Running requires all of the muscles in your legs to be firing properly… a weakness or imbalance in one area can cause injury or pain in another. The bummer of all this is that just running on its own, is NOT going to be enough to build that strength, you’ve gotta do the work beyond just getting the run in.
Cindy Sites, founder of The Figure Method and owner of Go Figure Fitness Studios has provided this workout to Jill Will Run readers that will work at strengthening and toning your thighs from the front (quadriceps), rear (hamstrings) and outer (gluteus minimus) to make sure you are keeping things balanced, without requiring any equipment!
Forward Leg Lift: This move, a variation on the ballet battement, tones quads and adductors (the inner thigh area–one of the weakest muscles in a woman’s body). It creates muscles that are toned and lengthened, not big and bulky.
Instructions: Stand with your back against the ballet barre (or chair, stairway bannister, kitchen counter…anywhere you can find balance!). Extend one leg out and lift and lower in a challenging range of motion, toes pointed, 20 times. Then, un-point the toes, flex the foot, and do 20 more reps. Switch to the opposite leg and repeat.
Reverse Leg Lift (ballet arabesque): The reverse leg lift uses the same principle as the forward lift, but works the back of the leg rather than the front. You should feel a contraction in the entire back of the leg, from the glute to the ankle.
Instructions: Stand next to your point of balance, holding on with your right hand. Bend your left knee slightly and raise the right leg in a challenging range of motion, toes pointed, 20 times. Then, un-point the toes, flex the foot, and do 20 more reps. Switch positions, putting your left hand on the barre/point of balance, bend your right knee slightly, and repeat the leg lift with the left leg.
Ballet First Position/Plié: The plié is arguably the most famous ballet position for a reason: it’s a fantastic work out for the entire leg, targeting the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glute muscles. Note: Those with knee sensitivity should opt out of first position and proceed to second position.
Instructions: Squat, heels lifted and touching, knees spread to create a diamond shape between your heels and your pelvis. Lift up one inch, down one inch, never moving your seat below your knees. Repeat 20 times. Break for a moment and repeat.
Ballet Second Position/Plié: This variation on the plié is a very effective, total leg workout. Make sure your heels are lifted (ballet term: relevé) the entire time to feel the full effect.
Instructions: Squat, knees facing out, facing your barre or point of balance. Lift your heels and adjust your position until you feel that your leg muscles are fully engaged. Hold the position for 60 seconds, or lift yourself up one inch, down one inch, never moving your seat below your knees. Repeat 20 times. Break for a moment and repeat.
Hamstring Press (ballet attitude position): This move is excellent for toning and strengthening the back of the thigh (hamstring).
Instructions: Stand with arms lifted in front of you, one knee slightly bent and the other leg behind you at a 90 degree angle. With your toes pointed, lower the leg so that your toe touches the floor, then come back to the 90 degree angle. Repeat 20 times. Break momentarily and repeat 20 more times, with un-pointed toes and the foot flexed. Then repeat on the opposite leg.
Runner’s Lunge: After contracting the thigh muscles with the above exercises, it’s important to give yourself a great stretch to lengthen the muscle. This position stretches out the back of the leg and thigh and is a perfect way to end a rigorous workout.
Instructions: With your right leg at a 90 degree angle and right foot firmly planted, extend the left leg behind you, being sure to keep your left heel lifted. Fold your arms into a prayer position and hold. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Disclaimer: I am not a fan of exercise programs that promise to make you “drop inches” or to change your body shape completely. What I am a fan of is exercises that promise functional gains. We can’t all look the same and we’re not all cut from the same mold, so any exercise programs that promise to change your fundamental structure, well… that’s just a bunch of bull****.