Strength Training for Runners

Article by Kari Fry with Jake Amos

Strength training can be an important tool for runners to incorporate into their workout routines, helping them to exercise key muscle groups, develop a good core strength and improve endurance. We caught up with Personal Trainer Jake Amos to get his insights on creating an effective strength training programme that focuses on the needs of a runner.


IMPORTANT: The ideas in this article are purely for information only – please do not start an exercise programme until you have completed a PAR-Q and, if necessary, received medical clearance to train. It is important to always warm up and cool down and never to do any exercise that you are unsure of without the support and advice of a qualified professional.

Can you give us an overview of what a strength training programme might look like for a runner?

According to current guidelines, it is recommended to partake in strength training programmes 1-2 times per week per muscle group (ACSM, 2017). Some people prefer to perform more frequent workouts as part of a split routine. This will come down to how much time you have to perform exercises per session. The most important factor however is the quality of the workout. For a runner the programme itself will feature quite a few exercises for the legs and glutes, and, surprisingly to some, quite a bit of core too, as this can be just as important as the legs.

What might a gym routine include for runners?

A gym routine will include a good warm up, such as walking on a treadmill, using a cross trainer or a static bike, to get the muscles warmed up and elasticated, to get the connective tissues pliable and to get fluid flowing in the joints of your legs. After the warmup is complete (usually 10-15 minutes is good), then it is good to perform compound exercises first (meaning multiple muscle groups and multiple joints moving), such as squats and lunges as bodyweight exercises, then using machines such as the leg press, then moving on to the isolation exercises (usually singular muscles and single joint movement). A HIIT workout is also a favourite for some people as the exercises include plyometric based exercises that will help burn fat and increase VO2 max too and they are designed to increase your threshold of ability. Many people save glute and core-based exercises for the second half of a workout as you typically do some of them on an exercise mat, so less movement is involved. Once a workout has been achieved, it is time to cool down and complete some comfortable stretches.

What resistance training would you recommend for runners?

There are many choices that a runner could utilise, such as -

  • Using resistance training machines
  • Barbells and dumbbells
  • Completing exercises on a leg press machine
  • Doing squats and lunges (holding a barbell in front of you for squats and dumbbells for lunges as it is important to maintain stability)
  • Using dumbbells for calf raises

Other exercises would include the leg extension to work on your quadriceps, the leg curl machines to help with the hamstrings, and especially the abductor machine to work on the adductor muscles as they are very important for hip stabilisation whilst running.

Typical core exercises might include –

  • Deadlifts to safely work on your lower back muscles
  • Using cable machines to do torso twists
  • Inclined benches to work on your abs and obliques

Another favourite is to use a Bosu ball and perform squats on that to help with balance and core. Also, performing the dumbbell snatch is a great one as it promotes using many muscles in the body.

Many of these exercises are important as they not only work on your muscles but, just as importantly, if not more so, on your connective tissues such as your tendons (which you find at the end of your muscles and attaching to bones) and ligaments (which attaches bone to bone, found inside and outside bone joints).

How about bodyweight exercises for runner - what should you focus on?

A favourite of mine is to do exercises that start easier, such as a static squat hold. This would move onto your standard squats, and you would then perform them as a plyometric in a HIIT workout, or you can perform them in reverse. Others include lunges, reverse lunges, jumping lunges, star jumps, vertical jumps, knee raises, and, surprisingly for some, press ups, as you still need to make sure you have a strong upper body to help keep your torso up straight. Those muscles help for those tired times when you are near the end of your runs. There are many good HIIT workout exercises too that include upper body, lower and are core based too. These are fantastic for getting as many muscles involved as possible. The more muscles that get used in a workout the stronger and longer they will be able to cope and perform for.

What would you recommend an endurance runner or marathon runner should include in their strength and conditioning training?

It is important for long distance runners to include strength training. Even more so than others, as you will be on your feet and working for longer than most. It is a good idea to include all 3 types of training types at various points in the year, so this means –

  • Endurance training – this is lower intensity and more reps, typically <67% of your 1 rep max lifting load, 12-20 reps per set, and between 2-3 sets with less than 60 seconds recovery between sets
  • Hypertrophy training - which is typically 67-85% 1RM, 6-12 reps per set with 3-6 sets and then 1-2 minutes rest between sets
  • Strength – which is >85%, 1-5 reps per set, 2-6 sets with 3-5 minutes rest between sets. (Beachle et al., 2000).

Doing all these types of training at various points throughout the year will work on all 3 muscle fibre types (red, pink, and white). By doing so, you will have as many fibres trained as possible. So, the endurance (red) fibres can last for a longer time before fatiguing, and the pink and white fibres will also help when tiring and for certain points in a run, such as hill climbing or speeding up for a variety of reasons.

All of these are important so that when you complete the final few inches and cross the finish line, you will get a great finishing photo too!

Summary - Strength Training for Runners

Many thanks Jake for taking the time to share your knowledge and recommendations for how runners can best incorporate strength training into their workout programmes. Some fantastic advice given on how to focus your exercise choices to gain the maximum benefits for your runs, whatever your level might be.

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