UNC Health Care

Three Exercises for Runners of All Distances

Planning to run a 5K? Or maybe you’ve set your sights on a longer race, such as a 10K, a half-marathon or even a full marathon?

No matter the distance, all runners can benefit from adding some simple exercises to their training to help them run faster and reduce their risk of injury. But deciding which exercises to do can be tricky—the internet is overloaded with countless exercises for runners.

To keep it simple, we asked Madison Franek, DPT, a UNC Health physical therapist, to recommend three exercises that will benefit runners of any distance.

He recommends doing these exercises twice a week, on days when you don’t run. If you have minimal strength-training experience, do three sets of 10 reps each; if you have more than a year of strength-training experience, do three sets of six reps each. In both cases, Franek recommends “leaving one or two reps in the tank”—meaning take it a little easier and don’t meet your limit.

Heel-Elevated Wall Squats

Stand with your back flat against a wall and raise your heels, resting them on the baseboard. Squat down about halfway (or about 45 degrees) while keeping your back flat against the wall, then return to the starting position.

“When performing this exercise, you should feel your thigh muscles (quadriceps) working, but you should not feel discomfort in your knee,” Franek says.

This exercise helps build strength and endurance in your quads.

Bent-Knee Calf Raises

Begin in a mini-squat position (with your knees bent about 45 degrees) and then perform a calf raise by pushing up as high as you can onto the balls of your feet, like you’re going up on tiptoe, and then return to the starting position. You can hold on to something for balance if you like. When performing this exercise, you should primarily feel the bottom portion of your calf working.

This exercise strengthens the soleus muscle (the bottom portion of the calf).

Wall-Assisted, Side-Lying Hip Abduction

Begin lying on your side with your body (back and lower body) flat against a wall. Your top leg should be straight and your bottom leg can be either bent or straight). Keeping the back of the heel of your top leg flat against the wall, raise your top leg up along the wall until you feel a stretch in the side of your top hip. “The key with this exercise is to keep your heel flat against the wall throughout,” Franek says.

This exercise strengthens the gluteus medius muscle on the side of your hip, which helps reduce the risk of pain in the hips and knees.


Find a fitness center near you. Learn more about REX Wellness Centers and UNC Wellness Centers.