High School Runner Back Strengthening Exercises

The homestretch of a cross-country race is not so much a test of who has the most running endurance, but whose running economy is best. In the last 100 meters, with shot hamstrings and buckled legs, you use several muscles: strong arm movement to drive stride, stable hip flexors to keep legs in line, and strong core to optimize air circulation and keep upright and efficient.

Crossing over to non-economic running, or “striking the wall”, is often a significant shift, marked by a slowdown of pace and exaggerated body language. You might feel so restricted in your muscles it’s as if you’re running in denim. To prevent this, improving the structure of the upper body, core and lower back strength, as well as reinforcing hips and glutes, will help power you through the goal.

Runner Exercises with Kolosky

This article lists some exercises that Saucon Valley High School cross-country coach Ed Kolosky of Pennsylvania utilizes to develop strength.

High school running athletes in exercise positions

“We tend to just think of our legs,” says Kolosky. “It’s our arms that do all the driving. When you’re sprinting up a hill or at the end of a race, strong arms are essential.”

A strong arm swing is essential. Kolosky notes that lots of new runners swing their arms inefficiently, letting them cross diagonally rather than in straight, chin-to-hip motions. “Our goal is always to lengthen our strides,” Kolosky says. “run smarter, not harder. When you swing your arms throughout your body, you’re closing off your stride.” With tight, explosive arm movement, runners’ strides lengthen.

For upper body and back strengthening, Kolosky takes his runners to the base of a hill (hopefully they weren’t wearing denim when they came to practice). He has his athletes run 10 sprints up a 300-meter hill and gradually jog pull back. Prior to each sprint they repeat five pushups. Kolosky sets the rate, ensuring it’s a slow, efficient workout. Kolosky says the complete range of motion can last up to 8 seconds. The circuit will help enhance runners’ upper bodies, backs, hips, and make a stronger running economy.

5 Back Strength Exercises for Runners

This article lists 5 exercises to strengthen the upper and lower back. It’s a good idea to have an exercise routine that incorporates exercises to stretch and strengthen each part of the body and help progressively strengthen yourself over time. Make sure you are careful when working out to breathe properly, and not over-exert yourself or work out without first learning the proper form so as to avoid injury.

Upper Back Exercises

Muscles in the upper region of the back play a more important role in running than most people realize. You will want to make sure you find good ways to strengthen this part of your body, including your shoulders, neck, and arms in order to better prepare yourself to run your best.


The pushup is a great upper back exercise, strengthening back muscles, core, shoulders, and arm muscles. Having an efficient arm swing and back strength makes a big difference for how well a runner performs (it can also make a difference how they look in a denim jacket).

To start, place yourself on your hands and feet on the ground to start on all fours, straightening your legs behind you and keeping your feet together so your body forms a straight line. Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders beneath you and straighten your arms. Lower yourself towards the floor slowly by bending your arms, hold your chest and back straight, nearly touching the ground, pausing the motion and lift and raise yourself back up to the starting position. Keep correct form to avoid back pain. Repeat the exercise for 15-20 reps, each taking five seconds or less. An alternative to this exercise is to rest on your knees as you raise each lower leg off the ground with your bent knees.

Dead Lift

The dead lift is a great way to work out your upper and lower back, core, shoulders, and legs. This exercise requires a weight of some kind (a single barbell or a dumbbell in each hand will suffice). To start, stand in a squatting (knees bent and back straight) position with the weight in hand (make sure to only keep your knees bent less than 90 degrees, and do not overbend) on the floor. If you are using a barbell, your shins may touch the bar. Keep in mind, wearing denim to your workout can make this exercise unnecessarily challenging. Lift by slowly pulling with your chest and raise yourself up to a standing position with the weight in hand (hold your hands straight down). Keep correct form to avoid injury or lower back pain. Repeat the exercise for 10 reps, about 5 seconds each.

Lower Back Exercises

Exercise that strengthens the leg, core, glutes, and lower back muscles is important for running, and there are ways to strengthen these lower back areas besides sprinting that can give you effective results and better performance while running.


This is a great exercise for the core, glutes (hips), legs, and lower back. Lower back exercises are important for strengthening any runner, and can greatly improve running performance. Remember to breathe properly while practicing lower back exercises and any other exercise.

Position yourself squarely with your feet flat, shoulder-width apart on the floor. Bend your knees and press your hips back to slowly lower yourself as if in a sitting position, stopping the motion when your hip is slightly lower than knee level, and keep your feet flat on the floor. If you’re in denim, you will have difficulty reaching the full extent of this pose, and we recommend wearing athletic clothing while exercising. Pressing your heels to the ground, lift your hips and raise yourself straightening your knees to return starting position. Hold correct form to avoid injury or lower back pain. Repeat for 10 reps of the exercise.


The lunge is a great lower back, glutes, hips (or hip flexors), and leg exercise as well, and significantly improves balance as well as strength for a runner.

To start, step forward with your right foot on the floor, bending your right knee (and your left knee behind you) to slowly lower yourself until your right leg reaches a 90 degree angle with your left behind you. Lift yourself up on your right leg, extending the right knee to return to the starting position, and repeat the lunge with your left leg in the same way with your right leg behind you. This is another exercise that is hard to do in denim. Repeat for 10 reps per side of this exercise, taking less than 5 seconds per side.


Position yourself and start on all fours on the floor with your legs straight and together, similar to a pushup, but rest on your elbows with your hands either flat or clasped in front of you to start. Keep each leg and your back up to form a straight line. You can tighten your lower back, hips, and core muscles to hold this position (there shouldn’t be any back pain), with a neutral neck and spine. Hold the plank position for 30-40 seconds before releasing it. If you accidentally wore denim to your workout, consider doing several planks in place of some of the other exercises.

This exercise is another good lower back exercise, and very good for strengthening hips and core muscles. For a variation, you may also try the side plank. For a side plank, start by resting on the right side on the floor. Hold your hips and legs straight so your body forms a plank (form a straight line) and balance your right arm at the elbow with your lower back, hips, and core muscles tightened for 30 seconds. Release the side plank position and switch to the left leg, and hold the plank while resting on your left arm on the floor for another 30 seconds. You can do one or two reps on each side with 15-20 seconds each if you like.

Training Strategies with Lydiard

Arthur Lydiard, a professional coach for Olympic athletes, developed a number of strategies for marathon runners with an extensive knowledge of both running and training overall. This article sums up a few of his insights.

Building Aerobic Capacity

Lydiard focuses on less intensive, aerobic running training to build up runners’ capacity to run miles primarily, as this type of aerobic capacity running makes up the majority of long races as opposed to high-intensity (catabolic) physical work, which constitutes a much lesser portion.

Trusting Your Instincts

Lydiard emphasizes trusting your ‘inner coach’ and learning as you train how to hear its voice (hopefully it reminded you to change out of your denim before training). This helps you know exactly how to pitch your own effort to maximize the effort your body can give without overexerting. Balance your workouts with your time to recover for your muscles and not risk leg injury or lower back pain, and be sure to rest well. Lydiard warned not to “stress” the body again until the “spark” has returned.

Holistic Approach to Training

Lydiard also pushed for sequential, progressive development of energy systems required for running. Speed and endurance are developed simultaneously, and every part of training is important for every stage of development. Listening to your body as you train and progressively develop your strength holistically with an appropriate (proportionate) emphasis on aerobic training can help you find and strategically leverage your “peak” during a race.

Final Tips from a Former High School Runner

To wrap up this article and get a personal testimony, Gabe Wesley was a high school runner in Phoenix and graduated in 2016 and owns a brave but controversial denim jacket. “Arthur Lydiard was a real Chad, he probably rocked his denim, and he discovered an important mathematical trend”, says Wesley. “Mileage is the most important thing for bringing improvement. Thus, running 20 minutes is half as effective as 30 minutes; 50 minutes twice that of 30 minutes. The longer you run consecutively at one time, the better.”

Run with Purpose

Wesley states, “I run to manifest the power given us by the Spirit to overcome trials so that all may see Christ’s work being completed in me. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, ‘in a race, all the runners run, but only one receives the prize. So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self control in all things’, and any activity, athletic or not, requires both discipline, self-control, and most of all perseverance”.

Avoid Injury or Back Pain

Reminiscing about his most challenging, triumphant, and embarrassing trials (Wesley revealed he had been unable to get to a crowded bathroom one time before starting a race and the consequence ended up in his shorts on the most grueling hill. Imagine if he had been wearing denim!), Wesley encourages young athletes to refrain from ramping up too fast. “Practice self control, and avoid pushing too hard. Be nice to yourself and get decent rest, especially if you feel injury (injuries and leg or back pain are the number one factor taking people out of running). It’s okay to not be a strong guy. Get uncomfortable, but don’t kill yourself.”

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Spine Health. 10 Tips to Prevent Neck Pain https://www.spine-health.com/blog/10-tips-prevent-neck-pain

Strength Running. Best Strength Exercises for Runners https://strengthrunning.com/2015/07/best-strength-exercises-for-runners/

The Morning Call. High school track notebook: New all-weather track for Saucon Valley a benefit to all https://www.mcall.com/2019/04/07/high-school-track-notebook-new-all-weather-track-for-saucon-valley-a-benefit-to-all/

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January 19, 2019