While back muscles don’t get the same attention as the hamstrings or half the glory of the glutes—both crucial groups of muscles when it comes to running—the muscles in the back are essential to good posture and strong form.
That’s why Yusuf Jeffers, NASM-certified personal trainer and USATF-certified running coach, designed this kettlebell pull workout that targets the entire back while engaging the rest of the body, including those hamstrings and glutes, along with the core. (Don’t worry, if you don’t have a kettlebell, you can also use dumbbells for this workout.)
The Benefits of a Pull Workout for Runners
Jeffers explains that like most pull workouts, this one “recruits the lats, traps, rhomboids, delts, biceps, and deeper spinal intrinsic musculature. These all help with maintaining great posture while running, which leads to efficiency of movement and running longer, further, stronger, and faster.” That’s a lot of muscle recruitment and benefits for one simple workout!
The six exercises in the circuit, almost all of which are performed from a standing position, strengthen the back muscles without isolating them—and that’s intentional. “Even though this is mainly a back-focused workout, lower body and core are still involved in all of these movements,” Jeffers says. “This can be beneficial in keeping similar integration patterns of how we use muscles when running.”
While this pull workout is designed to be a traditional strength workout—that means moving with control and a slow tempo, as well as taking rest breaks as you need them—you can opt to introduce a conditioning element by performing each movement for 30 to 60 seconds with minimal rest in between exercises.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for the number of reps listed, resting for 90 seconds between exercises. Rest 1 to 2 minutes between sets.
Each move is demonstrated by Jeffers in the video above so you can master the proper form. You will need a medium-weight kettlebell or a medium set of dumbbells.
1. Alternating Single-Arm Bent-Over Row
Stand with feet hip-width apart, kettlebell placed between feet (handle in vertical position). Bend knees slightly, hinge at hips by sending butt straight back, and lower torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor. Make sure back is flat, shoulders down, and core engaged. With palm facing in, reach for kettlebell with right hand and pull weight up to ribcage, keeping elbow close to torso. Lower kettlebell and repeat with left arm. Continue alternating. Do 10 reps on each side.
2. Bent-Over Row to March
Stand with feet hip-width apart, use both hands to hold a kettlebell directly in front of chest. Bend knees slightly, hinge at hips by sending butt straight back, and lower torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor. Make sure back is flat, shoulders down, and core engaged. Extend both arms to lower kettlebell toward the floor, then pull it up to chest, keeping elbows close to torso. Drive feet into floor and extend hips to stand back up. Lift right knee to hip height, then immediately lower right foot and lift left knee to hip height. That’s one rep. Do 12 reps, performing a hinge, row, and a march on each side.
3. Side Plank Row
Start in high plank position with shoulders over wrists and core engaged. Place a kettlebell near right hand (handle in vertical position). Shift weight to left palm, pivot feet, and assume side plank position, stacking right shoulder over left shoulder, right hip over left hip. This is the starting position. Grab kettlebell with right hand and lift it up toward right armpit to perform a row. Lower kettlebell to floor and repeat. Do 10 reps. Then switch sides.
4. Hinge to High Pull
Stand with feet hip-width apart, kettlebell placed between feet (handle in horizontal position). Maintaining a flat back, hinge at hips by sending butt straight back, bend knees, and reach down to grab top of kettlebell handle with both hands. As you drive feet into floor and extend hips to stand back up, pull kettlebell up towards chin, elbows reaching up toward ceiling. Lower kettlebell to floor, bending knees and hinging at hips. Repeat. Do 12 reps.
5. Kettlebell Dead Swing
Stand about a foot behind a kettlebell, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Grab the handle of the kettlebell firmly with both hands, hinging at hips. Make sure back is flat, shoulders down, and core engaged. This is the starting position. Pull the kettlebell back and up between legs, then explosively extend hips forward, engage glutes, and straighten legs, allowing kettlebell to swing out in front of body about at chest height, with arms extended. Allow kettlebell to fall back down between legs as you hinge at hips. From this position (do not return to standing) allow the kettlebell to swing forward and come to a stop on the floor about a foot in front of you, returning to starting position. Repeat. Do 12 reps.
6. Alternating Kettlebell Clean
Stand with feet hip-width apart, place a kettlebell between feet (handle in vertical position). Maintaining a flat back, hinge at hips, bend knees slightly, and reach right hand down to grab kettlebell with an overhand grip (arm internally rotated, palm facing out). As you thrust hips forward like a swing, pull kettlebell up to right shoulder, allowing kettlebell to flip and rest on forearm. Pause, then hinge at hips, bend knees slightly, and lower kettlebell back to floor. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating. Do 10 reps on each side.