September 27, 2020

Strength Training For Runners


Strength training has benefits for runners of all levels, but knowing what to do, how much to do and when to do it can get complicated. There is a ton of information out there, and that is why we like athletes to keep it simple. Why? Because when it comes to strength training, a little goes a long way. In an ideal world, you would coordinate with a strength coach or PT on a program that is tailored to your goals, abilities, weaknesses and imbalances, because strength training is as much about injury prevention as it is about getting stronger so you can run faster. Since we don’t all have access to those resources, here’s what to consider about strength training and running to get you started at home.

The best strength training is a routine that you’re pscyhed to complete consistently, not an epic routine that leaves you tired or dreading your next workout.


A well-rounded strength program focused on the demands of your running goals (whether it’s speed-specific strength or mountain focused) could reduce your injury risks, especially if the focus is on core or hip strength as well as balance. Strength can be particularly helpful for runners training for longer ultras and can stave off physical breakdown. 

Strength training can also release natural hormones that improve training performance. Your body releases the good stuff with intense exercises that involve multiple muscle groups. We like athletes over age 50 to incorporate strength training into their program because it can help mitigate natural muscle loss as you age. Since older athletes typically run lower volume than younger athletes, strength training can help with lost hormone production from reduced volume and fit nicely into an overall training plan. Strength training also increases your basal metabolic rate, which can help improve body composition in some athletes. 


There are some drawbacks to consider when it comes to strength training, and tradeoffs to weigh. Focus on strength training diminishes your specialization. Since running is pretty much the same motion over and over again, to optimize performance, you don’t necessarily need to practice other movements. Strength training will be most beneficial when it supports those repetitive motions so that they become more efficient. Fatigue incurred from less specific strength training can reduce your output levels in running workouts and inhibit overall recovery.


We’ve all gotten really excited about a new strength routine at one time or another and then had to run on incredibly sore legs. Running on sore or tired legs reduces your running economy, and doesn’t make for useful or pleasant training. Getting #Swole on the bench press is not going to have many positive adaptations for your running career, and can take valuable time away from training or, I dunno, watching Parks And Rec. 


The best way to get good at running is to run. A lot. For many athletes, the biggest limit on their training is time. Given the choice between an extra 30-40 minutes of running or strength in a week, most athletes would benefit from more running (with the caveat being athletes over 50 or athletes with certain injury histories). 


The gist is, you probably don’t need to be throwing around dumbbells, sandbags and kettlebells (unless you are working in some OCR-specific training) to get better at running. Unless you’re following a program designed for runners that focuses on mobility and functional strength for running designed by an expert strength coach or PT, and have time to spare in your training week, you don’t need to be lifting heavy weights.

But, that’s not to say you shouldn’t strength train at all. Athletes that have the most success with strength over time tend to consistently commit to a simple program they can perform about three times a week while in race season and more frequently during lower volume phases of training, like in winter. 

Athletes that have the most success with strength over time tend to consistently commit to a simple program


  1. The Simpler the better. 10-15 minutes 3-5X a week beats a complicated, 1 hour routine you aren’t psyched to do consistently. 

  2. Concentrate Stress. Strength workouts will be most beneficial after big workouts, long runs and before you rest. For most athletes, this could be after their Wednesday Workout, Thursday Easy Run, Saturday Long Run, and Sunday Run. 

  3. Stay Fresh. You want your legs to be fresh going into your weekly workout and Saturday long run. Avoid heavy strength training before those key days.

  4. There is no secret. Some strength is good if it fits into your life, helps with biomechanics and is guided by an expert. Just because you see someone else doing a #sick gym routine doesn’t mean it will work for you. If someone is selling you the “only” way to achieve “success” by promoting a specific routine, they might be selling something. Consider reaching out to a strength coach or PT to guide you if you’re invested in strength training or having issues with persistent injury.



Start with 1 or 2 sets on day one, two sets on day two, and then two-three sets on day three and moving forward. You will be sore from doing these initially and the idea is to gradually increase the load without crushing yourself.

For all exercises, focus on good form and functional movement for running. That means try to stay tall, keep your core engaged. Don’t compress your core/lower back or spine. Don’t hinge at the waist. For monster walks and lunges, try to initiate your movement with a heel strike to activate the glutes. Lower reps/time if you find yourself compressing or collapsing because you are tired. Never go to fatigue.


30 sec – 1 min Front Plank, keep your back aligned with the floor, try to engage your lower core

30 sec – 1 min Side Plank

30 sec – 1 min Front Plank 

30 sec – 1 min Opposite Side Side Plank

30 sec – 1 min Front Plank with Mountain Climbers (knees to opposite side elbows)

rest 30 sec – 1 min

8-15 reps Bird Dogs

8-15 reps Bridges (work on engaging your core, make sure your back in completely flat against the floor)

rest 30 sec – 1 min

30 sec Forward Lunge alternating legs (watch knee alignment, make sure your knee is centered over your foot and not in front. Bonus points for squeezing and activating glutes on each movement. Initiate with a heel strike on the lunging leg.)

30 sec Reverse Lunge alternating legs

30 sec Split Squad

30 sec Monster Walk (focus on pressing your heels to the ground to activate your glutes)

30 sec Reverse Monster Walk

Rest 30 sec – 1 min

30 sec Calf Raises with Heel Activation (again make sure your core is engaged, good posture, back straight)

30 sec Hip Abduction

30 se opposite side Hip Abduction

30 sec Heel Drop + Hip Hike

30 sec opposite side Heel Drop + Hip Hike

30 sec Upward Knee Drive (no compressing or collapsing, can use wall to help stay up right) Bonus for squeezing and activating both the upward driving leg and balancing leg glutes on this one.

30 second opposite side Knee Drive

Total time: 10-12 min per circuit 

Take as much time in between exercises as necessary to complete with good form. If 30 sec is too long at first, reduce to 20 sec or down to 15 based on feedback. Let’s make sure to not go to fatigue on any exercises.

Bonus add ons:

Leg Lifts on Pull Up Bar 8-15 reps

Single Legged Deadlifts 8-15 reps unweighted (great for balance, glute strength and activation)