Strength Train For Trail Running Speed

Build power to maximize your speed this racing season.

Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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As trail racing season approaches, it’s time to fine-tune your muscles to maximize your potential for speed and strong finishes. Compared to relaxed paces, speed demands a greater range of motion from your joints and stronger muscular contractions to propel you forward. Here we will focus on four muscle areas essential for speed: the glutes, hamstrings, calfs and core.

When you accelerate, your turn-over increases along with your stride length. As your stride lengthens, your hip flexors have to contract harder to lift your knee up past your hip. This is what we refer to as knee drive. The Gluteus Maximus must be strong to extend and hyperextend the hip joint. The hamstrings, too, have to aggressively assist with hip extension while also pulling your foot toward your hip after planting. Because of this, the hamstring muscles are prone to being pulled. By strengthening the hamstrings you make them more resilient to acute injuries they are vulnerable to when running at high speeds. Additionally, the calf muscles and plantar flexors of the ankle need to be strong and powerful to be able to absorb and utilize elastic energy while also creating their own energy to propel you forward. Lastly, faster paced running places a greater demand to the core muscles as well. To help transfer energy between the upper and lower body, the core muscles need to be strong to aid in this process.

The Exercises

This workout is designed to be performed once a week. If you find that splitting it up into two separate workouts is more convenient, that is fine too, just spread them apart by 2-3 days.

1. Wall Lean Deep Hip Flexor Hold

Man doing a hip flexor drill in gym.
Photo: Jon-Erik Kawamoto

For: Hip flexor strength and knee drive required when running at a fast pace.

How: Place a mini-band around your feet and place your hands against a wall. Make sure your body is at an angle with the wall. Lift one leg and stand on the ball of your foot on your planted leg. Brace your abs and bring your elevated knee toward your torso. Try to pass the height of your hip and hold this position for 5 seconds. Return your foot to the ground, then switch sides.

Do: 3 sets of 8 x 5-second hold per leg.

2. Glute Sling Hip Extensor Activation

Man training in gym.
Photo: Jon-Erik Kawamoto

For: Gluteus Maximus strength and hip extension strength required when running at a fast pace.

How: Anchor a circular band to a low anchor point and loop the other end behind your right shoulder. Turn toward the right so the band wraps around your left hip and face away from the anchor point. Stand on your left foot and bring your right knee toward your chest. Bring your right arm back with your elbow bent and place your left arm forward with your elbow still bent. Let’s call this “sprinter” pose. Next, you’ll move into a “start of race” pose. Bring your right foot back and place it on the ground as you bend through your left hip. Switch your arm positions. Return to the sprinter pose and squeeze your left glute strongly.

Do: 3 sets of 25 reps per leg.

3) Single Leg Hamstring Eccentric with Towel

Man doing hamstring drill on gym floor.
Photo: Jon-Erik Kawamoto

For: Hamstring strength and resilience required when running at a fast pace.

How: Lie on your back and lift one leg in the air. Place the other foot on a furniture slider or a hand towel (make sure you lie on a hardwood or tiled floor). Bend your knee and do a single-leg bridge. Place your arms out to the side for balance. Take 10 seconds to extend your leg. Once your leg is straight, lie back down and bend your knee to prepare for the next rep.

Do: 3 sets of 5 reps per leg.

4) Seated Weighted Calf Raise

Man doing seated calf raises in gym.
Photo: Jon-Erik Kawamoto

For: Calf strength and ankle plantar flexion power required when running at a fast pace.

How: Sit on a bench or chair with your toes placed on the edge of an elevated surface. Hold a heavy weight on your thighs and let your heels drop below the surface. Press your toes down to raise your heels as high as you can. Press your big toe strongly into the ground at the peak of the calf raise.

Do: 3 sets of 25 reps.

5) Dead Bug Ball Squeeze with Leg Extension

Man doing dead bug exercise/

For: Core stability, anterior core strength and deep hip flexor strength.

How: Lie on your back and squeeze an exercise ball in between the top of your thighs and your hands. Press your low back into the floor and depress your rib cage. Make sure your knees are aligned over your belly button. You should feel a strong contraction in your abs. Extend one leg away from the ball but keep the squeeze pressure on the ball. Hold the leg in the extended position for 5 seconds. Return it to the ball and switch sides.

Do: 3 sets of 8 x 5-second hold per side.



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Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSC, CSCS, CEP is a strength coach, personal trainer and co-owner of a personal training, nutrition and run coaching business in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada called JKConditioning. Jon is a long time contributor to Find out more at and on socials @jkconditioning.

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