This is what it takes to become a professional endurance runner

Marathons and other long distance running events are all about endurance. Runners who take on these distances must have the holy trinity of efficient technique, strong muscles, and impressive cardiorespiratory fitness.

Olympian and endurance athlete Courtney Atkinson is a triple threat. The triathlete recently ran what he considers to be Australia's eight best trails in one week.

From Kings Canyon in the Northern Territory, to 34 kilometres of undulating trail in Wineglass Bay, Tasmania; Atkinson's journey saw him clock up more than 150km across every state and territory.

Lessons to share

Coming off the back of his epic feat Atkinson is sharing everything he's learnt from his adventure in a new Red Bull TV documentary One Week One Australia, which is released on 23 January.

Preparing to regularly run long distances means Atkinson spends time doing strength training exercises to correct imbalances and weaknesses that could hold him back from achieving his goals.

"As a runner, the most important thing is to get out there and run," says Atkinson. "As it's a very specific sport and its gravity based, the more kilometres on your legs, the better."

"The more endurance you're able to build, the better the speed endurance, the better the recovery and it all keeps ticking over."

Six cylinder power  

However, Atkinsons says there are six exercises he does to build strength and power, ensure his body is in the best shape possible, and to prevent injury.

"I've created a structured program inspired by a training program one of the best U.S basketball teams use, and from my time at the Australian Institute of Sports," says Atkinson.


Here are Atkinson's six go-to strength training exercises for runners.

1. Split squats – six x each leg

"Try these on a balance board (or on a balance disc or even just uneven ground) to challenge yourself above just doing a split squat," says Atkinson. "This will help strengthen your glutes and it also uses your quads."

By adding balance to this exercise, you're using those extra stabiliser muscles too. Specific for running, and especially for trail running, you know there's always going to be uneven ground when you land, so it's a good way to strengthen your calves and Achilles.  

2. Swiss leg kick-outs – 10 x each leg

This is a challenging exercise if you haven't done it before and it requires a very good core to be able to hold yourself stable and perfectly flat.

Atkinsons says, "lie on your back on a swiss ball, with your legs on the floor at 90 degrees. Then using only your real stabilising muscles, lift one leg up off the ground and then kick it out in front of you."

Repeat with the other leg. Make sure you keep stable and your hips square; this is important as when you're running you want to be able to isolate your legs without your body twisting and turning.

3. Swiss ball push-ups – 16 reps

"It's important to maintain upper body strength so you have structure in your upper body when running," says Atkinson.

By placing your legs on the swiss ball whilst doing your push-ups you're elevated, which means you're working on your stability through your hips and glutes as well.

4. Medicine ball chops – 20 (10 each side)

Sit on the floor with your legs slightly bent in front of you. Holding a medicine ball, twist side-to-side, placing the ball on the floor on each side. The aim is to build your core strength and stabiliser muscles.

5. Barbell squats x 6-8

This is barbell squat. The aim is to be able to comfortably squat your body weight. Begin with the barbell supported on top of the traps. The chest should be up and the head facing forward. Squat by flexing the knees, refraining from moving the hips back as much as possible. Ensure your knees travel forward and that they stay aligned with your feet. The goal is to keep the torso as upright as possible. Continue all the way down, keeping the weight on the front of the heel. At the moment the upper legs contact the lower legs reverse the motion, driving the weight upward.

6. Deadlifts – six to eight reps

The deadlift is one of the best exercises around. Whether you want to build muscle, increase athleticism, or focus purely on gaining strength, it's the one exercise every runner should do. You don't need to go overboard with these, it's just to maintain strength. Go slow and focus on perfecting good form to prevent injury.

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter