6 Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners

6 Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners

Woman Squatting
Running, like other skills, is best developed through constant repetition. The concept seems simple enough. The more you run, the better you get at running. However, if you want to get your running up to speed, you should include strength training in your program.

“What? Strength training will build muscle! The more muscle I have, the heavier I get and the harder it will be to run!”

If only building muscle was that simple!

One reason why people quit the gym is that it takes a long time to see results.

The people you see walking around with toned arms and legs got to be that way through unwavering dedication and commitment to a strength training program.

For runners, the purpose of a strength training program is not to build muscle but to strengthen muscle. Of course, you should expect to build some muscle but not to a point that it becomes detrimental to your running goals.

3 Benefits Of Strength Training For Runners

Many hard-core runners may find it counter-intuitive to do strengthtraining. After all, doesn’t muscle use up a lot of calories? Thus, if you build up muscle mass, won’t you run down your energy reserves faster?

As mentioned earlier, a strengthtraining program for runners is not designed to build muscle. Instead, it should be designed to offer 3 key benefits for runners:

1. Prevent Injury

Running is a high-impact activity. According to a study by Saucony, your foot is subjected to forces equivalent to 7 times your body weight every time you stride. So if you weigh 150 pounds, every stride exerts 1,050 pounds of force on your feet.

Those forces are distributed to your knees, hips, and lower back. Over time, you will feel the wear and tear on your body.

Strength training not only builds muscle. It also strengthens your bones, ligaments, and tendons which help absorb these shock forces and reduce the risk of injury.

2. Improve Running Speed

Woman Running FastSometimes the difference between first and second place is that final burst of speed at the home stretch. The runner who crosses the finish line first is the one who can generate power at the right time.

Like endurance, strength, and conditioning, power is another skill that runners have to develop.

Exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and cleans done explosively can help long-distance runners develop the all-important finishing kick that will propel them to breast the tape ahead of everyone else.

3. Improve Running Technique

Compound exercises are movements that utilize different muscle groups. Getting these muscle groups to execute the compound exercise in proper form requires neuromuscular coordination.

When you become proficient in performing compound exercises like the squat and the deadlift, you will be able to find ways to improve stride efficiency and economy.

6 Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners

To be clear, there are several strength-training exercises that you can do to improve running performance. For this article, we only selected 6 strength training exercises which we felt are indispensable in any running program.

These 6 strength training exercises have the highest carryover to performance because they activate all of the muscles needed for running.

Also, they recruit the largest muscles in the body, require top-level coordination and therefore, develop strength, coordination, and power faster than other exercises.

A. Lower Body

Strengthening the lower body – thighs, hamstrings, gluteus muscles, and calves – is very important because these muscles bear the initial brunt of impact whenever you stride.

1. Squat

The “Grand-daddy” of lower body exercises, the Squat is known for strengthening your legs. It hits your quads or thigh muscles, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Squats also activate your core section – the abdominal muscles which support your lower back and hips.

2. Deadlift

Woman DeadliftingThe Deadlift is more than just a lower body exercise. Done correctly, the Deadlift builds every muscle in your body – from your calves to your neck.

Many consider the Deadlift as the “Ultimate Strength Exercise” because you are pulling dead weight from the floor. Likewise, it is as basic and functional as getting up off a chair.

3. Lunges

Lunges are great for addressing strength imbalances. This popular exercise can strengthen your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

The balance and coordination needed to perform lunges correctly will teach you how to stabilize and strengthen your core section.

B. Upper Body

Runners should also strengthen their upper body to avoid creating imbalances with the lower body. An imbalance in upper and lower body strength can place more pressure on the hips where the psoas muscle is located.

The psoas is the only muscle that connects the upper and lower body.

1. Power Clean

The Power Clean is a dynamic exercise that helps the runner develop power, coordination, mobility, and athleticism.

It recruits the muscles in your lower body which you have to coordinate with the muscles in your back, hips, core muscles, and shoulders to perform the movement correctly.

2. Overhead Press

The Overhead Press is known as a shoulder exercise but done correctly it also builds strength in your upper back, chest, and improves overall core stability.

This exercise is best performed standing to effectively activate the core muscles. You can do Overhead Presses with a barbell, a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells.

3. Dips

Dips are a standard exercise in the military’s fitness program for a reason: it is effective in building strength in the upper body.

Dips hit your chest, front shoulders, triceps, and requires great core stability to keep your body in the right position throughout the exercise.

You can start with your bodyweight dips but once you get stronger, don’t hesitate to add resistance with the help of a dipping belt.

Putting It All Together: How To Combine Running And StrengthTraining

Incorporating strengthtraining into a running program is easy. The rule on the frequency of strengthtraining is fairly straightforward:

Runners should perform strengthtraining exercises 3 times- a- week in the offseason and 2 times- a- week during the running season.

You also should not perform all of the 6 exercises in one session. Otherwise, you might get overly-fatigued for your running program.

You may also want to add a few bodyweight core-specific exercises to your program. These core-specific exercises will be the topic of another article. For now, we will focus on the 6 best strength training exercises that include variable resistance.

The best approach is to break the 6 exercises into 2 groups:

Group 1:

  • Squat – 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Power Clean – 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Dips – 2 sets of AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible)

Group 2:

  • Deadlift – 3 sets of 5 reps
  • Lunges – 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Overhead Press – 2 sets of 10 reps

By grouping the 6 exercises this way, you can be assured that you still get a total body workout.

If you noticed, you will perform low reps with the Squat, Deadlift, and the Power Clean. There are 3 reasons for this:

  1. The Squat, Deadlift, and the Power Clean recruit the highest number of muscle fibers. Doing too many reps will result in the smaller muscles reaching fatigue faster than the larger muscles.

If these smaller muscles get tired, your form and technique will be affected and expose you to a greater risk of injury.

  1. The Power Clean is a power exercise which means it requires you to apply the greatest amount of force to move the weight as fast as possible.

You cannot sustain the amount of force to move the weight explosively if your muscles get tired right away.

  1. The purpose is to build strength, not muscle. Studies show that rep ranges of 3 to 5 reps are the best for building strength and power.

How much weight should you lift?

Follow these 2 simple rules to determine how much weight you should put on the bar:

  • Use a weight that allows you to execute the exercise in perfect form.
  • “Leave 2 reps in the tank” – For example, if you have to do 5 reps, choose a weight where you can still do 2 more reps if needed.

Now, let’s incorporate the strength-training program into your running program. We will present one strength training schedule each for your off-season running program and on-season running program.

A. Runner’s Off-Season StrengthTraining Schedule:


The following week, you should lead off your strengthtraining with Group 2 exercises on Tuesday:


B. Runner’s On-Season StrengthTraining Schedule:

RunningGroup1RunningGroup2Light Run or RestRunningRest

You can change up the running schedule to your convenience. It is important to have the 2 groups separated by at least 1 day to avoid fatigue.


For you to become the best runner that you can be, you must include strength training in your running program.

The benefits of strength training cannot be ignored. It will make you resistant to running-related injuries and improve the motor skills needed to sharpen your running technique.

And let’s not forget to take moments to thoroughly unwind on occasion with your favorite bottle of wine.  Wine is rich in healthy antioxidants that can fight off free radical damage which occurs during high intensity or long-duration exercises.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with your community. Also, check out our selection of fine California wines (www.wine4runners.com). You may want to gift a friend – or yourself – after a tremendous race event!

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