Last Updated on August 15, 2023 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Hey there trail runner! Do you know you need to strength train, but don’t know where or how to start? Do gyms intimidate you, time eludes you, and you don’t have access to any equipment at home? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. This (free!) no equipment needed, beginner friendly strength training workout for trail runners can be done in the comfort of your home – or even outdoors.
Listen, you aren’t alone.
Most runners understand that strength training will not only help running performance, but can help decrease the risk of injury. Yet despite this knowledge…many runners still don’t strength train. I hear it at least once a week from potential or new clients, if not more. The reasons why runners avoid strength training include:
- No access to a gym.
- No access to equipment.
- Unsure of how/where to start.
- Intimidated by the idea of strength training.
- “No time”.
But the great news is that you can squash all of these excuses with the best piece of strength training equipment known to human kind:
Your own body.
That’s right, you can get in a very effective strength training workout using nothing but body weight. And you can get in an effective, full body workout in the comfort of your own home (or backyard)
These exercise are simple in design, but not necessarily in execution. All of these bodyweight, no equipment necessary, exercises will help you with the “building blocks” of strength. If you fall in love with strength training, these exercises will help build a solid foundation when and if you decide to progress into a more advanced strength training routine. Further, many of these exercise target muscles that are often neglected by runners, thus, will help with injury prevention!
No Equipment Beginner Strength Training Workout for Trail Runners
If you are BRAND NEW to strength training, start with this workout twice per week. Make sure you give yourself at least 48 hours between repeating this workout, to allow your muscles to heal and grow. Work your way up to three times per week, or alternate with the no equipment needed core workout.
Focus on form, not speed, when going through these exercises. Each part of the exercise should be performed at the same, consistent rate of speed. I recommend about two seconds in each direction (for example, on a pushup: two seconds to lower, two seconds to return to starting position). Be aware of your body’s positioning, always engaging the core and keeping the spine neutral. BREATHE throughout the exercise, do not hold your breath. Exhale during the hard part of the exercise (the contraction), inhale during the easy part of the exercise (the release).
The following workout is designed for educational purposes, and is not a prescribed training plan for any particular individual. While I am a certified exercise physiologist and RRCA running coach, and have designed this workout with safety in mind, you should understand that when participating in a strength training program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in this training plan you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, and assume all risk of injury to yourself. You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting this or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.
Sit to Stands – 1 set of 15 repetitions
Sit down on a chair, bench or other “seat” that will allow your thighs to be approximately parallel to the ground, with your knees at a 90 degree angle (it doesn’t have to be exact. ). Your feet should be about hip width apart. Then, you’re simply going to stand up from a seated position. Feet should be positioned so that your weight is in your heels, and your toes are free to wiggle. Once standing, pause for a second, then sit back down. Lower your hip and butt back while keeping your torso tall. Again, weight should be in the heels.
Wall pushup – 1 set of 10 repetitions
Start with your feet hip width apart, facing a wall. You’ll want your feet about a foot and a half to two feet away from the wall. The further away you are from the wall, the harder the pushup will be. Place your hands on the wall in front of you, just below shoulder height. Now, keeping your core tight (flat like a plank), bend your elbows to lower your face towards the wall. Don’t reach for the wall with your nose: keep your spine and neck neutral.
Bird dog – alternate sides, 10 each side
Start in table top position on your hands and knees. Place your hands about shoulder width apart onto the ground, knees about hip width apart. Pull your core in tight, and keep your back flat. Then, extend your left arm and your right leg. Squeeze your back, shoulders, glutes, and quads to really lengthen your body. Keep your head neutral with your spine. Return arm and leg to the ground Repeat on the other side.
Repeat through circuit ( 15 sit to stands, 10 wall pushups, 10 bird dogs each side) 3 times.
Complete all three exercises in each set. Repeat through each set three times before moving on to the next set.
Air squats – 1 set of 15 repetitions
Start with your feet hip width apart, or slightly wider. Toes should be pointing forward. Then, squat by sending your butt and hips backward, almost as if you are sitting back into a chair. Body weight should be in your heels: at the bottom of the squat, you should be able to wiggle your toes. Torso stays tall, head is looking forward (not bent in half and looking at the ground). Squat to about 90 degrees, then push through your heels to return to a standing position.
Standard plank – 30 seconds
Come down to the ground into plank position. Use your forearms and your toes to support your body weight off of the ground. Think of a 2X4 plank, and try to mimic that straightness throughout your entire body from your head to your toes. Make sure your hips are not sticking up into the air or sinking towards the ground. If this position is too difficult to hold for 30 seconds, you can modify your plank by bringing your knees to the ground. Maintain the straight spine from your knees through your neck.
Wall Sit – 45 seconds
Find a wall, and stand with your back flat against the wall. Slowly walk your legs out, lowering yourself closer to the ground, until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Knees should be at a 90 degree angle. Engage your abdominal muscles, pushing your lower back into the wall. Now stay here, and don’t forget to breathe! For a more advanced version, slowly extend one leg at a time straight out in front of you, to work on lower leg strength and balance.
Repeat this set three times, then move on to next set.
Pushups (modified or regular) – 1 set of 10 repetitions
One thing I like to remind clients with pushups is that form matters so much more than stubbornness. If you can’t do a full pushup on your toes without good form, don’t stress! Opt for the modified option instead.
Start in a similar position to your plank, except on your hands instead of on your forearms. Arms are shoulder width apart, or perhaps slightly wider. Core is tight and engaged, hips are in alignment with your spine (not sticking up or sagging towards the ground). Support your body weight with your toes (standard pushup) or knees (modified pushup). Lower your chest towards the ground. Keep your neck neutral with your spine, do not try to reach for the ground with your nose! Think “chest to ground” first. Then, push yourself back to the starting position with your upper body, keeping your core tight.
Right side plank – 30 seconds
Lay down on your side (either side, eventually you’ll get to the other one!) Stack your hips one on top of the other, so you aren’t leaning forward or backward. Do the same with your thighs. If needed, bend your bottom knee at 90 degrees to give added support. Place your elbow under your shoulder, to use as support. Then, lift your hips off of the ground into a side plank.
If you’re struggling with balance, use your non supporting hand on the ground to help stabilize your body. If you find the side plank easy, bring that non supporting hand into the air for an extra challenge.
Tricep dips (on chair, couch, bench, or floor) – 1 set of 10 repetitions
Find a chair, bench, or other “seat” that is stable and secure (i.e., not on wheels, not light enough to tip over, etc.) Sit on the very edge, with legs extended out in front of you. Place your hands next to your body on the seat, with your palms facing down, fingers facing forward. Walk your feet out until your arms are supporting your body weight. Then, lower your body towards the ground, until your upper arms are parallel with the ground (but no lower!). Use your arms to push you back to the starting position.
Left side plank – 30 seconds
Same as video above, but switch to the left side.
Repeat this set three times, then move on to next set block of exercise.
Clam shells – 1 set of 15 repetitions EACH SIDE
Lay on one side, with knees bent in front of you. Stack your hips and thighs, so you are not leaning forward or backwards. Using your hips and glutes, open and close your legs, from the knees, like a clam shell. Focus on allowing the external rotation to come from your hips, rather than the feet.
Glute Bridge – 30 seconds
Lay on your back, bend your knees, and bring your heels in close to your fingertips. Feet should be about hip width apart. Then, squeeze your glutes and core to bring your hips up off of the ground. Try to get your thighs, hips, and torso into a straight line. You can either hold the bridge for 30 seconds, or slowly lift and lower for 10 repetitions.
Superman – alternate sides, 10 each side.
Lay on your stomach, face down. Extend your arms straight out in front of you. Then, engage your core, low back, and glutes to lift your legs and torso off of the ground. You should feel the lower back engaging. Try to keep your head neutral with your spine, rather than reaching with your head. Slowly lower back down. Repeat.
Repeat this set three times, then move on to next set.
Reverse lunges – alternate sides, 10 each side
Start standing tall with feet hip width apart. Take a BIG step backwards with your left leg. Bend your right knee, and lower your hips towards the ground, keeping your torso tall, Your weight should go behind you, so that your right knee stays approximately above your right heel. When the left knee almost hits the ground, push back up to your starting position.
Monster walk 10 steps each direction
Start with your feet hip width apart. Sink your hips and butt backwards into a half squat. HOLD that squat, while taking a big step laterally to the right. Bring your left foot to meet your right foot. Keep going for ten paces, while holding the squat position. Then, still holding that position, repeat your ten paces in the oppostie direction.
Donkey Kicks to Fire Hydrants – 10 each side
Start in table top position: hands shoulder width apart, knees hip width apart, back flat and core engaged. Shift your weight to the left side of your body, and bring your right knee off of the ground. Keeping your knee bent at 90 degrees, lift your right heel straight towards the ceiling, squeezing your glute. This is the donkey kick.
Return leg to starting position. Then, externally rotate your hip, keeping the knee at 90 degrees, lifting your leg laterally. Almost like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant (hence the name!) Return to starting position. That is one rep.
Find more “how to” exercise videos from Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching on our YouTube channel.
As mentioned above, try adding this strength training routine into your running training cycle at least twice per week. Have any questions about these exercises? Please leave a comment below!
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.