Looking for the best strength exercises to help you improve running performance and reduce injury risk?
Then you have come to the right place.
In this post, I’m going to share with you full guide to strength training for runners.
By the end, you’ll learn more about:
- The benefits of strength training for runners
- The current research on strength training for injury prevention
- A brief intro to running muscles
- How to start strength training
- A basic strength schedule routine for runners
- The 7 strength exercises all runners should do do
- 7 advanced strength training strategies for runners
And so much more.
Let’s get started.
Note – Would You Like To Learn How To Start Running The Right Way? Then Make sure to check my Beginners Guide HERE.
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I’d use myself and all opinions expressed here are our own.
What’s Strength Training?
Strength training is any training that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance.
When you do a weight lifting workout, you’re trying to get stronger by conditioning your muscles to overcome either a heavier resistance.
The resistance can be created by a dumbbell, kettlebell, a barbell, resistance bands.
You can also use your body weight—think push-ups, squats, press-ups, lunges, and so on
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8BSJmMgGsMResearch on Strength Training And Injury Prevention
A study published by the National Strength & Conditioning Association showed that weight lifting strengthens the muscles and joints.
This builds proper form, improves running time, and reduces injury risks.
Another example is research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning.
The study revealed that doing exercises such as squats and single-leg hops, not only helps reduce risks of injury to the lower extremities but also improve performance.
Let’s dive deeper into the benefits of strength training for runners
Resistance training puts stress on your body, forcing it to adapt to boost its ability to withstand the extra load.
Over time, with regular training, these stress-induced adaptations can have an enormous impact on your running speed, efficiency, and endurance.
So, for instance, the stronger your leg muscles get, the more force you could generate on each stride, and the more distance you can travel on each foot strike.
Plus, stronger shoulders and arms are essential in increasing your speed and form efficiency.
Fix Muscle Imbalances
Running is one-directional action, meaning it works some muscles more than others, leading to the onset of muscle imbalances.
This places excessive pressure on ligaments and tendons, reducing stride efficiency, limiting running economy, and increasing the risks of injury.
Research shows that, often than not, many runners nagging issues, such as shin splints, runners knee, Achilles tendinitis, etc., stem from muscle imbalances.
With all that being said, the good news is, as little as six weeks of proper weight training can reduce, or completely alleviate, knee pain, according to a study.
Burns More Calories
Many runners took up running as means for weight loss. And as my experience dictates, running is helpful for shedding the pounds—especially during the first few months of training.
That said, once your body gets used to running (especially if you lack variety in your training), it’ll start to burn fewer calories.
For that reason, you might want to back up your running for weight loss training with a well-rounded and intense strength training schedule.
As a matter of fact, by increasing your lean muscle mass, you’ll boost your body’s ability to shed more calories.
Build Stronger Bones
In addition to helping you prevent injury, improve running performance, build muscle, lose fat, strength training also improves bone density.
This can be typically measured using a DEXA scan, which is imilar to an x-ray, but more thorough.
But how does strength training make bones stronger?
It’s actually quite simple.
By stressing your bones, strength training can increase bone density, therefore, reducing the risks of bone-related issues.
This is especially the case for us runners as stress fractures—a common overuse injury—is every runner’s worst nightmare.
For the full scope on a stress fracture, check my full guide here.
Have you ever tried running without using your arms? It’s not a good idea.
Swinging your arms faster automatically increases your step frequency, and vice versa.
We pump our arms as we run, and the stronger our arms are, the more powerful the forward drive, and the faster we move forward.
That’s no secret.
Be More Efficient
Running doesn’t just involve relying on the leg for forward propulsion, but we’re also using our core, back, arms, shoulders, and chest to balance and improve efficiency.
When the legs are exhausted, we use the upper body more because of the kinetic chain.
Everything is working together in one interlocked system.
Your running form can ultimately make or break you as a runner.
That’s why if you can’t hold proper form throughout your runs, you’ll never reach your full running potential.
Improving your upper body strength can make your posture more efficient and help you keep a consistent form, especially as fatigue starts to set in.
Fortunately, improving upper-body strength can upgrade your technique and help you keep consistent form.
Signs of a bad form may include:
- Rounding the shoulders,
- Shrugging the shoulder near the ears,
- Holding on to tension,
- Swinging the arms too widely,
- Holding a cell phone or water bottle,
But when you keep your posture straight, head held high, shoulder loose and square, arms functioning properly, you’ll ensure that you won’t get hurt.
Stronger upper body, especially well-developed back, and core muscles help protect your spine from the impact of running.
It Requires Little Time
You don’t need to train like an elite bodybuilder or CrossFitter to reap the benefits of strength training.
In fact, all you need is no more than 30- to 45-minute session, two to three times per week to reap the benefits of strength training as a runner.
Here is the full guide on starting strength training for runners.
Note: Strength training should be performed according to your fitness level and training goals.
For that reason, you need to opt for a well-rounded strength program designed specifically to meet your running needs.
This is why a sprinter strength routine can look so different from a long distance athlete program.
Running Muscles Anatomy – An Introduction
Your body is a complicated piece of machinery, and muscles are a huge part of what’s driving it.
According to experts, five main groups of muscles are used while running—quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, gluteals, and calf muscles.
Your body also uses secondary muscles to keep you going forward, such as the core and upper body muscles.
These typically provide stability throughout the gait cycle and improve speed and running economy.
The quadriceps, the muscles on the front of the thighs, are in charge of forward leg movement. Also known as the quads, these run from the hips down to the kneecap, and are composed of four muscles:
- The Vastus Medialis,
- Lateralus, and
- Rectus Femoris.
The hamstrings consist of a single large tendon located at the back of the thigh and play a key role in standing, walking, or running as well as hip extension and knee flexion. These muscles are comprised of
- The biceps femoris,
- The Semitendinosus, and
- The Semimembranosus.
Consisting of a group of three muscles, the gluteals are located in the buttocks and are responsible for hip extension, posture and proper knee alignment, and leg stability. The glutes consist of:
- The Gluteus Maximus,
- The Gluteus medius, and
- The Gluteus minimus.
The Hip Flexors
Also known as the iliopsoas, the hip flexors are the muscles located on the front of the hip, just above the thighs.
Whenever you do any leg lifting motion, you’re mainly using these muscles. The hip flexors also help stabilize the hip joint, keep good posture, and maintain a standing position. The hip flexors consist of:
- The iliacus, and
- The psoas major.
Located on the back of the lower leg, just below the knees, the calves are another supercritical running muscles.
Why? These provide spring in your step, extend and flex each foot as you land and push off, and maintain lower body balance and coordination. The calves consist of:
- The large gastrocnemius, or outer calf; and
- The smaller soleus, or inner calf.
The Right Strength Training Strategy for Runners
The Best Strength Exercises For Runners
Try adding this powerful routine into your easy or cross-training days. The workout will take roughly 45 minutes to complete and can be done twice a week. That’s a small amount of time to invest in a big payoff.
I’ve also provided you with YouTube tutorials showing you exactly how to do each exercise. Proper form is king!
I always ignored core work. Such a bore. I mean, who wants to do crunches all day long?
But I found that as I increased my mileage, I would start to slouch later in my run.
That’s when I knew I could no longer ignore proper core work, so I set out to find some exercises that weren’t boring.
One of the core exercises that ended up becoming a staple in my training was the plank.
It’s one of the best core exercises because it targets every aspect of the core, as well as the lower back and shoulders.
- Lie on your stomach
- Prop yourself up on your elbow with feet slightly apart, toes hip distance apart with shoulders directly above the elbows
- Aim to straighten your whole body, so it’s forming a straight line from the top of your head to your heels.
- While engaging your core and keeping a straight line (your butt should not stick up in the air), hold the position for 30 seconds to a full minute.
As you get stronger, you should gradually add more time.
You can also make it more challenging for yourself by placing a weight plate on your back.
2. Russian Twists
The Russian twist targets a bunch of muscles, including the abs, obliques, lower back and your hamstrings as well.
You can use a medicine ball or a plate for extra resistance.
- Grab a weight, then lie on your back with your upper legs perpendicular to the floor and your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Hold the weight in front of your body while keeping your back straight.
- Twist your torso as far as you can to the right side, tap the weight on the floor, then reverse your motion to the other side.
3. Overhead Lunges
The overhead lunge targets the whole body—quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders and core muscles.
It’s the perfect fit-it-all-in move, so it’s great if you’re pressed for time.
It also increases flexibility and mobility in your hip flexors.
- Hold a pair of dumbbells or a weighted bar above your shoulder, with your arms straight, and your elbow locked, feet shoulder-width apart, and knees slightly bent.
- While holding the weight directly overhead, step forward with your right leg into a deep lunge position, bending both your knees.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side. That’s one repetition.
Do 12 steps on each side to complete one set.
4. Air Squats
Bodyweight squats are some of the best strength exercises you can do. These should be an integral part in any runner’s strength-oriented training program.
Squats target a lot of running-specific muscles.
They are convenient to do, and can easily be added to your post-run routine.
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart with your toes facing forward
- With your arms out in front at shoulder height, squat down by bending your knees, leaning forward at the waist while keeping your back flat and your knees tracking behind your toes
- Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground.
- Press up through your heels to return to starting position.
5. Single-Leg Deadlifts
The single-leg deadlift is the ideal slow-burn move for building strong hamstrings and glutes, which can help you tackle steep hills with ease.
This exercise can also improve your balance and boost your stability.
- Start by holding two dumbbells or a weighted bar in front of your body.
- While standing tall, shift your weight to your right foot
- Hinge forward by slightly bending your right knee and raising your left foot behind you in line with your torso, letting the weights hang down
- Lower the weight while keeping it close to the tops of the legs.
- Once the weight goes past your knee, pause, then return to the starting position.
6. The Pistol
Also known as the one-legged squat, the pistol is a powerful squat variation that builds strength and balance in your lower body.
If you have issues with lower body flexibility or mobility, use a chair or a bench for the assisted pistol option. That’s how I got pretty decent at doing pistols.
- Standing tall, balance on your right foot,
- Squat down by bending at the knee and sitting your hips back.
- Once your right knee is at about a 90-degree angle, push back up by extending your leg to starting position.s
7. Rotational Shoulder Press
This move is ideal for targeting your upper body muscles, with the emphasis on the shoulder and core muscles.
- While standing tall with your feet hip-width apart, hold a pair of dumbbells just outside your shoulders.
- As you press the weights up with your right hand, rotate your body to the right side.
- Lower the weights to your shoulder as you rotate back to the center, then rotate to the left as you press your left again upward this time.
Advanced Strength Training Strategies For Runnesr
once you spend a few months lifting weights and getting stronger, make sure to take things to the next level. Here are a few strategies:
When it comes to the best strength training exercises, there are no secret moves.
In my experience, the squats, lunges, deadlifts, planks, push-ups, burpees and shoulder presses are the best strength-building exercises you can do to improve your running and become the best athlete you can be.
These “big seven” weight training exercises build strength and engage every muscle in your body from head to toe, forcing your muscle systems to work together rather than isolating them to work independently.
Therefore, the magnificent 7 should make be the bread and butter of your strength workouts.
Stick with low reps for the first few months of training, working diligently on practicing and mastering proper lifting form.
Aim for two to three set of seven to 12 reps, with about 90-second to two minutes of rest between sets.
Here are more runners’ strength oriented routines:
Circuit training is a high intensity workout that mixes aerobic exercises with strength training.
And when done right way, can be one of the best running-specific strength routines you can ever do.
Think of circuit training as resistance training mixed with interval training.
You get the best of two worlds: the muscle building properties of a weight workout along with the endurance boosting and calorie burn of intense cardio.
With circuit training, you could customize your training program to meet your own fitness goals, whether you are in to lose weight or add muscle mass.
The exact mix of aerobic and strength exercises depends, mostly, on your training goals, fitness level, and your own imagination.
Here is one of my favorite circuit training routines to try.
I love this routine because it’s really convenient.
All you need is your bodyweight, a mat, some space and there you go. Of course, you can always make it more challenging by adding weights.
Perform each of these exercises for the given reps before moving onto the next exercise with no rest. Repeat the circuit for three times.
Take one to two minutes of recovery between each circuit.
- Run for 400 meters.
- Do 20 air squats
- Do 20 push-ups
- Do 20 burpees
- Do 20 forward lunges
- Plank holds for one minute
Embrace Free Weights
Opting free weights is the perfect strategy. With free weights, you can target every muscle groups in your body without wasting costly time moving from machine to machine or going back and forth between different pieces of equipment.
According to a study published in the journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, exercising with free weights instead of machines leads to greater muscle activation, thus better fitness gains.
They also help you achieve better balance and symmetry between both sides of your body by forcing your weak side to work unaided by the dominant side, thus both sides grow at the same rate.
Strength building is more of a marathon, not a sprint.
This is one of the profound lessons you need to learn and put into practice as soon as you can, so please if you had to take one thing from this whole post, I beg you to remember this.
Progressive overload is the foundation of strength training, and it’s all about ensuring that you are lifting more and more and forcing your muscles to work harder than before.
So in order to keep gaining strength, you have to consistently add more weight or do more reps with the same weight, period.
This powerful concept applies to all aspects of training including running, and strength training.
So if you hit the weight room or the running every day and do the same routine over and over again, you are not applying this principle in your workouts.
Instead, aim to increase your workload after each workout.
For instance, if you can squat 100 pounds for 10 reps this week, you should aim to perform 12 reps with the same weight, or perform 10 reps but with 105 pounds.
Always progressing, but in a slow and gradual manner.
Drop sets are some of the most overlooked strength building strategies that there is.
This is one of the little known (especially among runners) strength building strategies, and something I picked up while doing The Beast Strength workout program.
Also known as the “multi-poundage system, a drop set is a technique where you do a strength exercise and then reduce (drop) the weight and keep doing more reps until you reach complete muscle failure, which can help you recruit more muscles fibers for faster results.
Perform this technique with dumbbells. So next time you reach failure with a certain dumbbell exercises, drop the weight, grab a lighter weight, then do as many reps as you can with good form until you reach complete muscle failure.
Pack in Protein
No matter how hard you push yourself in the weight room, if you don’t fill your daily needs of this vital ingredient, then you will struggle to build muscles and get stronger.
Protein is key for healthy diet for many reasons. For starters, it’s crucial to building muscle and speeding up the recovery process—especially after a hard workout. Furthermore, protein can help you feel fuller for longer, thus prevent hunger pangs and unhealthy snacking.
As a result, shoot for at least one to two grams per pound of your bodyweight per day to ensure proper recovery and muscle growth.
Which means that if you weigh 170 pounds, you will want to aim for about 200 to 300 grams per day.
Your protein needs increase when you are doing a lot of running or resistance training of course.
Make sure also to consume 10 to 20 grams of protein before your workouts to help you include a muscle-building effect and speed up recovery. This is the equivalent of two glasses of milk.
Plus, have another rich protein meal or shake within 30 to 60 minutes following a workout mixed with the good carbs to replenish your energy store and speed up recovery.
Protein rich sources include lean meat, eggs, fish and dairy products. Add supplements to your diet if you have to.
Last week was my recovery week. I didn’t perform any traditional weight training or running all week long.
All I did was couple of yoga light sessions and three long walks.
Why recovery is important you might ask.
This recovery week will give your body the needed time to heal the micro tears caused by hard training and adapt to more training stimulus.
If you ignore proper
recovery, then your athletic performance will suffer and you will increase the risk of injury and/or burnouts.
Good news is that you can save yourself a lot of trouble by adding a reload—fancy term for recovery—week into your training program.
Therefore, if you are training on a regular basis, you may need a recovery week.
I recommend that take a recovery every fourth or fifth week of hard training. During the deload week, you train with weights that are lighter than normal.
Shoot for 60 percent of your 1RM, and reduce the number of reps by half.
You can also take a week off (just like what I did last week), and don’t even go near the gym or running track.
Instead, keep it light. Do yoga, walk, swim, or get a massage.
Bonus – A Runner Upper Body Workout
Here’s a simple workout routine that will sculpt all of the major muscles in your upper body.
Perform this routine two to three days a week, leaving a rest day in between. Finish the suggested number of reps for each exercise.
And more importantly, go for a challenging weight that you can hardly complete the last two reps of your final set with good technique.
Push-ups: 5 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Dumbbell bench press: 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Inverted rows: 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Dumbbell hammer curls: 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Shoulder presses: 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Bonus Tip: How Do I Become a Better Runner?
The answer to that question lies within my Runners Blueprint System.
My system was specially designed for beginners who either want to start running or take their training to the next level, but have little clue on how to do it.
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Here’s what it includes :
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- How fast (or slow) should you go on your first sessions
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- The seven most common running injuries….how to deal with them before they progress into major ones!
- The quick standing stretching routine that keeps you flexible even if you’re busy as hell
- The 10-minute warm-up you must do before any session to get the most of your training
- And much, much more.
Click HERE to get started with The Runners Blueprint System today!
There you have it ! The above strength exercises for runners all you need to help you prevent overuse injuries and increase athletic performance without logging in more miles. The rest is up to you.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime thank you for reading my post
Keep Running Strong