Strength training is important for any runner, but often overlooked. We get it – running is so much fun and great exercise, and it is so easy to get home from morning miles and skip out on going to the basement to focus on doing strength. Strength is so much more than pumping iron though, and has numerous benefits like speed, more endurance, injury prevention, and a higher metabolism. And just like placing one foot in front of the other, it doesn’t have to be complicated once you know the structure.
Did you know every single training plan we write includes strength training? Yeah, seriously. We believe it builds incredible athletes.
How much strength training is needed? Most athletes should be targeting 2-3 strength sessions per week on days that are not long runs or demanding workouts like speed workouts. Strength sessions don’t need to be crazy long either. 15-30 minutes is usually long enough to do everything of benefit. 3-5 types movements or exercises per day will be sufficient to activate a variety of muscle groups.
It is a common myth that runners who start to do strength training will get bulky, add weight, and become slower. False! Strength training can help you reactivate dormant muscles and build lean muscle mass without the bulk. Plus, more muscle means more calorie burn, which can help boost your metabolism. Our personal favorite benefit of strength training is more flow when running down mountains. That added stability makes for quick downhill movement!
We reached out to the most knowledgeable strength and movement guy we know, Dr. Jesse Riley, DC MS FMS SFMA TDN of Golden, CO. When asked about the importance of strength training with runners,
“Running is a mostly sagittal plane dominant, plyometric sport, where a single leg takes all the impact. Boiled down it’s controlled falling. There’s an art and there’s a science behind it. Some fall better than others naturally as they better absorb the forces more efficiently.
However, having the right structure in place to tolerate the forces of the fall is what keeps us coming back for more. Building strength in a progressive manner to learn how to better store and release energy is what helps our bodies absorb the fall and use this to our advantage. This turns the forces going inward to forces going outward. This is where performance is truly developed.”
Free Two Month Strength Training Plan
Stability training is the building block on which all other strength is founded. It is where athletes should start, and it is important to come back to this type of training periodically (recovery weeks are great here). Stability training is important to mitigate muscle imbalances (i.e., right hip is stronger than the left), improve stability in your core, and establish a fuller range of motion.
Stretching and yoga
Elastic loop band range of motion
Hip range-of-motion movements (standing hurdles)
Stability Endurance is similar to stability, but adds in more volume and controlled instability, such as balance balls or yoga balls. These exercises help to build neuromuscular pathways (i.e. muscle memory) to make your movements quicker and more efficient, and improve your endurance in unstable environments. If you are a trail runner – especially in the mountains – this type of strength training is where downhill flow is made!
Add a yoga ball or stability ball to the previous exercises above.
Slackline or balance board
Each time your foot strikes the ground, you place approximately 3 times your bodyweight on joints and muscles. This can be even more if you are running fast or downhill. It is important to be strong to adapt to these forces and not get injured as the miles get longer, and the number of times your body absorbs these impacts increases.
Start with bodyweight exercises.
Air squats (shoulder width and wide)
Pushups and inclined pushups
Lunges (forward and backward)
With this type of training weight is added to increase the force placed on whole groups of muscles. This is important because as the body fatigues during running, it will demand energy from the largest, most stable groups of muscles first. Increasing strength also increases endurance so these muscles can comfortably continue to fire. If a major group of muscles is weak, secondary muscles take over to compensate. This can lead to poor form and ultimately to injury.
Add weight to the previous exercises. Start lightweight, and then gradually add weight over the weeks. Use free weights like dumbbells or kettlebells where applicable. Try to start with 2 sets of 8, then progress on to 2×10, 3×8, 2×12, 3×10 as you get stronger.
Power is the most demanding and advanced stage of strength building and focuses on increasing energy output throughout the range of movement. Put another way, Power = Force x Velocity. All other elements of the strength pyramid are needed to be successful in this stage. A great example of this type of strength is fast uphill/mountain running. A runner has to generate light/moderate force (perhaps carrying a pack with 3-5 lbs of gear) with high velocity (quick, uphill movement) over and over. Athletes who are nearing their peak weeks (the longest miles of a training program) should avoid doing this stage in the same week as the high milage due to the high demands on the body.
An exercise in the Power stage may be heavy squats (force) done slowly (velocity) and with few reps, or, lightweight squats (force) done quickly (velocity) and with many reps.
Reduce weight from the exercises above, but add speed (while maintaining good form).
Use a weight vest if you are comfortable with it.
Burpee broad jumps
Medicine ball squat + wall throws
Athletes should always take time to recover. Take at least one day between training the same groups of muscles, and an entirely easier week at least once per month. Rest allows the body time to rebuild and come back stronger.
Now that you are strength training, you should notice better performance in your running. Hey, maybe you just feel better all-around! Check out any of our training plans for both running and strength training all-in-one. Leave a comment below with your questions or sharing your successes!
Much of this article is based on the NASM OPT Model:
 National Academy of Sports Medicine. Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. 6th ed., Jones and Bartlett, 2018, pp. 368-87.