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Run Strong, Run Far: The Ultimate Strength Training Program for Runners

9 Mins read

Are you ready to take your running game to the next level? Then you come to the right place.

Here at Runners Blueprint, I firmly believe in the power of a well-rounded training program that includes strength training.

As runners, we tend to focus solely on pounding the pavement and logging miles, but that’s only part of the equation. Incorporating weightlifting into your routine can help prevent injuries, improve your running economy, and ultimately help you reach your goals faster.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Weightlifting? That’s not for me. I’ve never lifted a weight in my life!” But don’t worry, my friend.

In today’s post, I’m going to break down the basics of weight lifting for runners. I’ll provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to design a strength training program that will work for you, whether you’re a seasoned weightlifter or a complete beginner.

So, are you ready to experience the same benefits? Let’s get started on designing the ultimate strength training program for runners!

What Is Strength Training?

Strength training is like a secret weapon for runners. While many runners focus solely on pounding the pavement, a well-designed strength training program can provide a wide range of benefits, from injury prevention to improved running performance.

But what exactly is strength training? In simple terms, it’s any form of exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance, whether that be weights, machines, or even just your own body weight. And while the idea of lifting heavy weights might seem intimidating, there are plenty of options for creating resistance that requires little to no equipment at all.

In fact, research shows that bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats can be just as effective for building strength and improving endurance as traditional weight-lifting exercises. And the benefits don’t stop there. Strength training has also been shown to help prevent injuries, improve bone density, and boost metabolism (more on this later).

And what’s the best part? You don’t need fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership to get started. With just a few basic exercises and some simple guidelines, you can start reaping the benefits of strength training in no time.

The Importance of a Strength Training For Runners

So why should runners bother with strength training in the first place? Let’s check a few reasons:

Improved Performance

A 2020 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that a 12-week combined endurance and strength training program improved running performance and muscle strength in female recreational runners. The researchers found that the combined training group had a significant improvement in 10 km run time, running economy, and muscle strength compared to the endurance-only group.

Improved Running Economy

A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that a 6-week strength training program improved running economy in collegiate distance runners. The researchers found that the strength-trained group had a 2.9% increase in running economy compared to the control group that did not perform strength training.

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.

Improved VO2 Max

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that a 12-week strength training program improved maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) in recreational runners. The researchers found that the strength-trained group had a 5.7% increase in VO2 max compared to the control group that did not perform strength training.

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 be able to boost your muscle strength and density with no drastic increases in muscle mass and weight.

Arms Strength And Running

Arms strength is key to a runner’s efficiency. With every foot strike, you’re pumping your arms. The stronger the arms, the more power you generate.

It Makes You Stronger In general.

Adding strength to your upper body makes you more athletic in general.  Once you start spending more time strengthening your upper body, you’ll be surprised at how easy others exercises will get. I’m talking about real technique, not overcompensation which we all know it’s cheating.

Almost every workout you do, from Yoga to HIIT classes, contains upper-body exercises, such as push-ups, planks, and press-ups—all of which call for a decent level of upper-body strength.

Prevent Injury

Injuries are an inevitable part of being a runner. The cumulative stress of regularly logging the miles will, sooner or later, take a toll on your body.

Soreness, aches, cramps, strains, and inflammation can all plague the neck, arms, shoulders, and back. Again, strengthening your upper body is one step toward helping you keep and improve technique.

Increased Resting Metabolism

When you build muscle mass, you increase your resting metabolism, and that helps your body shed more calories.

Muscle is active tissue. Every pound of muscle burns about six calories per day at rest. In fact, a pound of muscle burns roughly three times as many calories as a pound of fat—that’s quite a lot. That’s why strength training is often recommended for people trying to lose weight.

Additional resource – Keeping muscle during marathon training

 It Takes Little Time

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

Logging in two to three sessions a week (even if it’s just a simple body-weight workout)  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.

Beginner Strength Running Plan For Beginners

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

According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, alternating between strength training and cardio on different days can result in better performance improvements than doing both on the same day.

Otherwise, you’re risking overtraining, which can lead to injury and slow down your progress.

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

Research shows that beginners can achieve strength gains with just two workouts per week.

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.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that a longer duration of resistance exercise led to greater muscle hypertrophy, or growth, in untrained individuals.

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.

According to a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, bodyweight training can improve muscular endurance, strength, and power in untrained individuals.

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 Saturdays (as shown in the training sample below).

Additional resource – Clamshells for runners

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

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

Research has shown that bodyweight training can be just as effective as weightlifting in improving strength and power as long as you progressively increase the difficulty of the exercises.

According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges can improve muscle strength and endurance in both novice and advanced athletes.

When it comes to bodyweight training, the possibilities are almost endless. You can start with basic exercises such as glute bridges, planks, and bodyweight squats and progress to more challenging movements such as pistol squats and one-arm push-ups. You can also use tools like TRX bands, medicine balls, and resistance bands to add variety and challenge to your workouts.

But remember, consistency is key. Stick to a few basic exercises that feel comfortable and natural to you, and gradually increase the reps, sets, and intensity. To get you started, here are three exemplary workouts that target different areas of the body.

Workout A is the upper body routine, which includes exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and dips to strengthen your chest, back, and arms.

Workout B is the lower body routine, which includes exercises such as lunges, squats, and calf raises to build strong and stable legs.

Finally, Workout C is the full-body routine, which combines upper and lower body exercises into a high-intensity circuit.

Remember, the key to success is consistency and progression. As you get stronger and more comfortable with the exercises, increase the reps, sets, or difficulty level to keep challenging your body.

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

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.

Additional resource – ITBS guide

The Intermediate Running and Strength Training Weekly Schedule

Are you ready to take your running and strength training to the next level? Then let’s dive into the intermediate weekly schedule. Designed for runners with 3 to 12 months of strength training experience, this routine will take your fitness game to new heights.

But don’t worry, and you won’t need to spend hours at the gym to see significant gains. Just aim for three 30 to 45-minute sessions each week, focusing on full-body exercises that hit every major muscle group.

Think of full-body exercises as the bread and butter of strength training. They’re functional, efficient, and perfect for busy runners. Deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and more will help you get more done in less time. And research has shown that these multi-joint exercises lead to greater muscle activation and overall strength gains compared to isolation exercises.

Workout A—The Upper Body Workout

So, what will you be doing in each workout? In the upper body workout, you’ll 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
  • Triceps Dips
  • Turkish get-ups
  • Plyo box jumps
  • Floor presses

Complete three sets.

The Gym/Equipment Option – Advanced Program

What if you’ve been strength training for a year or more and want to diversify your routine? Then it’s time to hit the gym and take on the advanced program. With free weights, kettlebells, and machines at your disposal, you’ll be able to create a diverse range of strength training exercises to challenge your body.

Whether you choose the 3-day or 4-day workout routine, aim for two to three sets of 8 to 10 reps of each exercise with 60 to 90 seconds of rest in between. You’ll train different muscle groups each day, focusing on the triceps, shoulders, chest, core, legs, back, and biceps.

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

Weight Lifting For Runners – The Conclusion

Ultimately, building strength and muscle is a journey, not a destination. It takes time, dedication, and a willingness to adapt and evolve your routine as you go. But with consistency and patience, you’ll soon be calling yourself a true strength training aficionado.

And the best part? You’ll have the results to show for it. So lace up those sneakers, grab those dumbbells, and get ready to transform your body and mind through the power of resistance training.

Thank you for dropping by.

David D.

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