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Squats for running: how to use them in your training

Young woman doing squat jumps on beach
Master squats for running and you will become you a fitter, faster and more flexible runner (Image credit: Getty)

Squats for running are one of the best exercises you can do to improve, making you stronger, faster, more efficient, less prone to injury and enabling you to recover quicker. Squats help runners because they flex, activate and strengthen your leg, hip and buttock muscles and joints which are all essential for running. If you do squats correctly with good form (we’ll show you how in just a moment), you will build these muscles up so that they support you on your run. 

As a runner or exercise enthusiast you might already be familiar with the basic squat move, so as well as this one, we’ll show you some interesting variations to keep your squat sessions fresh and fun. Squats for running, here we come!

Woman runner squatting in front of sunset

Squats for running are more effective when you mix up the exercises to work different areas of your body (Image credit: Getty)

6 squats for running to help you improve

1. Basic squat for runners

Woman In Sports Clothing Doing Squats

It's important to master the form when doing squats for running, to get more out of your workouts (Image credit: Getty)

Stand up straight with your feet shoulder distance apart. Keep your back straight and bend the knees to lower your bum outwards (stick it out!) and downwards until your thighs are parallel with the ground. As you push back up, focus on squeezing your bum muscles together, standing up tall to finish one rep. 

Try it:
Do 10 of these to start, and gradually build to 3 x 10 reps with a pause for a minute in between each set. You could challenge yourself to doing 10 every time you wait for the kettle to boil – then you’d easily fit in three sets and more every day. 

2. Weighted squat for runners

Young female athlete lifting Kettle bell while crouching in gym

Weighted squats for running build strength but it's best to increase reps rather then weight as you improve (Image credit: Getty)

Next, try performing the basic squat as per the above but this time add some weight. For runners it’s best to use a weighted running pack or backpack rather than hand weights as this gets you used to moving with what you’d be using in real life. Simply fill your pack with water bottles/books/bricks, whatever you have to hand and weigh it on your bathroom scales. 

Try it:
Start with 10 squats carrying 1-2kg of weight in your running pack or backpack. Build up to 3 x 10 reps again with a minute rest between each set, then increase the weight slowly to 5kg. It’s always best to do less reps with less weight but with good form, so make this your priority rather than increasing the weight.  

3. Squat jumps for runners

Male runner doing jumping squats at a public park

You can do your squats for running in the park before you start your run or incorporate a session into your usual route (Image credit: Getty)

This is a fun one. As runners it’s important to add in jumping moves as this is basically what running is – jumping forwards from one leg to another! Sink into the basic squat and simply jump up into the air from there, using your arms to propel and balance you. On landing, sink straight back into the squat and go again. See, fun!

Try it:
Do 10 of these and enjoy seeing how high you can jump and how low you can squat. This is also a great cardio move and you’ll feel yourself getting out of breath pretty soon! Build up to 3 x 10 of these with a minute rest between each set, and add your weighted running pack to progress the move after that as per the above. 

4. Forward squat jumps for runners

Woman doing squat exercises

Spring up explosively when doing jump squats for running to get the best results from the exercise (Image credit: Getty)

Now try that jumping squat again but with some travel forwards to simulate running even more effectively. This one is even more fun than the previous move! Sink into a basic squat then explode upwards and forwards, using your arms to propel and balance you. On landing, sink straight back into the squat, hands to the ground if you like for balance, then go again. See how far you can get across the room or garden before turning round. 

Try it:
Do 10 of these and relish the frog-like feeling! See how far you can get in one leap, and enjoy the cardio training that this intense move brings. Build up to 3 x 10 with a minute rest between each set, then wear your weighted running pack to make this one harder once you have mastered this. 

5. Narrow to wide squat jumps for runners

Woman squat jumping on running path in park beyond wildflowers

Jump squats for running give you a great cardio workout and improve your balance  (Image credit: Getty)

For this move, have your feet a little closer together, more like hip distance apart. Lower yourself into this narrower version of the basic squat, then jump up from there and spring your legs out wide, dropping immediately down into a wide-legged squat, then jumping straight back into the narrow squat. 

Try it:
These are more intense so start with just 5 of these while you get the hang of them. It’s also a great cardio and balance move so enjoy feeling out of breath as you reach the end of the set. Build up to 10 of these in one go, then 3 x 10 reps, then add in that weighted pack to really feel the full effect of gravity with this move. 

6. Single leg squats for runners

Athletic young woman doing lunges

Working your legs individually when doing squats for running will help your balance and build all-important ankle strength (Image credit: Getty)

So if running is basically jumping from one leg to the other, it makes sense to work on one leg at a time, especially if you have a niggling suspicion one leg is stronger than the other. Now you can really test it out in this great move to improve leg and ankle strength and balance. Stand up tall with a straight back on one leg, lift the other leg out in front, knee slightly bent. Have your arms out to the side for balance as you squat down on one leg, pushing the bum out and keeping your back straight. Keep the knee over the middle toe and don’t let the knee go over the toes. Push into your heel to come back up.

Try it:
Focus first on balancing without wobbling in this move by only sinking a little way down into the squat 5 times on one leg. The aim is to keep the knee over the middle toe so resist the temptation for a deeper squat until you can control this movement properly. Swap the legs for another 5. Build up to 10, then 3 x 10 with a minute rest between each set, then add your weighted running pack once again.  

The co-founder and former editor of Trail Running magazine, Claire now runs the YouTube channel Wild Ginger Running, creating films packed with trail- and ultra-running content. An award-winning journalist, writing for outdoor and adventure sports magazines and websites, her first book The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running 5k to 50k is out in January 2021. Claire also speaks and presents at events and races.