Strength Training for Runners | Complete Guide, Benefits, and Mistakes

Although strength training is omitted from the workout routines of most runners or viewed as sporadic cross-training to be done on non-running days, it is the cornerstone of excellent endurance training.

If you add a strength routine to your training season, you are likely to see an improvement in your running. Let’s break it down how you can benefit from strength training for runners:

Lay the Groundwork

Focus on lifting, not increasing the heart rate. Many people turn their strength training for marathon runners session into a metabolic exercise by including far too much cardio. But the runners already get enough of cardio. Instead, they should concentrate on gaining power and strength. It is better to concentrate on comparatively heavy weights for a reasonable number of repetitions, with maximum recovery.

Concentrate on working your whole body; you’ll get the most out of your strength training for distance runners workouts if you focus more on compound exercises – those involving multiple joints and muscle groups, like squats, lunges, deadlifts or rows. The aim is to get used to managing your weight across multiple planes and increasing the strength and body awareness for improved agility, coordination, and pace.

Don’t overlook the fact that your own body is used as a weight. Bridges and planks are ideal exercises. So, if using a barbell or a dumbbell is a major stretch for you, skipping your weights and adding body-weight exercises will still develop strength as you achieve the right form.

How Heavy Is Heavy Enough for Runners?

One significant aspect to consider is not allowing weight lifting to apply too much stress on your body that you end up getting injured. Runners want to experience the burn – that is why it’s common for them to run too fast or for way too long. But that also ensures that they can do much better in the weights room.

Before you start adding resistance to your workout routine, make sure you master the ideal form of your own body weight. If you’re just starting to work out in your gym’s weights room, or you are working on strength training for runners at home, concentrate on these four pointers to guide you on how to choose the amount of weight to add:

  • Start with a weight that you feel is going to be too easy.
  • Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Note how you feel and gradually add more weight to it.
  • If the last few repetitions of the third set are quite tough, start with that weight.

You can raise your weights every 2 weeks, like the way you raise your running miles in a running exercise routine. You can do fewer reps and more sets by the second or third month, for heavier weights.

Relax for 2-3 minutes after each set to recover completely. Smaller rest periods that hold your heart rate up can impact your ability to lift those heavyweights.

Getting Started

Not sure where to start? The types of workouts that are perfect for runners are:

  • Core supporting exercises: crunches, planks bridges, V-sits, and back extension.
  • Upper body exercises: tricep overhead extension, push-up, tricep dip, and overhead shoulder press. 
  • Lower body exercises: squats, lunges, donkey kicks, and wall squats.

Choose several basic exercises to get started. Then complete your training program regularly to minimise your risk of injury and reap the benefits of a better running experience. Plus, these are great for strength training for runners at home. 

A Good Workout Routine for Runners to Follow

Use this full-body workout to enhance your running skills and decrease your risk of injury. This is the best strength training for runners workout because it targets the arms, core and the legs. Start this workout by exercising using only your body weight, and then advance to free weights as you feel your form improving and your body getting stronger and better.

Before you start, remember to take some rest for 90 seconds between each set and relax for 2 minutes before you progress to the succeeding exercise. When you follow this routine, focus on mastering your form, rather than performing the exercises as fast as you can. Ask a friend or use a mirror to verify if you’re performing the exercises correctly.

Exercise No. 1: Press-Ups

  • Lay down on the ground with your hands on the sides of your chest. Your toes must be tucked under.
  • Press down into your palms, and raise your body off the ground. Hold your body straight and do not bend the neck.
  • Once your arms are almost completely extended (do not lock the elbows), lower yourself down, almost to the ground, and repeat.
  • Perform 10 reps and 2 sets.

Benefits: Press-ups strengthen the chest, arms, and shoulders to improve arm drive and posture while running.

Exercise No. 2: Dumbbell Row

  • Position your left knee and your hand on the workout bench. Keep your upper body horizontal.
  • Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, and keep your arm extended to the ground.
  • Bring the weight up to your body, keep your elbow near your waist, and then lower it back to the starting point.
  • Perform 2 sets of 12 repetitions on each side.

Benefits: This exercise balances out chest strength by strengthening the upper back.

Exercise No. 3: Tricep Dips

  • Sit down on the edge of a bench with the heels of your hands and make sure that your fingertips are over the edge. 
  • Using your arms, take your weight off your body and lower yourself by bending at your elbows. Push yourself back with your arms and repeat.
  • Try to prevent using your legs to lift yourself up.
  • Perform 12 reps and 2 sets

Benefits: Helps to strengthen your shoulders and arms to maintain an upright running form.

Exercise No. 4: Step-Ups

  • Stand in front of a box or a bench sturdy enough to hang on to your weight
  • Put one foot on the bench or the box and lift your back leg to move up, holding your body tall and your knee above your ankle on your back (supporting) leg. Think of bringing your hips forward and up, instead of pulling your knees forward.
  • Lift your trail leg up to a high knee level without hitting the bench. Then lower it back to the ground.
  • You can hold dumbbells in your hands to maximise the difficulty.
  • Perform 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Benefits: Step-ups work all major muscle groups of your legs, consequently, improving running power.

Exercise No. 5: Squats

  • Stand with your legs a little wider than hip-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outwards.
  • Lower yourself to the ground, bending at your knees and hips, as if you are sitting on a chair.
  • Keep your knees above your ankles and also keep your chest up. Focus on your hips moving back.
  • Lower yourself down close to the sitting position, then push yourself up with your heels and go back to standing position.
  • To add a challenge, hold a kettlebell at the height of your chest when squatting.
  • Perform 15 reps and 2 sets.

Benefits: Strengthens the main muscle groups used to reduce the risk of injury. It also increases versatility for a quicker, more efficient running experience.

For a detailed guide on squats, read: How To Squat Properly? Squat Tips And Benefits.

Exercise No. 6: Walking Lunges

  • Stand with your feet apart at shoulder-width. 
  • Take a wide step forward with one leg and drop your body down and lower your knee to the ground, making sure it does not get in touch. 
  • Hold your front knee above your ankle and keep your body straight. 
  • Push your back leg off and step your front leg up to meet your back leg. 
  • Repeat this while alternating the lead leg. 
  • To make this exercise more difficult, you can hold dumbbells in your hands by your sides.
  • Perform 2 sets of 8 reps on each side.

Benefits: Helps improve single-leg balance to boost stability and coordination while you’re running. It also improves your stride length, allowing you to run faster.

Exercise No. 7: Single-Leg Deadlift

  • Stand tall with a kettlebell or a dumbbell in your right hand.
  • Lift your left foot off the ground and place your left leg behind you. Bend over at the hip, holding your back straight, with your right arm stretched out to the ground.
  • Keep your right knee slightly bent and keep your hips level.
  • Continue to bring your weight almost to the ground and your back as nearly to the horizontal as you can, before moving back to the starting position and repeating this on the other side.
  • Perform 2 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Benefits: Helps strengthen hamstrings and glutes to improve running strength, while also increasing stability to reduce the risk of injury.

Exercise No. 8: Superman/Back Extension

  • Lay on the ground with your face down and your hands by your ears. Keep your palms facing down.
  • Raise your shoulders and chest off the ground and squeeze or tighten your shoulder blades together. Keep looking at the ground to prevent stretching your neck.
  • Lower to the starting point and repeat.
  • Perform 10 reps and 2 sets.

Benefits: Strengthens the middle and upper back for a more comfortable, upright, and stable running posture and better running performance.

Exercise No. 9: Glute Bridge

  • Lay on the ground on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your arms on your sides. 
  • Lift your hips to the sky to create a straight line between your hips, shoulders, and knees.
  • Keep the shoulders on the ground to protect the spine.
  • Stay in the position for 2 seconds before slowly dropping back down and repeating it.
  • Hold your arms outstretched above you to add a challenge.
  • Perform 15 reps and 2 sets.

Benefits: This exercise targets glutes for better activation when you have to run. This will allow you to keep your pelvis levelled and torso, pelvis, and legs balanced while you’re running, thus, improving your stability and running performance.

Exercise No. 10: Leg Raises

  • Lay down on your back and place your arms on your sides.
  • Put your feet together and lift them as close to the vertical as you can while feeling comfortable.
  • Slowly lower them back to an inch above the ground and repeat.
  • To make things easier, exercise with one leg at a time.
  • Perform 10 reps; 2 sets.

Benefits: Helps to strengthen the hip flexors that are responsible for your knee lifts when you’re running. Leg raises also target the lower abdominals for a more balanced torso.

Why Strength Training Is Important for Runners?

If you’re trying to get quicker, stronger, or lose some weight, strength training will help you achieve your goals especially if you are a professional runner. Here is why strength training for runners is important: 

Better Running Efficiency

Strength training will help you if you’ve ever had your form fall apart when you get tired at the end of a very long run or race. Strengthening your core will help you enhance and sustain your running style, resulting in greater efficiency in running.

For those preparing for a big tournament, such as a half or full marathon, this is particularly important because minor efficiency changes can make a big difference over all of those long miles. 

Reduced Risk of Injury

Many running injuries are a consequence of muscle imbalances or weaknesses, especially knee and hip-related problems. When it comes to minimising the risk of injury, lower body and core exercises are extremely crucial. Stronger muscles in the core and legs ensure that you can retain your proper running form for longer, so you can decrease the risk of lower back pain or other complications associated with a poor running form or posture.

Not getting injured also ensures that you can remain motivated to keep running and be more likely to develop a daily running habit and continue to improve as a runner, beyond the advantage of avoiding pain.

Better Endurance and Decreased Fatigue

Strength training enables the body to deal with the pressure of running more efficiently. Before becoming fatigued, your muscles will be capable of working longer, which will help you retain your proper running form for longer. Improving your power during the last stages of a long-distance run will help you fight to hit the wall or cramping up.

“Doing circuit strength training right after running workouts can significantly improve both VO2max and 4 km.” American Physiological Society Journal

Helps With Weight Loss

Strength training for runners improves metabolism by adding more lean muscle mass, which ensures that a runner burns more calories both during workouts and when at rest. Many runners notice that adding strength-training to their training schedule strengthens their weight-loss efforts and enables them to smash through a weight-loss plateau.

Faster Pace

Strength training improves your endurance and form which also translates to a quicker overall speed. Runners can see positive changes in their running times soon after they incorporate strength training in their training regimens. You don’t have to waste hours doing strengthening workouts. Plus, only two or three strength-training sessions of 15-20 minutes per week can develop more lean muscle mass than other sessions.

Also Read: Top 12 Benefits of Strength Training That Boost the Health

When to Do Strength Training for Runners?

There really is no right or wrong way to incorporate strength training into your routine, just bear in mind that consistency is of extreme importance. Choose a regimen that you can complete daily to optimise the benefits of strength training.

According to research weight training 2-3 times, every week for 8 to 12 weeks can show optimum results for runners.

Another strategy is to strength train, either right after or later on the same days as a rigorous running workout. This approach will enable you to take the next day off to heal completely. It is, however, not suggested for after a long run. Although, doing strength training when you are exhausted after a tough workout (interns, hills, tempo) seems rather counterintuitive, doing strength training on your day of rest does not give you enough time to rest and recover, as well.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

A very common mistake that runners often make is doing too much too fast when incorporating strength training into their schedules. Many runners have a competitive mentality that can make them take on more weight or do advanced workouts with catastrophic results.

Bear in mind, that being a better runner is the purpose of your program. Becoming competitive in the weight room can result in days away from running because of injury and fatigue.

Irregular training is another mistake that runners make. It won’t have any effect on your running if you stick to a substantial strength training for runners program but only follow the program once every few weeks. Moreover, it could also put you at risk of injury.

Consider starting at a small level and building up slowly instead. Complete your exercises consistently and if time allows, add more exercises.


You can reap the benefits of strength training, whether you’re new to running, or you’ve been a runner for years. Some runners are reluctant to take part in strength training because they feel that it would make them heavier and slower. But strength-training, instead, will make your running program more successful and more fun.

So, if you haven’t already started strength training for runners, then what are you waiting for? Join your nearest gym and enhance your running efficiency. 

For more about strength training exercises read: How to Get Tougher With 9 Effective Strength Training Exercises

Also read our Strength Training 101 Ultimate Guide

Images source: Shutterstock