What Muscles Are Best to Strengthen for Running with Dr. Duane Scotti

Have you been frustrated in the past that you’ve taken up running or you started a new training cycle and you just get injured and must stop?  In today’s blog & podcast episode, we’re going to be talking about how to strengthen your muscles to train…to run!



Click the video below to hear the LIVE training I did on this topic within the Healthy Runner Facebook Group



Let’s get into it!  Strength training. We know the big principle you need is to train in order to run, right? We’re not just going to go out there and run as our only form of exercise. You need to do exercises and train your muscles in order to be able to run and be healthy so you can hit those race goals.



5 Key Muscles You Should Be Strength Training As A Runner

Let’s talk about the five muscles we discussed in the SPARK blueprint but dig a little deeper!  Let’s get into each of those muscles. These muscles are not your “gym muscles” or your beach muscles. If anyone thinks back to when they first hit the gym, probably many years ago, it was all about working your mirror or beach muscles. When I first started working out in college, it was all about the beach muscles…anyone else? We did LOTS of sets. Lots of reps for our biceps. You did bicep curls and we did bench press and every single type including incline bench, decline bench, flat bench.  We did barbell bench, we did dumbbell bench, we did every variation of the chest press or a bench press!


Now, those muscles are not going to help you prevent injuries or improve performance as a runner. That’s first and foremost.


A total body approach is a good thing that will help improve your metabolism and make you stronger. Overall, from a health standpoint, however, they’re not going to improve your running specific injury needs. That’s why we’re going to be focusing on those five key muscles tonight.


I want to make sure you are strengthening the number one important muscle…


1. Gluteus Maximus


The glutes! Everyone knows the glute max, the big muscle in the back of your hip!  That’s the biggest muscle that we have in our bodies. It is the most powerful.


Bridge Exercise To Target Glutes!


Your glutes are super important, especially if you are a runner who has had a history of back pain or hamstring pain. That top of the hamstring pain that means that your hamstrings are dominant, meaning you’re using your hamstring a lot and you’re not turning on your glutes.  To find out more about treating hamstring pain in runners click THIS BLOG ARTICLE


You need to be re-educating those glutes! Turning on the glutes is a very important thing to work towards healing from injury. And then making sure you’re strengthening your glutes is important going forward from an injury prevention and maintenance standpoint.


So – what are some exercises that you can do?


First thing that I highly recommend is you turn them on or isolate those muscles. Figure out how to contract those muscles, because when you’re doing your leg press in the gym, you’re seated in the extension and you’re not using your glutes at all.


When you’re doing some of your other muscle exercises, you’re probably not fully actually contracting that muscle in your dominant with their hamstrings.


How do you get the signals from your brain? Send them to the glutes to be able to contract. I have a series of exercises that I put together that has worked well with the runners that I help.  Here is the exercises that may help you!



They don’t look very hard, but they’re hard because you need to concentrate when you’re doing them to feel good. You want to feel the burn in your glutes. And if you don’t feel that burning your glutes, you’re not doing it properly, so it’s a matter of turning them on, activating them and then strengthening from there.


Now we want to add your lunges and reverse lunges. You could be doing a dead lift picking up bar from the floor, or if you’re doing a deeper lunge or deeper squad. Those are all hip dominant exercises, meaning your hip muscles actually work more so that would actually work your glutes because your glutes work from your hip joint! That is why you should be contracting and activating your glutes when you are training in order to run.


Glutes are first and foremost! They are very important to exercise and a very important muscle!


2. Gluteus Medius


Your gluteus medius is a fan shaped muscle that comes on the side of your hip, so that’s the muscle that keeps your pelvis level.


Gluteus Medius Muscle (side of hip)


When you’re contracting this muscle it kicks your leg out to the side, raising your leg up. Every time you’re standing on one leg as a runner, your gluteus medius is contracting. If you’re only doing exercises in one plane, like knee extension on the knee curl machine in the gym, you might not be activating the gluteus medius. If you are doing the seated hip abductor machine in the gym, you may not be using this muscle like you do in running because your hip is in a flexed position and you are probably activating more of your TFL (tensor fascia latae) muscle in the front of your hip. This muscle connects to your IT band.


Those of you who have that chronic IT band syndrome, chances are you’re dominant in your TFL muscle, and you’re not activating the gluteus medius muscle on the side and toward the back part where it connects to your gluteus maximus.


The first exercise I would recommend to activate this muscle is called “The humbler”.  It looks very easy, but it’s suprisingly very hard if done correctly.  I call it the humbler because you can take someone who thinks they are strongest person out there, and they do that exercise and are instantly humbled by how weak they are 🙂 .  Check out the video below to see how to perform this exercise correctly.



Another way you can work your gluteus medius muscle is doing a side-step (almost like a crab walk) with a band around your knees or your ankles. You’ll feel a great burn with this too!  Click THIS LINK to view how to perform this exercise


3. Deep Hip Rotator Muscles (Piriformis)



Your external rotators are the guys deep in your butt area. These muscles go deep under the glute max.


The bigger one of the external rotators is the piriformis muscle. I’m sure you’ve heard about this muscle. It’s going to be a key muscle to strengthen especially if you get front of the knee cap pain or what we call patellofemoral syndrome.  This is also a key muscle to strengthen if you tend to get shin splints or posterior tibial tendonitis. This is ankle tendonitis on the inside part your ankle and honestly, even planter fasciitis and achilles tendinopathy. For any ankle tendonitis issue, this muscle is very important because this is your anti-pronation muscle.  Read my previous blog article on 3 tips to combat ankle and foot pain by clicking THIS LINK.


Remember when your foot goes flat and it flattens out when you run, especially for those that have super flat arches, or you overpronate a lot. You may have been told to use orthotics or us a stability running shoe. If you have been told that in the past, then chances are you would benefit from strengthening your hip external rotators. You need to use these muscles to prevent that excessive motion. By strengthening these hip rotator muscles you will decrease the stress down lower in the chain and will prevent those injuries we’ve been talking about.


There are some great simple exercises that you can do to strengthen this muscle at home. Hip activation wise, the clamshell lying on your side, where you’re opening like a clam shell is a great starter. You can add a little resistance by using a band around the knees but make sure you don’t add the band too fast. A lot of times I see people jump to the band when they’re not actually activating the muscle correctly. You want to make sure you’re activating, turning that muscle on, and then progress your resistance. Add the resistance band and then you can do some standing progressions which we will get to in a later blog 😉.


4. Quadriceps


Our fourth muscle is going to be the quads.  The quad muscle group is going to be on the front of the thigh. I think you guys know where your quads are probably by now. There are four muscles involved and that’s why they’re called the “quads”.


The 4 Muscles That Make Up The Quad


Keep in mind the rectus femoris is a two-joint muscle. This muscle is hip flexor as well as a knee extensor. A lot of time this muscle can be short and tight because of those actions.


Let’s get to strengthening the quads. Why is it important to strengthen your quad?  To have proper tracking of your kneecap!  So again, if you are someone who has had a patellofemoral pain and issues with your kneecap with tracking, then strengthening your quads can improve tracking as well as improve your performance. Let’s be honest here, the stronger your quads are then the easier it is to control your body weight with downhill running.  Here is a great exercise to work on strengthening your quads:




A great example of the function of the quad muscles when you run downhill is if you think back to when you finished your first long race and you get that delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), that peaks at 24- 48 hours after your race. I know everyone’s been there before, right? Have you been there before, especially as you’re going down stairs? You know where your quads are in the front of your thigh, and you feel them burning when you’re coming down the stairs, because your quads are controlling your body weight as you go down. This same concept applies when you do downhill running and you are doing some hills and you’re going downhill; your quads are contracting over and over again!


Therefore, you as a runner should improve your turnover time as you’re going downhill to minimize and not fight the hill. This way you’re not having to use that rapid quad contraction. A lot of people who have done the Boston marathon can speak to this. I hear that for the downhill running you really need to train your quads to be able to tolerate the rigor of the Boston course. Quad strengthening not just running hills in of itself, but also strengthening your quad muscles would be important, especially those that are considering doing a hilly race such as Boston.


5. Calf Muscles (Gastrocnemius/ Soleus)


Next up we have our calf muscles.

The Calf Muscle Complex


The calf is made up of 2 muscles that are very important because they connect to your Achilles tendon. A lot of runners I see do not have the endurance of their calf muscle, meaning as a runner, you should be able to perform 25 single leg calf raises up and down nice and slow. You want to make sure you’re keeping your knee straight when you do this quick test on your own. If you don’t have the endurance of that muscle, then that could lead to compensations and usually more stress to the Achilles and the planter fascia.


So, think about doing some calf raises, even though it seems so easy and silly. But if you test yourself, see if you can do 25 calf raises, you just might be surprised that you can not complete 25!


If you can’t, you need to work on the endurance of these muscles. You don’t need a fancy machine to do that. You literally just use your body weight as resistance, and then you can progress. Perform on the floor to start and then off the edge of a step like THIS VIDEO as a nice progression. And then you could add resistance by either holding a kettle bell, holding a dumb bell or doing it in a machine at the gym.


Let’s recap the five muscles we talked about today!


1. The glute max! We want to make sure we’re doing some strengthening for that, especially for that back pain or hamstring pain that we talked about.


2. We talked about the hip abductors and the Gluteus Medius muscle! This one is important especially if you’ve had any pain or outside of the hip pain. If you’ve been told you have greater trochanter bursitis (which is very common), you need to strengthen that Gluteus Medius muscle!


3. External rotators! We talked about the importance of these, especially if you’re an over pronator, where your feet go in and your arches collapse. You want to make sure you’re using that clamshell exercise.


4 and 5! We also talked about the quads being important as well as the calves.

Those are your five running specific muscles! They are going to help you get stronger as a runner to prevent injury and improve performance.


Remember, this is in the context of you training in order to run! Also remember the other principles that we talked about. This is the first principle of the SPARK Blueprint: Strengthening!


Are you are ready to invest in becoming a lifelong injury free runner?  If so, let’s chat to see if you are a good fit for our SPARK Back high touch point coaching program!  Book your 30 min strategy call with me!  Click here to book your call today!


Listen to the latest episode of the Healthy Runner Podcast…available wherever you get your podcasts!



Here is what other runners are saying about the podcast



Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope this was helpful!  Enjoy listening the podcast during your next run!


Warmest regards,


– Duane


Duane Scotti, PT, PhD, DPT

Coach & Physical Therapist For Runners

Board Certified, OCS

(203) 376-6514


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“I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude towards Duane Scotti and the Spark Healthy Runner program. When I started working with Duane, I had been dealing with chronic shin splints/posterior tibialis tendinitis for almost a year.

I had worked with multiple other coaches and physical therapists with little success and was at the point of almost giving up on my love for running. Duane is so kind, thoughtful and knowledgeable as both a physical therapist and running coach. Our first virtual meeting lasted two hours because he was so meticulous in his assessment. His strength and running program is progressive and created so that you can continue to build strength and mileage as you heal. His strength program is unique, effective, and fun.

Additionally, his warm-up routine is awesome and includes drills that over time have made me a more efficient runner. His training platform is easy to use, and he is always readily available to chat when problems or questions arise.

Over four months of working with Duane, I have built back to five days a week of running and am almost back up to my pre-injury weekly mileage and long run distance. Whenever I have flare ups or setbacks, Duane reassures me and makes necessary adjustments so that I can continue to progress in my running journey. I have had so much success with him so far that I have signed on for four more months so that he can help me to continue getting stronger as I train for the Dopey challenge in Disney World.

If you are struggling with a running injury and are feeling hopeless, you have to reach out to Duane Scotti. Of course, you will have to put in a lot of hard work, but with Duane by your side, you will be able to achieve your goals and more. Thank you Spark Healthy Runner for bringing the spark back to my running!”

Dipti Pandya

You can teach an old dog new tricks!!!  I have never considered myself a runner and I knew I needed to be smart about it because I am no spring chicken. Spark preached getting strong and healthy to be injury free and they practice what they preach.  I am soooo glad I made the investment in me!  I finished my half marathon last weekend and couldn’t be any happier!  The program fed me all the steps I needed to essentially learn how to run long distance, build strength, nutrition help, a forum of other runners and probably most important was the 1:1 coaching.  I had no idea how to tackle training for a 1/2 marathon and this program broke all of it down, had it individualized for me and we tweaked as we went to make sure I was staying healthy and strong.  I had so many questions the week prior to my race and Coach Cat was always there for me and answering all the questions and issues I had-and believe me there were a lot!  The biggest benefit I think I got was the strength. I am strong and fit. But most important was what I gained emotionally.  I built confidence and strength I didn’t know I had, even at my age.  Honestly could not have done this without Spark Healthy Runners!

Gina J.

My Healthy Runner journey started after I had battled bilateral achilles pain for a few months and was frustrated how it affected my running. As soon as I talked to Duane I knew I had made the right decision. His positivity, enthusiasm and genuine care are infectious. The training plan that was tailored to me included specific exercises to rehab my injury and I was so excited that I didn’t have to stop running. It took patience to only run slow for a few weeks but I trusted the process and it got me me to where I am now: running pain free. We made adjustments to the plan throughout whenever needed having someone in your corner that is always there with guidance and support throughout the process was invaluable.

I just ran my second half marathon, both with Duane’s coaching, and PR’d by over 9 minutes! I got all choked up in the last mile when I realized that I felt strong and could still kick it up a notch.

I’m so thankful for the Healthy Runner program, community and the entire coaching team for all the support!

Katja L.

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