Building running leg strength will improve speed, stability and efficiency. Here are four outdoor sessions to help unleash the power of your legs.

Strong legs are essential for all triathlon disciplines, but especially so on the run where full weight bearing on each leg and increased impact forces come into play. While regular running with good technique will get you into a good place in terms of endurance, a bit more focus is required when it comes to maximising muscular strength in the legs.

Whatever level of athlete you are, it’s worth taking the time to add this into your training schedule – stronger legs not only help you get faster but also increase stability, reduce wear on the ligaments, improve running economy and lessen the chances of injury.

Building running leg strength will improve speed, stability and efficiency

Improving running leg strength through bodyweight exercises can be hugely beneficial, but if you don’t want to stay indoors in your pursuit of stronger legs, there are plenty of ways you can help improve leg strength when out in the real world – here are four of our favourites.

When performed correctly, all the below examples can give great rewards but as with any new addition to your regular sessions, a proper warm-up, gradual progression and listening to your body are the best ways to avoid niggles and promote adaptation. Ensure you’re fresh and rested before tackling these workouts and that you give yourself adequate rest afterwards.

Running up steps

It might seem like a cliché from Rocky but running up steps with good form is an excellent way to build strength and explosive power that’s functional for running on any terrain. The key is to maintain good posture, keeping the core tucked in, pumping the arms to aid momentum and adopting the slight full-body forward lean that’s part of normal good running technique rather than folding at the hips.

running up steps to build running leg strength
There might not be many steps in triathlon races but the power you can gain from step repeats will be put to good use come race day. (Photo: Triathlon Vibe)

Running upstairs can take a lot out of you, so always prioritise safety, good technique and walk, rather than run back down.

Workout

Depending on how steep and long the stairs are, try 1-3 reps of the following, focusing on good posture:

  • 30sec fast steps – placing a foot on each step as fast as you can, driving with your arms.
  • 30sec bound steps – place a foot on every other step, driving powerfully through the legs.

Recover for twice the length of each interval walking back down the steps.

Low cadence bike work

Doing work on the bike is a great way to improve leg strength without the risk of impact injuries that come from lots of hard running. Finding a steep hill will allow you to do high-power, low cadence muscular force work that builds pure leg strength. You can also do this session on an indoor trainer with plenty of resistance.

This sort of bike training can put a lot of pressure on the knees so concentrate on good form, keeping knees tracking in line with the pedals and stop if you feel any twinges at all.

Workout

  • 30sec at 70rpm
  • 30sec at 65rpm
  • 30sec at 60rpm
  • 30sec at 55rpm
  • 30sec at 50rpm

Then come back up at the same rate. Aim to build towards extending each interval to 1min and getting down to 40rpm once you feel strong enough.

Running uphill

Hill running allows you to build strength and power from the explosive muscle contractions and extensions needed to fight against gravity and propel your body weight up an incline.

As opposed to running up steps, which forces you into a specific stride length and height, here you have much more freedom with regards to the gradient, stride length and the number of reps. This means you can experiment with different drills like fast feet or bounding.

hill running to build running leg strength
Hill repeats have long been a staple session to building running leg strength and for good reason. (Photo: Triathlon Vibe)

Of course, the effort will also be different depending on how steep or long the hill is, so you may have to hunt out the best places near you to train.

Workout

Aim for a gradient of 5 to 10% starting with 3x15sec uphill running focusing on a good upright posture. Aim to run strong and hard, but it shouldn’t be a flat-out sprint.

Over time you can progress this by the number or reps or the length of time running uphill – such as 6 reps of a 60-second climb.

In all cases, rest after each rep should be twice the amount of time it took you to run uphill, letting the muscles and cardiovascular system recover.

Running downhill

What goes up must come down and boy, do your quads take a beating when running downhill! Getting up onto your toes becomes much harder thanks to the declining gradient and as momentum gathers, you either have to turn your legs over at a ferocious pace or put the brakes on. Either way, impact forces are going to be amplified which sends a ripple of energy up your legs, causing a lot of muscle oscillation and fatigue.

The more you run downhill, the better your body will adapt, but it’s another situation where it’s important to add hard downhill runs to your sessions gradually and sparingly to reduce the risk of injury – so don’t add downhill efforts after every uphill interval. Sticking to a slight gradual downhill at first will also allow you to concentrate on form without momentum getting the better of you.

Workout

  • 1-3reps of 30secs, keeping the head up, arms loose and feet fast.

Recover whilst walking back up the hill.

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Triathlon Vibe is the home of triathlon training advice for beginner to expert triathletes. From sprint to Ironman, we share how to swim, bike and run stronger and faster.