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Strength training workouts for runners: 6 of the best workout routines

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There’s no doubt that strength training workouts for runners should be an integral part of any training plan if you’re looking to become a stronger and faster runner.

For many runners when they first start out, it’s all too tempting to forget about any form of exercise that isn’t running.

Whilst this is fine to begin with, if you’re really serious about becoming stronger and faster, you need to be including ancillary work like strength training in your training plan.

But where do you start when it comes to strength training?

In this guide I’ll share some simple strength workouts for runners to help you get started in the world of strength training.

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • What is strength training?
  • What are the benefits of strength training workouts for runners?
  • How often should runners strength train?
  • What strength training exercises do runners need?
  • Strength training workouts for runners: 6 of the best workout routines
  • Tips on completing strength training workouts for runners

Ready?

Let’s get to it!

strength training workouts for runners

What is strength training?

If you’re new to strength training, you may be wondered what strength training actually is.

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.

Many runners think that by having a regular strength training routine they will become too bulky for running.

The truth is, you’d need to be doing A LOT of strength training with very little cardio to become too bulky to run.

What are the benefits of strength training workouts for runners?

Strength training workouts for runners have many benefits.

One of the biggest reasons to include strength training workouts for runners in your training routine is that they help 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.

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

Studies have even shown that strength training, when done regularly, helps to cure IT band syndrome and improves running economy.

Not to mention the positive effects on your overall performance on and off the running track, strength training is essential to help you to become a stronger and faster runner.

Here are the key benefits of strength training workouts for runners:

  • Help to build stronger muscles and joints
  • Help to build stronger tendons, ligaments and connective tissues
  • Improve running speed and power
  • Improve running form and economy
  • Lower the risk of injury
  • Provide variety in a training routine

Related: 6 simple strength exercises for runners

strength training workouts for runners

How often should runners strength train?

How often you strength train really depends on your goals and the distance you are training for.

Generally, runners should aim to strength train 2 to 3 times per week. Most runners find two strength training sessions per week is plenty.

In terms of fitting strength training into your week, there’s no perfect way to slot it in.

It’s generally best to do strength training after an easy run so you can keep your easy days easy.

It’s generally not recommended to do strength training after a hard session like a tempo run or Fartlek run.

Here’s what a sample training week may look like with strength training:

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

What type of strength training exercises do runners need?

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.

If you’re a beginner runner or new to strength training, then I suggest you focus on bodyweight exercises first.

Once you’ve mastered some basic bodyweight exercises, move onto strength exercises that use free weights, like dumbbells or kettlebells.

Should distance runners lift weights?

Yes! All runners – no matter their preferred distance – benefit from including strength training in their training plan.

If you’re a long distance runner then by including strength training in your routine, you will drastically reduce the risk of injury.

In fact, a 2016 study showed the positive effects of strength training on running economy in middle and long distance runners when performed 2 to 3 times per week for 8 to 12 weeks.

Related: 7 of the best glute strengthening exercises for runners

strength training workouts for runners

Strength training workouts for runners: 6 of the best workout routines

#1 The bodyweight workout

Bodyweight exercises can be used as an effective baseline for strength training from which you build and grow.

Many runners start with bodyweight exercises before graduating to exercises that include the use of free weights such as dumbbells.

Here is a bodyweight exercise workout routine for you to try from the comfort of your own home if you wish.

Alternatively, head outdoors and complete after a run. 

Complete 3 sets of 12-15 reps of each exercise, with 1 minute rest in between each set. 

  1. Air squat
  2. Backwards lunge
  3. Single-leg glute bridge
  4. Mountain climbers 
  5. Kneel to stands
  6. Plank (hold for 30-45 seconds)
  7. Russian twist
  8. V-sits
  9. Superman pull

Related: 9 of the best bodyweight exercises for runners

#2 The dumbbell workout

Dumbbells are my favourite piece of home gym equipment. They can be used in so many ways to spice up a workout.

Even better, they’re relatively inexpensive and can be found in most high street sports stores nowadays. 

I often use dumbbells in my training and here I’d like to share some of my favourite strength training workouts for runners involving dumbbells.

In terms of the weight of the dumbbells, this is completely up to you in terms of what you feel comfortable with and the type of exercise you are doing. 

If you’re new to weight training, then I suggest between 3-6kg for each dumbbell. If you’re used to working out with dumbbells, then anything between 4-12kg per dumbbell is good. 

Complete 3 sets of 8-10 reps of each exercise, with 1-2 minute rest in between each set. You may also want to take a 30 second break in between each round of exercises.

  1. Squat to overhead press
  2. Single-leg deadlift 
  3. Goblet squat
  4. Side squats
  5. Bent over row
  6. Weighted forward lunge (not shown in video)

Related: 5 of the best home gym equipment for runners

#3 The medicine ball workout

Similar to dumbbells, medicine balls are a great way to add more resistance into a workout.

They can be used in a number of ways to improve coordination, core strength and flexibility. 

In terms of weight I suggest you opt for a ball that is between 2-5kg in weight.

How you use a medicine ball will differ from how you use dumbbells, so don’t be tempted to use like for like weights. 

Complete 3 sets of 10-12 reps of each exercise, with 1 minute rest in between each set. 

  1. Overhead slams
  2. Overhead forward lunge
  3. Russian twists
  4. Jump and pick up
  5. V-ups
strength training workouts for runners

#4 The power plyometric workout

Plyometric exercises are great to build explosive power and speed. As such they are probably most intense set of strength training workouts for runners.

They can also be physically draining, so it’s best to avoid doing these on the same day as a long run. 

These types of exercises are so beneficial for runners because they help to build fast-twitch muscle fibres in your body and help extend your lactate threshold. 

As runners, we often rely too much on our slow twitch muscle fibres to help us on those long runs.

We often don’t challenge our lactate threshold unless you regularly do activities like sprinting, jumping and hill running.

Plyometric exercises can benefit any runner looking to become stronger, faster and more agile. They are also great to torch calories and help with weight loss.

  1. Jump squats
  2. Power skips
  3. Jump lunges
  4. Box jumps (use a bench if outdoors)
  5. Skater jumps
  6. Frog jumps (also known as long jumps)

#5 The resistance band workout

I love resistance band workouts as they’re so versatile and can be used in a number of different ways. When used for strength training, they offer a low impact alternative to weight training.

Resistance bands are also great if you’re in rehab or returning to running following an injury.

Complete 3 sets of 10-12 reps of each resistance band exercise, with 1 minute rest in between each set.

  1. Side-lying leg lift
  2. Side steps
  3. Clams
  4. Banded donkey kickbacks
  5. Banded standing glute kickbacks
  6. Hip flexor marches
  7. Standing hip abduction and adduction

Related: 7 resistance band exercises for runners

#6 The HIIT workout

If you’re new to HIIT, it stands for high intensity interval training and it does what it says on the tin!

It is essentially high intensity workouts or exercises performed within rapid succession of one another with little or no rest in between each exercise until you’re too exhausted to continue.

HIIT can use a mixture of bodyweight exercises, weighted exercises and plyometric exercises.

It all depends on the type of exercise you’re doing, your comfort levels and the aim of the session – there are low impact variations of HIIT sessions too.

Complete the following exercises using the 2:1 ratio with 60 seconds work and 30 seconds rest in between each exercise.

This is a real killer so be sure to have your water bottle ready!

  1. Jump squats
  2. Mountain climbers
  3. Jump lunges
  4. Squat thrusts
  5. Jumping jacks
  6. Bicycle crunch
  7. Plank

Related: HIIT workouts for runners

Tips on completing strength training workouts for runners:

#1 Warm up

Remember to warm up before each strength workout as a strength training session can be pretty demanding, especially if you’re performing a plyometric or HIIT workout.

Make sure you include some dynamic stretches in your warm up to get your body ready ready for the workout.

Dynamic stretches help to warm up your muscles by improving circulation to your muscles.

#2 Watch your form

When performing any type of strength exercise, it’s important you maintain good form and posture so to avoid any injuries.

If you’re in doubt, I recommend you see a personal trainer who will be able to demonstrate how each exercise should be performed.

#3 Fuel and recover

It’s important you fuel your workouts, especially if you are doing them alongside running.

Make sure you’re getting enough of your carbohydrate intake before a workout, and prioritising protein after a workout to help with muscle repair.

Your meals should be high in carbs, moderate in protein and low in fat.

More strength training tips for runners

Additional resources

  • Whitney Heins over at The Mother Runners has some great tips on including cross training exercises into your training plan.

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Spencer

Sunday 25th of July 2021

Hi just seeing this in my news feed. It's exactly what I needed with regards to strength training and taking my running to the next level. Excited to start utilizing them!