Run strong: Building lower leg strength, durability and injury resistance

Strengthening your legs will make you a more efficient runner and will help prevent injuries.
You're in the midst of your running season -- slogging through the humidity and heat -- and you're seeking some extra seconds off of your PR time for your next event. Or maybe you're looking to boost your mileage while avoiding injury.

Regardless of your focus, the protocols for both aren't only very similar, they're important to all runners regardless of experience and ability level.

Why build strength? No, not the gym!

A training program that focuses on building strength will prepare your body for the rigors of your next event. Leg strength will improve your running economy and will make your body more durable (when done appropriately).

And no, I'm not talking about getting a gym membership! The steps outlined below should be readily available to all runners.

Three steps to strength

Here are three distinct ways that you can begin to build strength and improve your run.

You can begin with level one if you're just starting, or you can skip ahead to a higher level if you've already incorporated the initial step(s). This progression is also useful as you begin training, spending about four weeks at each level.

Level 1: Rolling terrain for long runs
Don't underestimate sport-specific strength training. Rolling means you know that you're going up (and down) but that it isn't a struggle to do either. Your early long runs should be on a rolling course to build strength and fitness. Remember that the pace is meant to be easy on this long run (10k pace plus two minutes or top of heart rate zone two).

Level 2: Calf and toe raises
This is especially critical as your marathon training begins. Weights aren't necessary; you can do them at home on a step.

For the calf raises, stand facing the stairs on the ball of one foot. Lower your heel all the way down and then bring the heel all the way up. For the toe raises, face away from the stairs standing on both heels. Lower your toes all the way down, and then bring them all the way up. I recommend a four-week cycle as follows:

  • Week 1: Do two sessions of 2x10 repetitions for both calf and toe raises.
  • Week 2: Do three sessions of 3x10 repetitions for both calf and toe raises.
  • Week 3: Do three sessions of 3x15 repetitions for both calf and toe raises
  • Week 4: Off
  • Level 3: Hill bounding
    When done correctly, hill bounding strengthens the tendons and connective tissue in your lower leg, promotes good running technique and will make you faster.

    Starting on a hill, begin running slowly, over-emphasizing take-off and landing (in other words, allow your heel to drop below the toe level, then spring back up). The recovering foot will barely graze the ground as it prepares to drive forward.

    Exaggerate your knee/hand drive upwards (as if you were skipping) -- holding it for a split second in mid-air. Note that you are moving up and down, as much as you are moving forward. This is not meant to be a hill sprint. Watch videos of hill bounding here.

    Maintain your strength

    Once you've moved through each phase of this strength progression, you should see a difference in your running. In fact, you can maintain this newfound run strength by continuing to intersperse one (or more) of these sessions into your weekly routine. I'm confident that once you see what strength can do for your running, you won't think twice about beefing up your stride!

    Happy running!

    Patrick McCrann is a USA Triathlon certified coach and the author of online training plans for runners of all ability levels. He may be contacted at

    Discuss This Article