Strength training for runners: A complete guide

  • Post last modified:May 25, 2020
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Strength training for runners is essential. It’s essential if you want to run faster and stronger, and become less injury prone.

Many runners focus on running and running alone when they first start running. However, running alone will only get you so far if you’re trying to improve your endurance, power, stamina and speed.

Once you feel like you’re ready to step up your training and you’d really like to achieve a PB in your next race, consider adding strength training into your training routine.

But what exactly is strength training?

In this blog post, I’d like to explain why strength training for runners is so important.

strength training for runners

What is strength training?

You may have heard the term ‘strength training’ banded around the running and fitness community over the last few years.

Strength training is essentially a type of exercise that specialises in the use of resistance to build the strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles and bone density.

Resistance could be in the form of your own body weight or weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells or medicine balls.

Why is it important for runners?

Strength training for runners is important because it helps you build stronger muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues.

It improves your speed and power and lowers your risk of injury.

This type of training also contributes to better running form. In other words, it helps you run more efficiently!

Running is so much more than just running.

In order to become a better runner, run faster and stronger for longer, you need to be dabbling in ancillary work like strength training. 

strength training for runners

Can it help with injury prevention?

Yes, yes, yes! One of the biggest reasons to include strength training in your training routine is that it helps to dramatically reduce the risk of injury in a lot of runners. 

The injury rate in the running community remains pretty high. Unfortunately, overuse injuries like IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and runner’s knee are all very common.

But with an effective strength training strategy, you can avoid a lot of these niggling injuries.

Studies have shown that strength training helps to cure IT band syndrome and improves running economy.

Other studies have also shown that weightlifting improves performance, economy and muscle power.

I’m new to strength training, where do I start?

The best place to start is to familiarise yourself with some basic body weight exercises.

Body weight exercises are great for beginners because you don’t need any equipment to do them (your body is the resistance/weight). And they can be done virtually anywhere – at home, in the gym, outdoors.

The key is to focus on compound movements that use your whole body.

So air squats, burpees, hip bridges, single-leg squats, inchworms, single-leg calf raises, planks, side planks, forward lunges, backward lunges – you get the point!

Check out my posts on simple strength exercises for runners and strength workouts for runners for more strength training ideas.

Once you’ve mastered some basic body weight exercises, then you can start to look at incorporating some equipment like kettlebells, dumbbells and medicine balls.

Progression in the form of added weight, difficulty or resistance is necessary in the future to avoid your body getting used to a particular workout (i.e. hitting a plateau in your training).

So, for example, if you wanted to progress an air squat, you could do the following. The week number is shown at the beginning of each bullet point.

Progression: Number of reps

  • 1 – Air squat (8 reps with 1 minute rest in between)
  • 2 – Air squats (10 reps with 1 minute rest in between)
  • 3 – Air squats (12 reps with 1 minute rest in between)

Progression: Amount of weight and reps

  • 1 – Weighted squat (8 reps with 4kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)
  • 2 – Weighted squat (10 reps with 6kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)
  • 3 – Weighted squat (12 reps with 8kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)

Do I have to join a gym?

No. There are plenty of exercises and workouts that you can do from the comfort of your own home or in your local park. 

A gym membership, although desirable if you want to add resistance/weights into your routines, is not essential.

A good strength training for runners plan should involve both bodyweight exercises and weight training to get the full benefits of the plan.

Plus, nowadays you can buy gym equipment to use in your home.

Check out my post on the best home equipment for runners for tips and advice on some of the best equipment to buy.

I’ve also written a post on some good exercises that you can do in your living room if the gym really doesn’t appeal to you.

Will I get too bulky if I do too much strength training?

Many runners mistakenly believe that doing strength training will make them more bulky, therefore slowing them down on the running track.

The truth is you’d have to do A LOT of weight training in order to gain a lot of muscle and end up looking like a bodybuilder.

By including one to three strength training sessions in your routine a week alongside your running, you will strengthen your muscles and joints and improve your running economy. 

Because running by its very nature breaks down muscle, whereas strength training builds it up, therefore the two activities counteract one another.

So it’s therefore very unlikely that you’ll become too bulky.

strength training for runners

What about CrossFit? Is it recommended for runners?

CrossFit has become very popular in the fitness industry over the last few years.

Many people seem to have a love/hate relationship with CrossFit. It’s like marmite!

On their official website, CrossFit is described as “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.

All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more.” 

The debate over CrossFit and whether or not it’s recommended for runners is a fierce one. And honestly I don’t think it has subsided!

Running is a repetitive movement that involves mostly your legs. Over time can cause imbalances in the rest of the body, which eventually can lead to injury down the line. 

CrossFit exercises involve your whole body rather than isolating one particular muscle group. 

It combines powerlifting, strength training and gymnastics training, all of which can benefit runners as you are using different types of muscle fibres.

Working your entire body can also help you lose fat, which may help to increase your endurance and speed as a runner.

If you’re interested in learning more about running to lose weight, check out my post on running for weight loss.

What about weightlifting? Is it recommended for runners?

Weightlifting is a form of strength training and is one of the most effective ways to prevent some of those common running injuries.

It helps to strengthen your connective tissues and muscles therefore making you much more resilient and less prone to injury.

A word of caution though: weightlifting is highly technical.

Compound movements like deadlifts, pull ups and rows can be difficult (and dangerous) if approached in the wrong way.

They also require a lot of neuromuscular coordination to ensure you do the movement properly and in the most efficient way possible.

If you’re new to weightlifting, then I suggest you enlist the help of a personal trainer to help you get to grips with the basics of weight training.

Once you become more comfortable with some basic movements, you could then attempt them on your own when you feel more confident.

strength training for runners

Is HIIT a form of strength training?

HIIT (high intensity interval training) is the best of both worlds. It is classed as both cardio and strength training.

In my experience, HIIT is way more tailored towards cardio as it involves a lot of bodyweight exercises. 

It’s actually quite tricky to programme HIIT workouts with weights safely and effectively because they are so intense. 

If you’re not used to plyometric movements (e.g. those that use a lot of power and force), you may end up injuring yourself if you dive straight into a HIIT session with weights. 

Check out my complete guide to HIIT for runners for more tips and advice on including HIIT safely in your workout routine.

Strength training for runners is important if you want to keep running stronger for longer.

So why not include a strength workout in your training plan. You will feel the benefits on the running track!


Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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