Best Strength Training For Runners: The Complete Guide

Did you know that the secret to running faster and longer isn’t just about clocking more miles? It’s about getting stronger. Strength training for runners is the game-changer many overlook. By focusing on the best strength training for runners, you can enhance your running efficiency, power, and speed, leading to better race times and a reduced risk of injury.

While pounding the pavement or hitting the trails builds endurance and cardiovascular health, it’s strength training that provides the foundation for improved performance. But how exactly does strength training make such a big difference for runners? Let’s dive deeper.

Table of contents

1. Why Strength Training is a Must for Every Runner keyboard_arrow_down
2. The Foundation of Superior Running Performance keyboard_arrow_down
3. The Key Components of Effective Strength Training for Runners keyboard_arrow_down
4. Importance of Combining Strength Training with Your Running Routine keyboard_arrow_down
5. The Science Behind the Strength According to Experts keyboard_arrow_down
6. How to Incorporate Strength Training to Your Running Routine? keyboard_arrow_down
7. The Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners keyboard_arrow_down
8. Debunking Myths: The Truth About Strength and Speed keyboard_arrow_down
9. The Bottom Line: Strength Training Transforms Runners keyboard_arrow_down
10. Key Points keyboard_arrow_down
11. FAQs keyboard_arrow_down

MORE keyboard_double_arrow_down LESS keyboard_double_arrow_up

Why Strength Training is a Must for Every Runner

Strength training isn’t just an add-on to your running routine; it’s a necessity. Incorporating the best strength training for runners can transform your performance, enhancing not just your speed, but also your injury prevention capabilities. 

This comprehensive approach ensures that every step you take is powered by a stronger, more resilient body. The benefits of strength training extend from the tips of your toes to the top of your head, ensuring every muscle group works in harmony to propel you forward. 

For example, take a look at this Instagram post by Joshua Patterson, a runner who has experience running 76 marathons. He states the importance of strength training for running and how it has made significant changes in his life as a runner as well:

The Foundation of Superior Running Performance

Long ago, runners believed that strength training was unnecessary, fearing it would add unwanted bulk. However, today’s elite athletes dispel this myth, proving that strength training for marathon runners and sprinters alike is essential for top performance. 

But what makes strength training so vital? It boils down to the basics: improved muscular strength and endurance. These elements are crucial for maintaining form, speed, and efficiency over long distances or during the final sprint of a race.

The Role of Muscular Strength in Running

Muscular strength is more than just the ability to lift heavy weights; it’s about enhancing the force you can apply to the ground with each step. This force propels you forward, directly influencing your speed and agility. 

Here’s why muscular strength is non-negotiable for runners:

  • Form Maintenance: Strong muscles help you maintain optimal running form, even when fatigue sets in during the latter stages of a race. This can make a significant difference in your performance and recovery.
  • Injury Prevention: Enhanced strength, particularly in the lower body and core, reduces the risk of common running injuries by improving stability and reducing the impact on joints.
  • Endurance: Stronger muscles are more efficient muscles. They require less energy to perform the same amount of work, allowing you to conserve energy for longer races. While strength is critical, endurance allows you to maintain a high level of performance throughout your run. 

It’s the stamina that carries you through training sessions and races, from start to finish. Strength training contributes to endurance by building muscle fibers that are resistant to fatigue. This means you can sustain a strong pace for longer, a key to beating personal bests and finishing strong.

The Key Components of Effective Strength Training for Runners

When I talk about strength training for runners, I’m not suggesting you become a bodybuilder or spend hours in the gym every day. Instead, I’m focusing on targeted exercises that offer the most benefits for running. 

These include:

  • Compound Exercises: Movements like squats, deadlifts, and lunges work multiple muscle groups at once, mirroring the complex, full-body nature of running.
  • Core Strength: A strong core is crucial for maintaining proper running form, especially when you’re tired. Exercises like planks and Russian twists can make a big difference.
  • Balance and Stability: Running is essentially a series of controlled falls. Improving your balance and stability through exercises like single-leg deadlifts can help you run more efficiently.

But here’s the real question: If strength training is so beneficial, why do so many runners neglect it? The answer often comes down to time and priorities. With busy schedules, it can be hard to fit in runs, let alone additional workouts. However, even a small investment in strength training can yield significant returns.

Making Strength Training Work for You

The good news is that you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to see improvements. Here are a few tips to make strength training work for your running routine:

  • Start Small: Even two 20-minute sessions a week can make a big difference.
  • Focus on Quality: It’s better to do a few exercises well than to rush through a long list of movements.
  • Incorporate It Into Your Schedule: Try doing strength workouts on your rest days from running or after a light run.

So, what happens when you start adding strength training to your running routine? The results might surprise you. Not only can you see improvements in your running performance, but you might also find yourself enjoying runs more, feeling stronger and more capable on your feet.

Importance of Combining Strength Training with Your Running Routine

Imagine running not just with powerful legs but with an overall stronger physique. This is where the best strength training workouts for runners come into play, focusing on compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups, enhancing your power and efficiency with every stride. 

By incorporating exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges, you target the core, glutes, quads, and hamstrings – all vital for a powerful running performance. 

The Power of Compound Movements

Compound movements are the cornerstone of an effective strength training program for runners. Here’s why they’re so beneficial:

  • Full-Body Engagement: These exercises simulate the integrated, full-body nature of running, ensuring that every muscle group is strengthened in a functional, balanced manner.
  • Efficiency: With compound exercises, you get more “bang for your buck.” You can work multiple muscle groups with fewer exercises, making your workouts more time-efficient.
  • Functional Strength: The strength gained from these movements directly translates to improved running performance. You’re not just building muscle; you’re enhancing your ability to move more powerfully and efficiently.

The key to effective strength training for runners lies in tailoring workouts to the specific demands of running. This means focusing on exercises that replicate running movements, improve running posture, and enhance running economy. 

For instance, single-leg exercises mimic the unilateral nature of running, helping to correct imbalances and improve stability.

Additionally, incorporating plyometric exercises can improve explosive power, directly translating to faster start times and quicker sprints. By combining these elements into a comprehensive strength training program, you ensure that every workout contributes to your overall running performance.

The Science Behind the Strength According to Experts

Leading coaches and athletes agree: strength training for beginner runners and seasoned marathoners alike offers remarkable benefits. From improving neuromuscular coordination to boosting stride efficiency, the advantages are clear. But how do you incorporate it effectively? 

Start with two to three sessions per week, focusing on low-repetition, high-intensity workouts. This method ensures you’re building strength without adding unnecessary bulk, keeping you light on your feet yet powerful with each step.

The Impact of Neuromuscular Coordination

Neuromuscular coordination is the harmonious connection between your brain and muscles, enabling movements to be more efficient and controlled. For runners, this means:

  • Improved Technique: Enhanced coordination helps maintain proper form, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Increased Power: Better communication between your brain and muscles leads to stronger, more powerful strides.
  • Faster Recovery: Efficient movements mean less energy wasted, speeding up recovery times between runs.

Stride Efficiency: The Key to Speed

Stride efficiency is how effectively you use your energy to propel yourself forward. Strength training enhances this by:

  • Optimizing Movement Patterns: Stronger muscles contribute to a more effective running form, allowing for smoother transitions and less ground contact time.
  • Reducing Fatigue: As your muscles become stronger, they can perform the same amount of work with less effort, delaying the onset of fatigue.

How to Incorporate Strength Training to Your Running Routine?

Begin with foundational exercises like planks and bridges to strengthen your core, then progress to leg and upper body workouts. Each session should include exercises that mimic the running motion, such as lunges and single-leg deadlifts, to improve your balance and coordination. 

Remember, consistency is key; make strength training a regular part of your routine for the best results.

Start with the Basics

  • Core Strength: The cornerstone of a runner’s strength, vital for stabilizing your midsection, and improving posture and efficiency.
  • Leg Strength: Essential for power and propulsion, with exercises like squats and lunges mimicking the running motion.

Progressing Safely

Slowly add weight or intensity to avoid injury, allowing your body to adapt to the new demands. Make sure to incorporate exercises that challenge these areas to mimic and improve the unilateral nature of running.

Be Consistent

The true secret to success with strength training for runners lies in consistency. Integrating regular strength sessions into your training schedule brings cumulative benefits, including:

  • Continuous Improvement: Over time, even small, consistent efforts can lead to significant gains in strength and performance.
  • Injury Prevention: Regular strength training fortifies your body against the common injuries runners face.

By following this blueprint, runners can create a balanced, effective strength training routine that supports and enhances their running performance. 

The Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners

If you decide to incorporate strength training into your running routine, here is a list of some of the best strength training workouts for runners you can try:

  1. Press-ups
  2. Dumbbell row
  3. Tricep dips
  4. Step-ups
  5. Squats
  6. Walking lunges
  7. Single-leg deadlift
  8. Superman/back extension
  9. Glute bridge
  10. Leg raises

Debunking Myths: The Truth About Strength and Speed

Worried that strength training will slow you down? Let’s bust this myth and dive into how strength training can actually make you a faster, more resilient runner. 

The truth is, building muscle through targeted exercises leads to more efficient force production with each stride, allowing you to run faster and with less effort. Moreover, a stronger body can handle the demands of high mileage and intense workouts, reducing the risk of injury and downtime.

The Efficiency of Force Production

  • Force Production: Strength training improves your ability to generate force against the ground. This means each step propels you forward more powerfully.
  • Energy Efficiency: With stronger muscles, your body uses energy more efficiently, reducing fatigue during long runs.
  • Muscle Imbalances: Strength training addresses muscle imbalances that can lead to injuries, ensuring both sides of your body are equally strong.
  • Connective Tissue Strength: Exercises strengthen not just muscles but also tendons and ligaments, providing better support for your joints.

The Bottom Line: Strength Training Transforms Runners

In conclusion, integrating strength training into your running schedule is non-negotiable for those aiming for peak performance. Remember, it’s not just about running more; it’s about running smarter. 

Also, starting strength training as a runner might feel daunting at first. However, the benefits far outweigh the initial learning curve. As you become stronger, you’ll notice improvements not just in your running but in your overall health and well-being. 

This transformative process is a journey, and every step, lift, and lunge forward brings you closer to realizing your full potential as a runner.

The journey to becoming a stronger runner starts with the decision to integrate strength training into your routine. Are you ready to take that step and see where your newfound strength can take you? So, lace up your sneakers and grab those weights – your best running performance awaits.

Key Points

  • Strength training is crucial for runners, enhancing speed, efficiency, and injury prevention.
  • Incorporating strength training 2-3 times a week improves neuromuscular coordination and stride efficiency.
  • Targeted exercises like single-leg work and compound movements such as squats and deadlifts are essential.
  • A low-volume, high-intensity approach to lifting heavy weights is recommended for runners to avoid unnecessary bulk and fatigue.
  • Key exercises for runners include split squats, single and double-leg squats, Romanian deadlifts, step-ups, and step-downs.
  • Daily stretching and the use of foam rollers are vital for injury prevention and improving workout quality.
  • The quadriceps and gastrocnemius muscles are among the most utilized muscles in running, with running also engaging hamstrings, glutes, and core for stability.
  • Building a strength training routine into running can unlock new levels of performance, making runners faster, more resilient, and less prone to injuries.


How many times a week should a runner strength train?
Runners should aim to include strength training in their routine two to three times a week. This schedule allows for a balanced approach, combining specific exercises that mimic running movements, such as single-leg work, with adequate recovery time. Incorporating stretching and using foam rollers are also recommended to aid in recovery and enhance flexibility.

What is the best workout for a runner?
The best workouts for runners focus on exercises that enhance strength, stability, and efficiency for running. Key exercises include:

  • Split Squats: Begin with one foot forward and elevate your rear foot on a step, chair, or bench for added intensity.
  • Single-Leg and Double-Leg Squats: These variations target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, crucial for running power.
  • Single-Leg and Double-Leg Romanian Deadlifts: These exercises strengthen the posterior chain, important for propulsion and injury prevention.
  • Step Ups and Step Downs: These movements improve balance, coordination, and leg strength.

Should runners lift heavy or light?
According to research and expert opinions, runners should opt for a low-volume, high-intensity approach to strength training, which means lifting heavier weights with fewer repetitions. This strategy enhances strength gains without adding unnecessary bulk or causing excessive fatigue, allowing runners to remain light on their feet while becoming stronger.

How do I build strength training for running?
To effectively integrate strength training into your running routine, focus on exercises that increase leg strength, core stability, and overall body control. 

Key exercises include lunges, squats, and deadlifts for leg strength, alongside core and balance exercises to strengthen the abdominals, back, and glutes. These exercises not only build muscle but also improve your stability and control, critical for efficient running.

Should I stretch every day as a runner?
Yes, incorporating some form of stretching into your daily routine is essential for runners. Stretching before running helps prevent injuries and can improve the quality of your workout by increasing flexibility and range of motion. Post-run stretching can aid in recovery and reduce muscle soreness.

What muscles do runners use most?
Running primarily engages the following muscles:

  • Quadriceps: Active at the beginning of your stride when your foot hits the ground, absorbing the impact.
  • Gastrocnemius Muscles: These calf muscles come into play as your body moves forward, helping to propel you into the next step.
  • Additionally, running utilizes the hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles for stability and efficiency throughout the running motion.

By understanding and addressing these key areas, runners can optimize their training, improve performance, and reduce the risk of injury.


Follow Valen Steven for a dose of fitness enthusiasm, evidence-based advice, and a roadmap to achieving your health and wellness goals.

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