7 Best Bodyweight Exercises to Strengthen Runners’ Quadriceps

Research shows that running can add years to your life but it can also strain your muscles and joints if you don’t exercise properly. Balancing your muscle strength—especially through your quadriceps—will help prevent and alleviate pain in your knees and IT band. You just have to work them specifically.

Adding a few extra quadriceps exercises to your workout will give your running more power and help prevent injuries down the road. Use our seven best bodyweight quadriceps exercises for runners to help strengthen your legs and boost your performance.

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Let’s take a look at why your quads are so important and how you can strengthen them at home using just your natural body weight. We’ll walk you through each exercise so you know how to do them correctly.

How Your Quadriceps Help You Run

Although we talk about them as a single muscle, the quadriceps is actually a muscle group consisting of four individual muscles:

  • Rectus femoris – the muscle running from your hip to kneecap that helps flex the hip
  • Vastus lateralis – the large muscle running down the outside of your leg that connects your kneecap and thighbone.
  • Vastus medialis – the large muscle on the front of your leg that helps you flex your knee forward
  • Vastus intermedius – the muscle located between the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis that also helps flex the knee forward

As you run, the four quadricep muscles help you lift your leg and extend your knee forward. If they are not properly strengthened, you will struggle to run for a long time and will dump unnecessary stress into your knees. To avoid injury, add these 7 exercises into your workout:

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  • Unweighted squats (x20)
  • Bulgarian split squats (x10 for each leg)
  • Pistol squats (x10 for each leg)
  • Forward lunges (x10 for each leg)
  • Reverse lunges (x10 for each leg)
  • Side lunges (x10 for each leg)
  • Squat jumps (x20)

If you are unfamiliar with any of these exercises, continue on to read an in-depth explanation of how to perform them.

Forward Lunges

(Least Difficult – Use one arm for support if needed)



Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. You can increase resistance for this exercise by holding a pair of dumbbells down by your side or you can simply place your hands on your waist.

Step one foot out and lean forward until your knee is bent and your thigh is even with the floor. Pause briefly before standing back up and lunging forward using your other foot. Repeat this 10 times for each leg.

Reverse Lunges

(Least Difficult – Use one arm for support if needed)


Reverse Lunge

Stand as you would for a typical forward lunge. You can hold dumbbells down by your side or keep your hands on your hips.

Rather than stepping forward, step one leg back and lower your body until your leading thigh is even with the ground. Your back leg will come close to touching the ground but try to hold yourself up.

Push forward and back up to a standing position. Repeat the process on your other leg and continue 10 times on each leg.

Side Lunges

(Least Difficult – Use one arm for support if needed)


Side Lunge

Stand with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and your hands lifted up in front of you to aid with balance.

Step your right foot out to the side and bend it as it touches the floor. Squat as far as you can without it hurting and try to keep your back straight. Don’t squat your thigh past being parallel with the floor.

Return to a standing position and repeat using your other leg. Continue 10 times on each leg.

Unweighted Squats

(Difficulty: Moderate)



Stand up and spread your feet about shoulder-width apart. Turn your toes so that they face outward at a 45-degree angle. Keep your hands down by your side, place them on your hips, or hold them out in front.

Push back and down through your hips while tightening your core and holding your chest upright. Bend your knees to lower yourself towards the floor. Stop when your quadriceps are level with the ground then push back up to the starting position. Repeat 20 times.

Bulgarian Split Squats

(Difficulty: Moderate)


Bulgarian Split Squat (suspended)


Bulgarian Split Squat (bench)

You will need a bench or a box for this exercise. Stand up and spread your feet about shoulder-width apart, roughly 2ft away from the bench. Face away from the bench, place one foot on top of it, and move your other foot forward enough to squat down without bending your knee past your toes.

Lean forward through your head as you lower yourself down towards the ground until your front thigh is even with the ground. Push back up and repeat 10 times on each leg.

Squat Jumps

(Difficulty: Hard)


Squat Jumps – (Progressed Jump To Ledge)


Squat Jumps – (Progressed Jump To Ledge)

Stand up with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on either your hips or out in front of you.

Lean back through your hips and bend your knees until you are as low as you can go without hurting yourself. Using the force you’ve stored in your knees, push back up and jump into the air. As you land back down on the ground, squat back down and repeat.

Try to jump at least 6 inches off the ground but avoid leaping so high in the air that it hurts when you land back down.

Pistol Squats

(Difficulty: Hardest)


Pistol Squats

Stand with both feet together and raise your hands out in front of you.

Using a dual-motion, begin to raise one foot in front of you as you squat down until your other thigh is even with the ground. Try to keep your back as straight as possible and lean into it to help shift some weight out of your lower back.

Push back up and repeat 10 times on each leg.


It’s time to stop torturing your knees as you run. These seven exercises are easy and can be completed in as little as 10 minutes. Mixing these seven exercises into your standard strength training workout will improve your upper legs’  overall tone, endurance, and strength. With stronger quadriceps, you’ll find running easier and feel less pain during and after your next run.

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7 Best Bodyweight Exercises to Strengthen Runners’ Quadriceps

Coach Scott