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Strength training exercises for runners: The complete guide + 30 sample exercises

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Strength training exercises for runners are essential if you want to be a strong, healthy and less injury prone runner.

Many runners focus on running and running alone when they first start running.

However, running alone will only get you so far when improving your strength, power, speed and endurance.

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.

Whether you’re a beginner runner or a seasoned pro, this guide will provide some tips and advice on incorporating strength training exercises for runners into your routine.

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • What are strength training exercises for runners?
  • 9 key benefits of strength training exercises for runners
  • What are the best strength training exercises for runners?
  • How often should runners strength train?
  • Strength training exercises for runners Q&A
  • How to progress strength exercises for runners
  • 30 of the best strength training exercises for runners

Ready?

Let’s get to it!

strength training exercises for runners

What are strength training exercises for runners?

Strength training exercises are essentially any type of exercise that specialise 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 bodyweight or free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells or medicine balls.

9 key benefits of strength training exercises for runners

Running is so much more than just running!

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

Here are 9 key benefits of strength training exercises for runners:

  1. Help you build stronger muscles, joints and connective tissues
  2. Improve your speed and power
  3. Improve athletic performance
  4. Lower your risk of injury
  5. Improve your running form
  6. Improve your running economy and efficiency
  7. Improve your overall health
  8. Boost your metabolism
  9. Improve your running confidence

One of the biggest reasons to include strength training exercises in your training routine is that they help to dramatically reduce the risk of injury.

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.

Related: Strength workouts for runners: 6 of the best routines

What are the best strength training exercises for runners?

The best strength exercises for runners are those that focus on:

  • Full body movements. Also known as ‘compound’ movements, these are movements that use your whole body, including your legs, core, upper body and arms.
  • Unilateral movements. These are movements that use a single leg or single arm, like in a forward lunge or step-ups. Running is considered a unilateral form of movement, meaning that your legs are moving independently of one another, supporting your body.
  • Core strength. These are movements that develop your core strength as a runner. Your core is important when running as it helps to keep a strong and stable position for longer.

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

Bodyweight exercises are great for beginners because you don’t need any equipment to do them – your body acts as the resistance/weight.

They can also be done virtually anywhere – at home, in the gym, or outdoors.

strength training exercises for runners

How often should runners strength train?

Runners should do strength training exercises between 2 to 3 times per week. A typical strength workout will last between 20-30 minutes.

The general advice is to add a strength training workout in your training plan after an easy run.

It’s not advisable to add a strength workout after a hard session like speed training or hill sprints as you’re effectively stacking two hard sessions on top of one another.

Here’s what a sample running + strength workout training plan could look like:

  • Monday – Rest day
  • Tuesday – Easy run + 20-30 min strength training session
  • Wednesday – Rest day
  • Thursday – Interval training
  • Friday – Easy run + 20-30 min strength training session
  • Saturday – Rest day
  • Sunday – Long run

Related: The ultimate 30 day strength training plan for runners

Strength training exercises for runners Q&A

Q: Do I have to join a gym to strength train?

A: No. The strength training exercises in this guide can be done 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 well-rounded strength training for runners plan should involve both bodyweight exercises and weight training to get the full benefits of the plan.

Q: What gym equipment is best when strength training?

A: Free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells or medicine balls are great to use as part of a strength workout.

This is because these types of equipment are functional and can be used in quite a few exercises to add resistance.

For example, you can add dumbbells to a forward lunge to make it more challenging.

Remember also you can use your own bodyweight as resistance. This is a beginner-friendly way to start strength training.

Q: 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.

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.

Q: Is CrossFit recommended for runners?

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

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!

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.

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.

strength training exercises for runners

Q: Is weightlifting recommended for runners?

A: 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.

Related: Weightlifting for runners: A complete guide

How to progress strength training exercises for runners

When it comes to strength training exercises for runners, as described earlier it’s best to start with the basic bodyweight exercises then progress from there.

Once you’ve mastered bodyweight exercises, you can start to incorporate exercises that use free weights 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:

Progression: Number of reps

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

Progression: Amount of weight and reps

  • Week 1 – Weighted squat (8 reps with 4kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)
  • Week 2 – Weighted squat (10 reps with 6kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)
  • Week 3 – Weighted squat (12 reps with 8kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)
strength training exercises for runners

30 of the best strength training exercises for runners

Now you know about the benefits of strength training for runners, here are some of the best strength training exercises for runners.

  1. Squat
  2. Single-leg deadlift
  3. Burpee
  4. Hip bridge
  5. Forward lunge
  6. Reverse lunge
  7. Lateral lunge
  8. Deep forward lunge
  9. Inchworm
  10. Plank
  11. Side plank
  12. Plank sidewalk
  13. Step up plank
  14. Russian twist
  15. Bicycle crunch
  16. Dead bug
  17. Step ups
  18. Calf raises
  19. Side-lying leg lift
  20. Press up
  21. Fire hydrant
  22. V-sits
  23. Superman pull
  24. Single-leg glute bridge
  25. Kneel to stands
  26. Squat thrust
  27. Donkey kickbacks
  28. Tricep dips
  29. Clam shells
  30. Bird dog

More strength training tips for runners:

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