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The 3 best kettlebell exercises for runners

Training as a runner comes in many more forms than just the act of running itself. To be the best runner that you can be, you need to incorporate other types of training that improve your running and keep injuries at bay. Strength training is essential for building power in the muscles involved in running, which translates into a faster pace and new PRs . Using kettlebells is a highly effective and versatile way of doing this.

Using the right kettlebell exercises can build full-body strength and power, creating a stronger core that will help with balance and stabilization. This also results in better posture, which directly benefits your running form.

Kettlebell workouts offer many benefits for runners and there are a raft of different strength exercises you can do. We’ve chosen the three best kettlebell exercises for runners. We’ll explain how they help and how to do them. Make sure to also watch our videos to check the proper form of the exercises.

Workout 1: Kettlebell windmill

How it helps

The kettlebell windmill especially strengthens and improves the stability of the medial glutes (gluteus medius) which are involved with moving your hips and stabilizing your pelvis. It also lengthens the lateral fascia of the leg, which commonly gets tight in runners and leads to low back and knee pain.

By strengthening the hip muscles, you’ll increase stability upon impact, which helps translate power into your stride while running. This also helps to improve your running mechanics, which will in turn improve the speed and efficiency of your stride.

How to do a kettlebell windmill exercise

This video shows proper form. Practice the windmill without a kettlebell to perfect the motion before moving on to the weighted exercise. Try practicing with a shoe on your knuckles, and don’t rush these movements. As with any exercise, you get the maximum benefit when you do it with proper form.

If you're holding the kettlebell overhead in the left hand, you're going to be working the left leg. Note that the supporting leg is straight as we hinge. This lengthens while safely loading those tissues, educating them to be in control while in this lengthened position. This actually applies to all the muscles in your body -- notice how much harder a bicep curl is when your arm is extended? As you curl the weight it gets easier to lift.  

A quick tip, train all your muscles (safely ;)) into their extended positions and watch how quickly your mobility AND strength increase!

Workout 2: Overhead walking lunge

The overhead walking lunge is another great total-body movement that will help strengthen your leg and core muscles. The movement itself is fairly straightforward, but requires stability and balance.

How it helps

The overhead walking lunge helps with lengthening and strengthening the leg muscles, while also working the glutes, hamstrings and quads. All of these are important muscles for proper running technique.

Geek Note: The medial glute helps with stability and external rotation of the leg, and the maximal glute can be looked at as the prime driver of hip extension (which happens on every stride). By combining the Windmill (medial glute work) and the lunge (maximal glute work), it’s like a “one-two” punch towards faster running.

The overhead aspect of the exercise helps with thoracic control – your thoracic cage runs from the base of your neck down to your abdomen and is the part of your spine where your ribs are attached. Limited thoracic mobility affects your shoulders, your ability to lift your arms overhead and your posture. This exercise will also work your hips, the powerhouse of your body.

How to do an overhead walking lunge

See the video below for the proper form.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your kettlebell in the same hand as the leg you are planning to step out on.
  2. Bring your arm straight up overhead, stacking it on top of your shoulder. Make sure there is space between your shoulder and your ear and your core is engaged. If you cannot stack your arm properly over your shoulder, try a lighter weight or do the lunge unweighted.
  3. Take a big step forward and lower your knee to a 90 degree bend. It’s important here that your front knee is stacked directly on top of your ankle and it is not falling inwards or forwards past 90 degrees.
  4. Drive off your front heel and bring your back foot to stand with the weight centered over both feet.
  5. Continue on with the next lunge on the same leg, and repeat until you finish the set, then switch arms and lunge on the other leg.

If you have trouble stacking your arm over your shoulder, watch this video on wall slides which will help you open up your shoulders and thoracic cage.

Workout 3: Explosive goblet squat

Whether you love squats or hate them, the benefits are incredibly valuable for runners. As we all know, squats are king when increasing leg strength. We add a layer by making them explosive to reinforce stride mechanics and add power.

First things first, get a good goblet squat. Check out our video showing proper goblet squat position. The value of the Goblet Squat is in its ability to bring out the ‘baby squat’ in everyone. The baby squat is that perfect squat you see all kids perform before they’ve sat in front of the TV too much.

Note: Once you’ve got a good goblet squat, shallow the range of motion and add speed, as in the next video.

How it helps

The explosive goblet squat helps to train hip flexibility and mobility, as well as quad and glute strength. It’s great at bringing out the “baby squat” – that super deep squat you see many young kids do. This is important because the more mobile and flexible your hips are, the better condition your knees and back will be in.

How to do explosive goblet squats

Watch the video for proper form.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the bell by the bottom with the handle between your forearms, keeping your forearms vertical and the bell right under your chin.
  3. Start by descending your hips back into the squat, think about your alignment – knees tracking over pinky toes, shoulders over hips. Make sure to keep your weight centered over your arches. Think about your foot as a tripod, big toe/little toe/heel. Center the weight in the middle while grabbing the earth with your toes. Think about your hand grabbing a basketball, do this with your feet to turn all your leg muscles on.
  4. Jump upwards, extending your hips first, and finish by extending your knees and ankles as you leave the ground. This is called “Tripple Extension” of the leg, and is key in this exercise.
  5. Control your landing through your feet as you descend – absorb the ground, take your time, reset. Then repeat.

As with the windmill, practice the goblet squat without a kettlebell to perfect the motion before moving on to the weighted version. Once you get the hang of the form of this exercise, add explosiveness by jumping as quickly as possible. Watch these videos to get a better understanding of the form and the full explosive goblet squat movement.

Build strength to be the best runner you can be

Regular strength training for runners is important to build strength, power, and stability, which will in turn help improve your running and ward off injuries. Incorporate these three kettlebell exercises for runners into your strength training regime to build your best running body.

About The Author

Layn Chess

Founder & Training Director

Layn has spent his life immersed in the worlds of fitness and physical performance. As an athlete, he’s completed multiple endurance events such as the Texas Bandera 50k Trail Run, Austria’s Ironman 70.3, and the Alaskaman Extreme Ironman. He’s been coaching since 2008 with certifications in USA Weightlifting Level 1, CrossFit Level 1, Strong First L1, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

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