8-Minute Speed Legs

This short routine can help build strength in all your most important running muscles, all in a short post-run package.

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Over the last few years, the 3-Minute Mountain Legs routine has helped support lots of strong running, from top pros doing 100 miles to people going for their first 5K. But there seemed to sometimes be a slight gap for athletes doing very fast running, particularly related to hamstring and glute strength. That’s where the 8-Minute Speed Legs routine comes in.

For the last year, this routine was developed with the help of a bunch of different athletes providing feedback on what works for them. To put it all together, expert strength and running coach Asher Kyger Henry helped formulate a structure that can work for athletes looking to expand their routines (you can contact Asher here for individualized strength and running plans).

A buffet of disclaimers!

First, it is always best to work directly with a physical therapist or strength coach that specializes in this area. The primary thing that is strong about me is my knowledge and grit when it comes to eating pizza. The Speed Legs routine is designed to be an introduction to more complex movements in a sustainable way, but it may not be optimal for each athlete. Please work with an expert if you can.

Second, the Mountain Legs routine seems to work for almost every athlete over many years, increasing reps as needed. The Speed Legs routine is only for athletes who have evidence that they need it, whether from health issues or imbalances or weakness at higher outputs. When it comes to Speed Legs, if what you are doing ain’t at least slightly broke, don’t fix it.

Do not do these exercises if you have had knee issues, or are currently dealing with any other injury. In fact, consult a doctor before doing anything new. I personally consulted a normal doctor, plus Dr. Dre.

Third, my form sucks. As much as Asher gave me form cues remotely, she is not a miracle worker. But, hey, maybe the video of me will make it feel more accessible, like a toddler reading Shakespeare.

Fourth, ease into all new exercises. The first time I did what would eventually become this routine, I could barely walk for four days due to a sore butt. If my milkshake brought any athletes to the yard, they would have been greeted by a very sad and disappointing milkshake. Start unweighted with just a few reps before working up in weight to a light dumbbell, then progressing to heavier kettlebells if desired.

Fifth, do not do these exercises if you have had knee issues, or are currently dealing with any other injury. In fact, consult a doctor before doing anything new. I personally consulted a normal doctor, plus Dr. Dre.

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A few overall points! 

  • Some of our athletes do Speed Legs twice a week, ideally on a day when very easy running or resting is planned the day after. Unlike Mountain Legs, it seems to sap next-day energy even after athletes adapt.
  • Do not rush between exercises. It may take you more than 8 minutes and that is great.
  • Do not go to failure. We’re looking to do some work, not get worked.
  • The routine replaces Mountain Legs on those days, and you can add that routine one or two other times per week if wanted. However, Mountain Legs is plenty for many athletes, and you likely don’t need this routine unless your training is exposing weakness in your hamstrings and glutes.
  • Supplement Speed Legs and Mountain Legs with 2-Minute Band Exercises most days to support multi-direction strength, Coach Jay Johnson’s myrtl routine every few days to work on mobility, foam rolling/massage, push-ups or pull-ups and optional light stretching/leg swings or even yoga if desired (at the bottom of the article, there is a template weekly structure). That sounds like a lot, but it should be way less than an hour extra per week, and most of the activities can be done when distracted by kids, dogs, pizza delivery or Snoop Dog and D.R.E.

Let’s do this!

The 8-Minute Speed Legs routine consists of 5 exercises. Start warmed-up and turned on like you just listened to 90s R&B, ideally Ginuwine’s “Pony.” Dog training partner is optional, but encouraged.

Exercise 1: 10 x alternating rear lunges on each leg

Rear lunges engage the quads, glutes and hamstrings with both eccentric and concentric movements, which is great for descending and climbing. Unlike the Mountain Legs routine, alternate legs so you don’t get too tired and can add light weight with time.

The rear lunges serve as an additional warm-up since they’re easier than the next couple of exercises, so don’t go anywhere near failure. Think controlled down and up, with your back knee getting close to the ground, but no need to go too deep. Proper form link here.

Exercise 2: 10 x Bulgarian split squat on each leg

Now, things get a bit more strenuous. With your trailing leg on a bench or similar platform a couple of feet high, go up and down controlled. You’ll really feel this in the butt and high hamstrings—make sure you start with no weight and do not do this exercise if you have any pre-existing injury concerns. Also, I really hope the name of this exercise is not insensitive in some way. Much love for Bulgaria! Proper form link here, featuring lots of testosterone!

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Exercise 3: 10 x single leg Romanian deadlift on each leg

With your foot firmly planted, bend your knee slightly, raising the other leg parallel to the ground. Push down and pull back with the engaged leg to raise up to center, with controlled up and down motion. I can’t emphasize this enough: start unweighted. While I personally have much love for Romania, my butt has other thoughts. Coach Asher demonstrates proper form here.

Exercise 4: 10-20 x goblet squats

Here is the bread-and-butter exercise to finish off the weighted portion, using the blood that’s flowing and the warmth in your loins (thanks Ginuwine!) to do some focused work for the big muscle groups. With legs around shoulder-width or a bit wider apart and feet slightly out, do a typical squat. Some people like to go to 90 degrees or beyond, but I prefer staying a bit higher. Unlike Nelly suggests, I do not love to make my knees touch my elbows and break it down low to the floor (there I do not go). This is a great time to use slightly heavier weights after you adapt.

Exercise 5: 20-50 x single-leg step-ups

The routine finishes off just like the Mountain Legs, with the notorious single-leg step ups. Go up and down a bit more rapidly now, with the burn concentrated in your quadriceps. It should feel almost exactly like climbing up a steep grade. Embrace the grind and finish off Speed Legs in style.

After you’re done, don’t go straight to sitting. Play “Walk It Out,” go for a nice stroll, do some foam rolling. Then celebrate! You’re a total life boss, and damn you are earning some speedy legs.

Template week of supplemental exercises

Day Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun
Training Rest or light x-train Easy run and optional strides Workout or longer run Easy run and optional strides Rest or easy run or x-train Longer run Easy run and optional strides (or x-train)
Strength Push-ups and/or pull-ups none Push-ups and/or pull-ups, Mountain Legs Optional Speed Legs or Mountain Legs Push-ups and/or pull-ups None (optional Mountain Legs) Push-ups and-or pull-ups, Mountain Legs or optional Speed Legs
Mobility Rolling, light stretch/leg swings optional Rolling, bands, light stretch/LS optional, myrtl Rolling, bands, light stretch/LS optional Rolling, bands, light stretch/LS optional, myrtl Rolling, bands, light stretch/LS optional Rolling, bands, light stretch/LS optional, myrtl Rolling, bands, light stretch/LS optional

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David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. With Megan Roche, M.D., he hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they wrote a book called The Happy Runner.

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