6 Exercises to Get Stronger Using Just Your Body Weight

Photo by  Marques Jackson  at Bushwick Collective. Mural by  Roske Loste .

Photo by Marques Jackson at Bushwick Collective. Mural by Roske Loste.

If you want to get faster, prevent injuries and boost your metabolism, strength training is key. Yet so many runners neglect it. As a running coach, I recommend all my runners do strength training.

Runners are great at sticking to their running routines, but can undermine all the hard work and miles if they don’t do strength training. Getting stronger reduces your chance of injuries, speeds up metabolism to help with fat loss, and makes you faster. So what’s not to like!? Don’t be intimidated by the big beefy guys at and heavy weights at the gym though, you can get stronger using just your bodyweight. No memberships or equipment required.

Here are some calisthenics (bodyweight exercise) moves you can do to improve your strength, overall fitness, and running:

Pushups: I know there is nothing new about this exercise, but there is a reason this fitness mainstay is used by the military, professional athletes and fitness fans: Push-ups target large groups of your upper body muscles, can be done anywhere, any time (work break, anyone?). When you do a push-up, you work your chest, shoulders, triceps (back of your upper arms), abs, and the “wing” muscles directly under your armpit. Can’t do a regular push-up yet? No problem - See the video for push-up modification options from NYC trainer Pat Stacks. Do 10-15 push-ups for one set.

Toe Touches: These are recommended by trainer Pat to help runners improve their hip strength and flexibility. As runners, we often have tight hips and can incur injuries from having weak hips, so these are an awesome exercise for runners. To do them, lie on your back with your arms and legs straight. Bring one leg up and cross it over your body diagonally, tapping your toe on the ground. Bring the leg back over to the other side and tap your toe on the ground on that side. Repeat for a total of 30 seconds on each side. See the video for an illustration of this one.

Planks: These are a staple exercise for core strength. Do 20 seconds at first and gradually add time (think 10 seconds a week) until you can do 1-minute sets of planks. If you get bored or have a short attention span like me, try plank variations such as leg raises (raise one leg at a time and count to 5 then bring it down) or toe touches, where you bring one foot at a time out to the side and touch the ground with your toe, then return to legs together position. I find this a good way to pass the time while planking and staring at my phone’s stopwatch. Also, music helps!

Squats: Squats are the lower body equivalent of the push-up. They work almost every muscle in your lower body. When you squat, you strengthen your gluten, hamstrings, quads, calves and core muscles. To do a squat, stand with your feet hip width apart. Bend your knees and lower your body, sticking your butt out and keeping your chest up. Make sure that your knees are in line with your ankle for squats - you do not want your knees to jut out farther than your ankles. Do 15 squats for one set. For more advanced fitness levels, hold a kettlebell or dumbbell when you squat.

Lunges: Lunges are another great strength training exercise for your lower body targeting most of the muscles. Lunges strengthen quads, glutes, and hips, and your calves and core work to stabilize you. To do a lunge, start with your feet together standing straight then bend one leg and step forward. Make sure your knee does not go past your ankle when you lower to the lunge position. See video for illustration. Do 10 lunges on each side.

Dips: Dips are simple to master and work your chest, shoulders, triceps and core. To do a dip, find a bench or similar hard surface that is about the height of your knees (doesn’t have to be exact). Sit on the edge and put your arms by your sides and hands on the bench edge. Lower your body and bend your elbows, keeping your heels against the ground and legs straight. Raise back up to straighten your arms. For advanced dips, you can do these on parallel bars. Do 10 to 15 dips for one set.

Workout: Do one set of each move then repeat the whole routine two times, for a total of three sets of each exercise. Do this workout at least three days a week. Since you are not using heavy weights,

Bonus: Pullups. Pull-ups are another super exercise that targets lots of muscle groups, including your lats, biceps, upper back, and forearms. And you don’t have to be able to do a full pull-up to reap the strengthening rewards- try modifying pull-ups by stepping up to an arm hang and slowly lowering your body down. These negatives will help build up your strength for eventually doing regular pull-ups. You can also add variety for an advanced workout and do wide grip pull-ups with your hands farther apart on the bars, and close grip, with your hands right next to each other.

What muscles groups do you want to work on and improve your strength?

Marnie Kunz is a RRCA-certified running coach and the creator of Runstreet Art Runs, which bring together communities through running and street art. She is a Brooklyn resident, running coach and writer. She enjoys traveling, art, and eating messily. You can follow her running and events at @Runstreet Instagram and Runstreet Facebook.

Related Posts: 3 Track Workouts to Improve Your Race Times, 8 Treadmill Running Tips

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