Welcome to the third and final article of my strength and mobility for runners series. In this article, we’ll discuss our personal 3-foot springs and our legs. Our legs act as both springs and power producers. From the foot up to the quad they absorb shock on impact and help turn some of that energy into forward momentum. We need strong quads and hamstrings to power us up hills and absorb the pounding of the steep downhills. Weakness or range of motion issues in either of these muscles can cause knee pain. We need strong feet and ankles because they are our foundation. There are over 20 muscles, 26 bones, and 30 joints in the foot and ankle alone. They work to absorb shock, propel us forward and are highly adaptable on unstable terrain.

The quadriceps encompass the 4 muscles of the front of our thigh: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis; function to extend the knee. The hamstrings at the back of the thigh: biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus; are responsible for knee flexion. We also have the adductor group on the inside of our thigh that works to stabilize the leg, as well as flex and extend the hip, but since they attach to the knee I thought it made more sense to mention them here. They are adductor longus and brevis, adductor magnus, and gracilis muscles.

To load all three of these muscles groups we’ll use a lunge matrix, forward, reverse, and then to each side. As with any of the exercises, if the combination is too challenging then isolate them into their own separate exercise and work your way up to combining. Remember to keep your knee inline with your toes. Just like any strength exercise, weight can be added to force you into an 8-15 rep range. Another great quad exercise is the split squat mentioned in part 2 of this series, so please reference that.


Forward Lunge

Reverse Lunge




Side Lunge


Most of us are familiar with stretching the front of our thigh by lifting your leg and grabbing your ankle behind you, but that only stretches 3 out of the 4 quads. Your longest quad muscle, rectus femoris, is also a hip flexor due to where it’s attached. To stretch this muscle, we have to include the hip. If you’re very flexible you can still grab your ankle and then shift your hip forward while you’re stretching. Pretend there is a rope looped around your butt, and it’s gently pulling your hips forward. That’s the motion we’re going for. If you’re not as flexible, then use a chair or other surface to prop your leg up, as demonstrated below.


Rectus Femoris Stretch


For hamstring strengthening, we’ll use hamstring curls on a yoga ball. You can use your foam roller if you don’t have a yoga ball. I know you have a foam roller and use it daily, right? Right? You’ll be lying on your back with your legs straight and heels on the ball. Press down through your heels to lift your butt off the ground. While in this position, curl the ball toward you, then straight back out.


Hamstring Ball Curl


Another great hamstring exercise that not only strengthens but eccentrically lengthens the hamstring as well is a single Romanian deadlift, or RDL for short. These are also great to address chronic high hamstring pain. Any eccentric exercise has a higher likelihood of increased muscle soreness so ease into these before you introduce weight if they are new to your routine.

Some things to be mindful of while you perform these, keep a soft knee, just slightly unlocked. As you bend forward your trunk and leg should make a straight line. Also, don’t let the hips rotate out. If you have lights on the front of your hips, they should both be pointing straight at the ground.


Single Leg Romanian Dead Lifts


As I mentioned, there are several muscles in the lower leg and foot, but for the purpose of this article we’re going to focus on the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, the fibularis muscle group, and posterior tibialis. Gastroc and soleus are what you think of as your calf muscles attaching to your achilles tendon. They are your primary plantar flexors, helping to propel you forward, and are great shock absorbers. Fibularis longus not only helps to stabilize your lateral ankle, but also helps to keep the base of your big toe in contact with the ground. Posterior tibialis stabilizes your medial ankle, and also helps to stabilize your arch.


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A lot of calf strengthening is done in a straight leg position, which biases for gastroc, but running is accomplished with a slightly bent knee, which biases for your soleus muscle. Your soleus muscle can absorb 9 to 11 times your body weight, so it’s important for running to strengthen your soleus muscle. To do that we’ll do bent knee heel raises. This can be done using both legs at once, in stride stance, or single leg. Choose the variation that allows you to do 8-15 reps, and add weight as needed. I’ve demonstrated the stride stance below. As you do these, keep your foot stable with the joint between your big and second toe being the focal point of the ground pressure.


Soleus Heel Raise


This is an upgraded version of the standard heel raise to strengthen gastrocnemius. We’re going to use a band to apply an inversion or eversion bias to recruit posterior tibialis and the fibularis muscles respectively. Not only do these muscles assist with plantar flexion, but they are also crucial for ankle and foot stability as you tackle unstable terrain. Again keep your foot stable with the joint between your big and second toe being the focal point of the ground pressure. If single leg is too challenging, go to double leg.


Inversion Bias Heel Raise

Eversion Bias Heel Raise








If the front of your ankle is chronically stiff from a previous ankle roll, this self-mobilization will help you regain your dorsiflexion range of motion. For this mobilization, you’ll need a belt, towel, or yoga strap, and somewhere to anchor it like a couch or table. The pressure should be right at the front of the ankle where it bends. Bend your knee and ankle and pulse forward 10-15 reps.


Dorsiflexion Self-Mobilization


I hope you’ve found this article series helpful and continue to better appreciate the importance of making a strength and mobility routine part of your run training. Do you need to do every exercise in this 3 part article series? No, find your weaknesses and focus on those first, and as you become more comfortable with strength training, build from there. As a reminder, this article is not intended to replace medical advice, and these exercises are intended for healthy tissues. Please consult your physical therapist if you are working through an unresolved injury.


Denzil Jennings is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and ultrarunner. He is the Practice Manager at Therapeutic Associates East Portland.

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