Running is a brilliant aerobic exercise that gives your heart, lungs and entire body a good workout. Almost anyone can run and the benefits of running are not just physical the mental benefits of getting outside into nature for a run are huge. Weight bearing exercise is especially important for women who start to lose bone density around 30 years old, running helps to in crease bone density in the skeleton which hopefully helps to avoid osteoporosis in later life. Read more about this here.

Below are my top five lower body exercises for and stretches that I think every runner should add into their training.

This simple to do standing Pilates exercise is perfect for those who are looking to improve their lower body awareness and balance. The key to this exercise is to achieve alignment between your feet, ankles, knees, and hip. Creating balance between these key landmarks of your leg can help with all manner of issues from calf and hamstring strain, ACL and MCL injury, to shin splint and Achilles issues.

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Your calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus muscles) simultaneously act as the gas and brake pedal when running. Often on a long hill climb you may feel that burn in your calf, these muscles are working hard to keep you running uphill and then when you get to the downhill they stop you from toppling forward, meaning throughout your run they work pretty hard!

Strong calves give you more power and enable you to keep good form whilst running. On the flip side, weak calves are often the leading cause of running’s most common problems like Achilles tendonitis, shin splints, calf strains, hamstring or hip problems, and even plantar fasciitis.

As you probably realise your calfs are working hard and therefore need good stretching and strengthening work besides running to keep them firing and keep you running!

Everyone loves a lunge! A big benefit that comes along with doing lunges is that they can be done in several ways and are ideal for fitness levels of all kinds. Lunges are super for improving the strength in all three of your gluteal muscles (min, med, max) they also improve the co-ordination of your hip flexors in the lengthened position.

Lunges require a certain amount of balance, and to achieve that you need to engage your lower back muscles as well as your abdominals to stay upright, thus also working out your core stabilising muscles as well as your legs.

Lunges are fantastic bodyweight exercises that will strengthen your muscles and tone them at the same time, whatever your fitness level.

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Plyometrics, also known as jump training or plyos, are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power (speed-strength).

Squat jumps build the muscle by stretching it before a forceful contraction and helps to generate power. This will also boost your cardio capacity.

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The benefits of foam rolling range from warming up your muscles, reducing pain and muscle soreness (DOMS) to helping you recover faster after a workout.

When we foam roll, we are rolling the fascia that encloses the muscle. Fascia surrounds body parts from organs to muscles to blood vessels. It can also be a tough part of the body on its own, like the thick plantar fascia that stabilizes the arch on the bottom of the foot.

The roller applies pressure, helping to manipulate and break up “knots”, stiffness and tension that can form in your muscles and tissue.

To use a foam roller, slowly run the roller down stiff muscles (such as your calves, hamstrings, quads, Iliotibial (IT) bands and middle back), using your body weight to apply as much pressure as feels suitable.

Keep the movement fluid and slow. Start by rolling along the length of the muscle, then you can follow up with small rolls over any spots that are tender to help release any knots.

Take long breaths as you roll, as this helps to increase the flow of blood to your muscles.

The mixture of smooth and bumpy textures is designed to mimic the actions of a massage therapist, which may help to reduce muscle tension.

Pilates is a wonderful body weight training exercise system that runners can add to their training. Come and find out how Pilates can help correct muscle imbalance and keep you injury free by joining one of my masterclasses for runners.