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Why Building Strength One Leg at a Time Is Crucial for Running Prep

Each month, a new trainer takes us through four of the best workouts they have in their back pocket. Follow along weekly for new ways to sweat it out with us. See All

The way we often strength train for running is with two-legged exercises like squats, dead lifts, and hip bridges. But if you took a freeze frame of yourself while running, at no point would both of your feet be on the ground at the same time.

“As you run, one leg is hitting the ground while the other leg is moving forward, so running is technically a single-leg movement,” says Barry’s trainer and Nike running coach Sashah Handal.

That’s why Handal says it’s key to train one side of the body at a time–so that each leg can build endurance on its own. Otherwise, it’s too easy for the stronger side to take over while strength training, leaving you lopsided.

“We want to make sure each of those legs are prepped,” Handal says.

In her latest workout video as part of Well+Good‘s month-long celebration of running, the United States of Running, Handal shares her favorite moves to mobilize, activate, and prepare the body for success on long runs. You can do this 15-minute video as a warm-up for a run, or on days in between runs as part of a running-specific strength training routine.

You’ll start off with some dynamic stretches to lengthen and wake up the muscles. A couple of these involve standing on one leg and playing with balance, which helps build the small stabilizer muscles in your feet and ankles. Handal’s advice for this section? Go slow, and don’t worry if you lose your balance and need to put a foot down. Just pick back up where you left off

Next, you’ll start to work on those single legs. You’ll begin with my all-time favorite dynamic running stretch, hinges. These mimic a stride in slow motion.

“You’re almost emulating what a sprinter would do, and you’re creating momentum in opposing direction that is really challenging for the balancing leg,” Handal says. “But the slower you move, the more control you access, and the tighter you brace your core, the better this will become.”

From there, you’ll do a variation on a hinge with some more full-body strength challenges, which will “warm up the glutes, the hamstring, the quad, the core, basically your whole body,” Handal says. And you’ll round out that side with single leg raises in a bridge position as well as oblique work in a modified side plank. Then, you’ll do it all again on your other side.

Your body is strongest when all the parts are moving together, but it’s nice to know that you can stand on your own one foot when you need to.

“That workout gave you all you needed to really build endurance on one leg at a time,” Handal says. “Hit your next long run with tons of confidence and feel super successful with your ability to really go the distance.”

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