The United States of Running

The 3 Most Important Muscles To Work in Your Legs for Faster Miles, and How To Do It in Under 10 Minutes

Kells McPhillips

Runners obviously love to run, but a lot of the work that makes your miles miraculous actually happens when you’re not wearing your sneakers. Your calves, thighs, and glutes act as strong, large muscles that propel you forward mile after mile. To make them work at 100 percent (not 50, not 75), you need to cross-train with leg-centric workouts that make your strides stronger.

On this week’s episode of Well+Good’s YouTube series, Trainer of the Month Club, Nike Master Trainer (and running coach) Traci Copeland paces you through a fast and fun leg workout for runners that requires no equipment. “We’re focusing on running this month. So whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned runner, we’re going to take you through a cross-training workout today. Something that focuses on your lower body and specifically on some of those bigger muscle groups to get your body prepared to run better and longer,” says Copeland a the top of the video.

To give a little love to all of the parts of your legs that fuel your sprints, long runs, recovery miles, and more, Copeland shows you five moves that are essentials in any leg day. Let’s look at one exercise for each of those VIP muscle groups, shall we?

1. Glutes

The glutes are located within your butt, and they include three muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.

Work your glutes with marching hip lifts: Lie down on your back and place both of your feet flat on the ground. Press into your palms and push your pelvis up to the sky, forming a “bridge” of sorts with your body. Without collapsing in your core, alternate tucking one knee into your chest, then the other.

2. Thighs

Your thighs include both your hamstrings (the muscles on the back of the leg) and your quadriceps (which wrap around the front).

Work your thighs with marching alternating side lunges: Start with your feet wide, about three feet apart. Bend into your right knee and sit back into your glutes. Keep your left leg straight and feel your right quads and hamstrings work. Push back up into your neutral position and switch sides.

3. Calves

The muscles just below your knees play a huge role in making you springy on the run. Don’t believe me? Just see how they feel after one of your longer training runs.

Work your calves with Copeland’s high knee react drill: Stand up tall and quickly alternate between bringing one knee to your chest, then the other. Swing your arms at the same time, mimicking your running form. Every third rep, stop and hold the position with one knee still tucked into the chest. Repeat.

To learn more about Copeland’s leg-centric running moves, do the full, 10-minute workout for yourself. 

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