raise your other knee to hip level out in front of you with your foot dangling down under your front knee. Your arms should be bent to 90 degrees and at your side with your palms facing each other out in front of you, just like when running. The exception is if you are having balancing issues, you can place your hand or hands on whatever stable object you are using for balance.  

To Perform the Exercise: Keeping your body as still and balanced as you can, straighten your front elevated leg, pointing the bottom of your foot toward the room in front of you. Hold for 10 seconds, and then relax it slowly back to the starting position. The only thing you want moving in this exercise is your knee extending and flexing, nothing else should be moving. Repeat the exercise about 5-6 times and then switch legs. 

Muscles Targeted: This exercise will challenge most of the muscles in the core, along with the major muscles of the hips and buttocks. 

Ways to Increase Intensity: If you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can swing your leg forward and back as you move in and out of these repetitions, causing your body to have to stabilize more. Also, you can stand on an unstable surface such as a soft mat or balance disc. This will cause you to have more instability and a greater need for muscle activation. 

Ways to Decrease Intensity: To make this exercise a bit easier, you can hold onto a stable surface for support. Challenge yourself to only hold on when absolutely needed and work toward balancing without assistance. 

Common Mistakes: One common mistake with this exercise is swaying and leaning with the upper body. Think of your upper body being as still as a statue, shifting just slightly to counter balance the movement of your leg. The idea of this exercise is balance and stability, so keep yourself strong and stable through each movement. 

Half Kneeling Step Ups

Quick Description: In a half-kneeling position with the right knee down, left foot out on the ground in front of you. Push into the left foot to stand up and place the right foot beside it. Step back with the right foot and slowly lower back to right knee down. Repeat on the same side 10 times. Repeat on the other side. This exercise will challenge balance and coordination while working the hip muscles. 

Starting Position: For this exercise, let’s kneel down on the floor on a firm but padded surface, such as a carpeted floor or a hard surface with a yoga mat.  In this kneeling position, both knees are bent to 90 degrees.  Your front foot is flat on the floor in front of you with your knee up, and your back foot is turned down with the dorsi side, or the top of your foot, on the ground.  Your bottom knee is on the floor directly under your hips, and your hips are directly under your head and shoulders with your arms at your sides. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees, and put your hands out in front of you, keeping your elbows at your side. Keeping your arms stationary will increase the demand on your legs. 

To Perform the Exercise: Drive your front foot into the floor as you push the top of your head toward the ceiling to move into a standing position. As you stand all the way up to a fully erect stance, place your back foot lightly on the floor, keeping the majority of your weight on your drive foot. Once there, immediately step that same foot back again and slowly lower down into your starting position. Repeat about 10 times, and then switch legs. 

Muscles Targeted: Glutes (buttocks), Hamstrings (back of thigh), Quadriceps (thigh), and other stabilizer muscles in the hips and core. 

Ways to Increase Intensity: To increase the challenge for this exercise, you can avoid letting your back foot touch the ground as you come up, instead trying to balance through the entire movement. When you get really good at this exercise, you can also add resistance by holding on to weights as you perform your repetitions. 

Ways to Decrease Intensity: There are several ways to decrease the tension of this exercise, including turning your back foot under so that your toes are dug into the floor, which will allow you to push slightly off your back foot to stand up. Another way to make it easier is to have a sturdy object to hold onto to help pull yourself up to your standing position, such as the edge of a kitchen counter or the back of a couch. 

Common Mistakes: One common mistake with this exercise is leaning your chest way forward when standing up. To challenge your leg and hip muscles properly, it is best to keep your torso very erect, trying to keep your head over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips. Imagine driving the crown of your head toward the ceiling as you stand up, and this will help keep you aligned. 

Another common mistake is dropping back down to the ground too quickly. Everything about this movement should be steady and controlled, especially on the way back down to the floor. Soft smooth movements should be your goal through the duration of the exercise. 

Overhead Squat

Quick Description: Standing with feet outside of hip width. Hold towel or rope over head pulling the arms apart. Perform your squat keeping the towel or rope overhead. Repeat 10 times. This is an amazing total body exercise, it will wake up and strengthen your spine and hip muscles. 

Starting Position: Let’s start standing fully erect with your feet hip width or just slightly wider, and your toes pointed directly forward toward 12 o’clock, or just slightly more open. Now, take a rolled up towel or rope and hold it in front of your thighs, gripping it firmly with your palms facing your legs at about hip width. Pulling the towel or rope open, raise your arms straight up over head, keeping lots of tension on the towel or rope, as if you were trying to tear it in half. 

To Perform the Exercise: Understand that the squat is one of the most powerful, most often used, and most often improperly performed, exercises out there. Follow all of these guidelines, and listen to your body, as small variations may be appropriate for your build or athleticism. First, engaging the right muscle groups is essential, in this case, the hips and buttocks are the primary movers, along with the hamstrings (back of the thigh) and quadriceps (thigh). Keeping the tension on the towel and your arms straight overhead, start the movement by pushing your hips back toward the wall behind you a few inches, causing you to flex at the hips and put your weight back on your heels. Be sure to not lose neutrality in your spine, your lower back should still have a shallow forward curve, just as if you were standing up. Now, keeping your weight in your heels, sit your hips back and down, like you are sitting in a very little chair that is way back behind you. Note, if you want to make sure your getting this right, you can get a chair or stool and perform a squat standing several inches away from it, sitting down, touching the chair very lightly, and then standing back up. As you lower into your squat, your knees should stay open as wide as your feet, and your chest and back should be upright and as tall as you can make them, with your arms still overhead. When you have dropped as low as you can, drive your heels into the ground, squeeze your buttocks and your core, press your knees out, and push your head and hands toward the ceiling as you drive back up to the starting position, finishing with your hips driving forward again and squeezing at the top. Perform 6-10 reps with control and focus on good posture and stability. 

Muscles Targeted: Glute Complex (buttocks), Hamstrings (back of the thigh), Quadriceps (thigh), and many accessory muscles including core muscles, postural muscles, and muscles in the lower legs and feet. 

Ways to Increase Intensity: This primary exercise has dozens and dozens of variations to make it more challenging. One simple technique is to slow down your movements, especially on the way down (eccentric). Perform a slow count of 3 or 4 on the way down, and a count of 1 or 2 on the way up for a simple but effective way of turning up the intensity. 

Ways to Decrease Intensity: If squats are challenging for you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. A super simple way of taking some pressure off your legs, knees, hips, or back, is to hold onto a stable object while sitting back into your squat. Examples may include the edge of a counter, the back of a couch, a banister railing, a suspended rope, a low pull-up bar, a strong door knob, etc. Holding this object will allow you to sit back a little more and share some of the stress with your upper body, allowing you the right tension to strengthen your legs and work toward doing unassisted body weight squats. The best objects are easily gripped and stable at about upper belly or chest level. 

Common Mistakes: There are many mistakes that can be made with this exercise, I will list the most frequent ones, and note that these mistakes are not always on or off or black or white. Often there are subtle and small variations. You don’t have to be bent over double for it to be wrong. Even a small misalignment in your lower back can cause big problems over time, so always be on the look out for these, even if you are experienced with exercise. 

First common mistake is rounding your back and dropping your chest. Though the squat is a full body exercise, engaging many muscles in the upper body in an accessory manner, it is primarily for the legs and buttocks, so we want the upper body to be as neutral and stationary as possible. Your upper body should stay as erect as possible through the entire movement, your core tight, your back neutral and strong with your arms up overhead. Imagine looking at a person in front of you while you are squatting, whether at the top or bottom, you want to point your face, chest, and belly toward them the entire time. 

Another common mistake is not sitting back into the squat. If you miss the first step of pushing your hips back and subsequently not sitting in that imaginary chair way back behind you, you will have a tendency to push your knees forward and your weight into your toes. This puts a lot of pressure in your knees and long term is not biomechanically sound. Your knees can and will move forward slightly, but your weight should remain in your heels, and your knees should not pass your toes. 

Another common mistake is allowing your knees to collapse together, whether on the way down (eccentric) or on the way up (concentric). If your knees collapse together, you are getting a better push, but the tension is no longer in your leg muscles, but is being shifted into the ligaments of your knee. Press your knees open as you sit and stand, keeping them to the same width as your hips and feet. If you struggle with this, you can prime those muscles by performing squats with a short elastic band around your knees. The band will try to pull your knees inward, and as you fight to keep the band stretched open, you will strengthen the muscles that externally rotate and abduct your legs.