The Beginner’s Guide To Strength Training for Runners

If you have been reading Runners Blueprint for a while, then you know that I’m a strong proponent of strength training for runners.

Sure, this is a runners’ blog, and I mostly write stuff for the running crowd.

That said, any regular reader (or after checking my cross training page) might be surprised by the number of strength training workouts I shared in the last couple of years.

But this time, I’m not going to share with you another workout. Instead, in today’s post, I’ll cover the basics of weight lifting for runners.

I’ll show you the exact steps required to design your strength training program, even if you have never touched a dumbbell before.

Even if you’re an experienced runner and strength trainee, I hope you’ll get some value and practical advice from this post. Something you can take right away and apply it to your training program.

If nothing else, then, at least, I beg you to pass this post along to any other runner who will benefit from the beginner guidelines shared below.

So are you excited?

Then here we go.

The Importance of Strength Training

Strength training has many fitness and health benefits for trainees of all ages and backgrounds.

Also known as resistance training, this type of training beneficial for increasing muscle mass, expediting weight loss, improving bone strength, etc. The list goes on.

And when it comes for us runners, strength training is our best ally.

Here are the main reasons to strength train as a runner.

Fix Muscle Imbalances

Regular resistance training can help correct muscle imbalances and mobility issues—the root cause of many an overuse injury.

Said otherwise, strength training can help safeguard your body against trouble.

Boost Power Output

Strength training improves power and explosive strength throughout the body, which in turn can help you improve your running form and efficiency. And that’s a good thing if you ask me.

You Won’t Bulk up

If you’re shying away from strength training because you’re afraid of bulking up, then stop it. The fact is, with the right resistance training program, you’ll able to boost your muscle strength and density with no drastic increases in muscle mass and weight.

 It Takes Little Time

As a runner, you do not need to become a full-time Olympic weightlifter to start reaping benefits of resistance training.

Logging in two to three sessions a week is enough for making the most out of your strength training since your main aim is improving running performance, speed, and endurance—not necessarily in that exact order.

How To Start Strength Training

When it comes to strength training, there are so many effective ways to get your feet in the door.

That said, the best method is to start in accordance with your current fitness needs, training goals, schedule, and personal preferences.

Your primary purpose with strength training is to focus on correcting muscle imbalances and fixing abnormal and inefficient movement patterns while increasing overall strength and explosive power.

Scheduling

Here is the tricky part of resistance training: finding enough time for it, especially if you’re a serious runner with a busy schedule.

But, as previously stated, I don’t think you need to commit a significant portion of your time to weightlifting.

As a runner, all you need is to invest 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week, to reap the full benefits of strength training.

In other words, resistance training does not have to be time-consuming.

How Many Sessions?

I recommend that you strength train two to three times per week, taking at least 48 hours of rest in between strength training workouts.

Further, space out your strength workouts with, at least, 48 hours recovery time.

For optimum results, you need to let your muscles and connective tissue adapt by providing them with plenty of time to recover from the stimulus and training load of the strength session.

The Importance of Proper Form

Perform the prescribed number of repetitions on each side while maintaining proper form throughout.

This is critical. You’re better off not training at all if you’re going to train with bad form. That’s the cardinal rule.

So, please spend some time on learning proper lifting form from day one.  It is much easier and more effective to practice proper form from the get-go than to develop poor habits that are going to take a long time to unlearn later.

In fact, you should spend the first few weeks on a strength training program focusing mainly on learning proper form. That’s the base you should build on.

In other words, it’s not “practice that makes perfect.” Perfect practice makes perfect.

To err on the side of caution, work with a certified strength coach or train with a knowledgeable training buddy.

Or, at the very least, try learning from reputable proper form demonstration videos.

Here are a few to check out.

No Cheat Reps

If your form suffers in the last few reps, then you need to lighten up the load next. Never sacrifice form for a number of reps. That’s how injury and bad form propagate.

As a result, when your form starts going south, that’s a clear sign that you’re getting tired and might have performed your final rep on a given exercise.

And don’t cheat just to get in a few reps. That’s just a waste of your time and effort. Not to mention it increases the risks of injury.

Run or Strength Train First?

Here is a common question I get asked a lot by strength newbies.

Should you run first then weight train, or lift weight then hit the pavement?

Here is what I recommend.

If you are a complete newcomer to weightlifting, then during the first few months, do the strength routine first instead of your run.

By doing so, you’ll be able to focus on your technique and form instead of getting distracted by how much exhausted you are from running. This can help train with proper form, preventing injury in the process.

Once you develop form, strength, and confidence, then re-arrange the order.

But, as long as you’re a newbie, lift first, run later. That, of course, if you choose to perform both workouts on the same day, or back to back.

Typical Schedule

Here is a basic running/weight lifting schedule.

  • Monday: Interval run
  • Tuesday: Strength workout
  • Wednesday: Easy run
  • Thursday: Strength workout
  • Friday: Long run
  • Saturday: Strength workout
  • Sunday: Rest

The Range Reps

Keep the number of your reps low and the weight challenging enough. Opt for a weight that you cannot lift for more than eight times. Do at least three sets of five to eight repetitions per exercise.

Here is a quick overview of the number of reps and its impact on your strength results

  • The 2 to 5 range rep: this builds super dense muscle and strength.
  • The 6 to 12 rep range: This builds both muscular strength and muscular
  • The 12 rep range and above. Ideal for building endurance.

Beginner Program

If you are just starting out, take your training slowly and make sure to alternate between weight-lifting and running days.

Do not strength train and run at the same day. Otherwise, you’re risking overtraining. And you don’t want that.

As a beginner, start with two strength workouts a week for three to four weeks, then add a third workout on month two.

Shoot for at least 20 to 30 minutes per session, then gradually add time and intensity until you’re lifting hard for 50 to 60 minutes a session.

Don’t Rush

Focus on bodyweight training to improve all-around strength and stability and should wait for at least a couple of months before incorporating heavy weights.

The beginner routines shared below consist of low to medium intensity exercises, with the primary purpose of building a base of core strength and endurance on which to base more challenging exercises.

The beginner training schedule is suitable for runners with less than 8 to 12 weeks of strength or core training experience while following a routine that involves strength training on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and running on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday (as shown in the training sample below).

The Concept of Training Split

To schedule your workouts the right way, you need first to determine what weight training split and weekly schedule to opt for.

If you are already familiar with strength training, then you know about splits and how they are used.

If not, then below is a simple explanation and description.

The most common and widely tested is the 3-day full body split. This simple method is recommended for a beginner with any goal.

The Exact Weekly Breakdown

In case you have no idea what that means, here is an example of a training week:

  • Monday: Strength Workout A
  • Tuesday: Run
  • Wednesday: Strength Workout B
  • Thursday: Run
  • Friday: Strength Workout C
  • Saturday: Run
  • Sunday: Rest

Sure, this might sound simplistic, but if you’re serious about achieving consistency during the first few weeks and months, you need to keep your training simple.

Otherwise, if it’s too complicated, or intense, chances are you’re not going to stick with it for the long haul.

The Bodyweight Routine – The Beginner

If you choose bodyweight training, then there is minimal equipment—or none at all—required. Further, you can train from anywhere, anytime.

As you long you have enough space, a mat (optional), you’re good to go.

Good bodyweight exercises for runners include glute bridges, planks, mountain climbers, bodyweight squats, set-ups, lunges, bird dogs, push-ups, burpees, etc.

For more challenge, you can use tools like TRX bands, medicine balls, resistance bands, sliders disks, kettlebells, and of course, dumbbells. That said, none of these options are necessary if you are just starting out.

The fact is, you effectively perform bodyweight training without any equipment at all.

Vary the exercises, reps, and progression. But, once again, stick to basic exercise that feels right to you, and do not push you into bad form territories.

Nonetheless, to get the most out of it, you need to consistently mix things up and play around with the moves’ difficulty and intensity to make sure you’re progressing and getting stronger one week to the next.

To start, pick five basic moves from the suggestions above and perform as many reps as possible, two to three sets of each one.

Here are three exemplary workouts

Workout A: The Upper Body Routine

Perform as many reps as possible with good form of the following exercises

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Planks
  • Dips
  • Set-ups

Repeat three to five times

Workout B: The Lower Body Routine

Perform as many reps as possible with good form of the following exercises

  • Walking lunges
  • Squats
  • Sumo squats
  • Wall sits
  • Calf raises

Repeat three to five times

Workout C: The Full Body Routine

Perform as many reps as possible with good form of the following exercises

  • Military push-ups
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Hindu Pushups
  • Burpees
  • Plyo Lunges

Repeat three to five times.

The Intermediate Program 

The intermediary routines are aimed at runners with 3 to 12 months of strength training experience.

The exercises suggested are mostly of standard and medium intensity.

Aim for at least three days a week for 30 to 45 minutes each session. This is enough for most runners to reap significant strength gains starting in the first few months

Full body exercises, also known as multi-joint exercise—think deadlifts, squats, and bench presses—are the bread and butter of strength training. And the best way to get more done in less time. These moves are also functional and hit every major muscle group.

Workout A—The upper Body Workout

Perform 8 to 12 reps of the following exercises:

  • Shoulder presses
  • Standing dumbbell curls
  • Push-ups
  • Bench presses
  • Pull-ups

Complete three sets.

Workout B—The lower body Workout

Perform 8 to 12 reps of the following exercises:

  • Weighted Squats
  • Dumbbell swings
  • Leg presses
  • Weighted Calf Raises
  • Weighted Lunges

Complete three sets.

Workout C: The Full Body Workout

Perform 8 to 12 reps of the following exercises:

  • Deadlifts
  • Tricep Dips
  • Turkish get-ups
  • Plyo box jumps
  • Floor presses

Complete three sets.

The Gym/Equipment Option – Advanced Program

The advanced program is for those with one year, or more, experience in the resistance training world.

Hitting the gym can provide you with a broad range of strength training equipment including free weights, Kettlebells,  and machine using any type movement you can imagine.

But after a few months of bodyweight training, you’ll have to diversify your strength routines and start relying more on free weights and equipment.

You may break your strength workout into doing, for example, chest and back one day, legs and core the other day, then shoulders and arms another day. Aim to complete at least two to three sets of 8-10 reps of each exercise. Rest for 60 to 90 seconds between exercises.

The 3-Day Workout Routine

Workout I

Train your triceps, shoulders, and chest

Workout II

Train your core and legs

Workout III

Train your biceps and back.

The 4-Day Workout Routine

After at least 6 to 9 months of strength training, and if you want to really push your strength training, here is a four-day strength workout routine to follow.

Workout I

Back and biceps

Workout II

Chest and Triceps

Workout III

Legs and core

Workout IV

Shoulders

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David Dack

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