Runners are often hardcore about their sport, exclusively spending their training time pounding the pavement. Doubtless, running will make you a better runner. However, strength training is one of the most valuable tools a runner can use to avoid injuries, become stronger and run more efficiently. Because the quadriceps are primary movers in the running motion, developing these muscles is particularly important. For runners, certain quadriceps exercises are best for developing running strength and speed. Always consult with your doctor before making changes to your exercise routine.
Efficiency and Injury Prevention
Strong quadriceps will increase running power and speed on varied terrain and help correct muscular imbalances that can cause injury. A common running injury, "runner's knee" is often the result of weak quadriceps that aren't able to properly support the patella, causing it to track improperly. Although the quads are the focus in many running-specific resistance training exercises, it's important to note that many runners have hamstrings that are weaker than their quadriceps. This imbalance can be exacerbated by training the quadriceps exclusively. To maintain balance, perform hamstring exercises, such as leg curls and deadlifts, in conjunction with quadriceps exercises.
Most traditional quad exercises work both legs at once, but according to coach and physical therapist Mark Plaatjes, most people tend to favor one leg over the other when running. This can lead to imbalances that weaken performance and cause injury. The solution is to work your legs one at a time, which prevents the dominant leg from compensating for the weaker one. Three effective single-leg exercises include single-leg extensions, pistol squats and single-leg split squats.
Squats are the granddaddy of lower body exercises, and for good reason. These compound exercises primarily target the quadriceps, but they also blast the glutes and hamstrings -- two other essential muscle groups for runners. Depending on your goals, you can perform squats with just your body weight or you can used dumbbells or a barbell to add resistance. Form is particularly important with weighted squats, so keep your chest up with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width throughout the motion. To avoid over-stressing the knees, don't squat deeper than about 90 degrees.
Add some explosive, lower body plyometric movements to your training to help develop the quadriceps. According to trainer and running coach Walt Reynolds, one-legged hops in quick succession can build strength and coordination in the entire lower body, including the feet, ankles, calves and thighs. To perform, stand on your left foot with your right leg on a supported block about 6 to 8 inches high. Rapidly hop on your left foot at a cadence of about three hops per second for 10 to 30 seconds. Then switch legs and repeat.