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Strength Training for Runners: Benefits & Exercises

Running is a fantastic way to stay healthy and fit, but if you're looking to take your game to the next level, you'll need to do more than just hit the pavement.

As the saying goes, "strong legs make for strong strides" - or was it "strong strides make for strong legs"? Either way, we've got the tips, tricks, and puns to help you build the strength you need to crush your next race.

So let's jog right in and get started...

Physically fit man and woman lunging with weighted plates in their hands above their heads. The background is a gym.

What is Strength Training?

Strength training, also known as resistance training or weight training, is a type of physical exercise that involves working against resistance to develop muscular strength, endurance, and size. The resistance can come in various forms, such as:

  • free weights (dumbbells, barbells)

  • weight machines

  • resistance bands

  • bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats

The goal of strength training is to progressively overload the muscles, forcing them to adapt and grow stronger.

Strength training develops stronger muscles through a process called muscle hypertrophy. When you engage in strength training exercises, you create microscopic tears in the muscle fibers.

As the body repairs these tears, the muscle fibers become thicker and denser, resulting in increased strength and size. This process is stimulated by three primary factors:

  1. Mechanical tension: When you lift weights or apply resistance, the muscle fibers are stretched and placed under tension. This tension stimulates the muscle cells to activate and grow.

  2. Metabolic stress: During resistance training, the muscles use energy to produce force. This energy demand creates a buildup of metabolic byproducts, such as lactic acid, which can cause a burning sensation in the muscles. This metabolic stress triggers a cascade of cellular events that ultimately contribute to muscle growth.

  3. Muscle damage: Intense strength training can cause small amounts of muscle damage, as evidenced by the soreness you may feel a day or two after a workout. This damage signals the body to initiate repair processes, which help the muscles adapt and grow stronger.

To maximize the benefits of strength training, it is important to use proper technique, vary your exercises, and progressively increase the resistance, volume, or intensity of your workouts.

Additionally, adequate nutrition, hydration, and rest are essential to support muscle recovery and growth. By incorporating strength training into your exercise routine, you can develop stronger muscles, improve overall physical performance, and enhance your health and well-being.

Woman swinging a kettlebell. She is wearing a black long sleeve shirt and has her hair in a ponytail. She is exercising.

Why Runners Should Strength Train

Runners should incorporate strength training into their routine for a variety of reasons. Strength training offers numerous benefits to runners that can improve their overall performance and prevent injuries.

Here are some key reasons why runners should strength train:

Strength Training Helps with Injury Prevention

By strengthening muscles, ligaments, and tendons, runners can reduce their risk of injury. A well-rounded strength training program will focus on key muscle groups used in running and help to correct muscle imbalances that may lead to common running injuries.

Strength Training Improves a Runner's Efficiency

Want to improve your running time and achieve a smoother stride? Strength training helps to develop stronger muscles, which can increase a runner's overall power and efficiency. Stronger muscles can contribute to an increased stride length and frequency, which are essential components of running speed.

Strength training that targets hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps can help to improve stride length by enabling a runner to fully extend their legs and drive their knees forward. Additionally, strength training that focuses on the calf muscles can help to improve stride frequency by promoting a quicker and more powerful push-off.

Strength Training Improves a Runner's Economy

Running economy refers to the amount of energy a runner uses to maintain a certain pace. Strength training can improve running economy by optimizing muscle recruitment patterns, which can result in more efficient use of energy.

Muscle recruitment patterns refer to how the nervous system activates specific muscle fibers during physical activity or movement. These patterns determine which muscle fibers are engaged, the order in which they are activated, and the level of force that they generate. The nervous system controls muscle recruitment through motor units, which are composed of a motor neuron and the muscle fibers it innervates.

There are two primary types of muscle fibers:

  • slow-twitch (Type I)

  • fast-twitch (Type II)

Slow-twitch fibers are more fatigue-resistant and are better suited for endurance activities, while fast-twitch fibers are capable of producing more force and power but fatigue more quickly. They are better suited for high-intensity, short-duration activities.

In the context of running, efficient muscle recruitment patterns are essential for optimizing performance, as they allow runners to maintain proper form and technique while minimizing energy expenditure.

Strength training can help to improve muscle recruitment patterns by strengthening key muscle groups and promoting better neuromuscular coordination.

This can lead to a more efficient running stride, reduced risk of injury, and improved overall performance. A more efficient runner will be able to maintain a faster pace for longer distances.

A man and woman running up the stairs. They are runners.

Strength Training Can Help Improve Running Form

Strength training exercises that focus on core muscles and single-leg stability can help runners develop better balance and coordination. This can lead to improved running form and a reduced risk of falls and injuries.

Strength Training Improves Bone Density

Running is a weight-bearing exercise that can help to improve bone density, but strength training can further enhance this benefit. By placing stress on the bones, weight training encourages the body to deposit more minerals into the bone matrix, making them stronger and more resilient.

When you incorporate strength training exercises that target key areas like the hips, spine, and legs, you can reduce your risk of osteoporosis and stress fractures.

Strength Training Improves Metabolic Health

During resistance training, the muscles use energy to produce force. This energy demand creates a buildup of metabolic byproducts, such as lactic acid, which can cause a burning sensation in the muscles. This metabolic stress triggers a cascade of cellular events that ultimately contribute to muscle growth.

Additionally, strength training can increase a runner's resting metabolic rate, helping them burn more calories even when they're not running. This can be helpful for runners looking to maintain or lose weight healthily.

Strength Training Improves Mental Health and Mental Stamina

Weight training has been shown to help reduce stress, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. Additionally, achieving strength training goals can boost self-confidence and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Strength training can also help to build mental toughness and discipline, which can be valuable skills for runners to develop. Overcoming the challenges of a strength training workout can provide a sense of accomplishment and boost self-confidence.

How Often Should Runners Strength Train?

The frequency of strength training for runners will depend on factors such as individual goals, fitness level, experience, and available time. However, as a general guideline, most runners can benefit from incorporating strength training into their routine at least 3 times per week. Remember to listen to your body and adjust your training frequency and intensity as needed to accommodate your individual needs and goals.

Female runner running on the beach boardwalk.

Should I Run Before or After Strength Training?

To avoid overtraining and ensure adequate recovery, schedule your strength training sessions on non-running days or after easy runs. Avoid strength training immediately before intense running workouts, such as speed sessions or long runs, as this may negatively affect your running performance.

The decision to strength train before or after your run depends on your individual preferences, goals, and the specific types of workouts you have planned. Both options have their pros and cons, so consider the following factors when deciding the best approach for you:

Strength Training Before Running:


  • Better focus on form: By strength training before running, you'll have more energy and focus to concentrate on proper form and technique during your strength exercises. This can help to maximize the effectiveness of your strength training session and reduce the risk of injury.

  • Higher intensity: When your muscles are fresh, you can perform higher-intensity strength training exercises with greater ease, which can lead to better overall strength gains.


  • Possible fatigue during runs: Strength training before a run may cause fatigue in your muscles, which could affect your running form and performance, especially during intense or longer running workouts.

  • Risk of injury: If you push yourself too hard during strength training, you may increase the risk of injury during your subsequent run due to muscle fatigue or imbalance.

Strength Training After Running:


  • Optimized running performance: Running before strength training ensures that your muscles are fresh for your run, allowing you to maintain proper form and achieve better performance, particularly during speed workouts or long runs.

  • Active recovery: Performing lower-intensity strength training exercises after a run can help promote active recovery by increasing blood flow to the muscles, which may aid in reducing muscle soreness and stiffness.


  • Reduced energy for strength training: After a run, you may feel fatigued, which could affect your ability to perform strength exercises with proper form and intensity. This may limit the effectiveness of your strength training session.

  • Time constraints: Depending on your schedule, it may be challenging to fit in both a run and strength training session back-to-back.

In general, if your primary goal is to improve running performance, it's often better to run before strength training. However, if your main focus is on building strength and muscle, consider strength training before running.

Ultimately, the best approach will depend on your individual goals and preferences. It's important to listen to your body and adjust your routine accordingly to achieve the optimal balance for you.

10 Tips for Runners Who are Incorporating Strength Training

Now that we have discussed the benefits, let's talk about some helpful tips that will help you in your strength training journey as a runner.

Woman in the center performing a barbell deadlift. A male personal trainer is behind her correcting her form. The background is a gym.

1. Work with a Trainer:

Overall, working with a personal trainer while strength training can be a valuable investment for runners looking to improve their performance, reduce the risk of injury, and achieve their fitness goals. Personal trainers bring expertise, guidance, and support to your training, helping you become a stronger and more confident runner. The benefits of a personal trainer include:

  • Customized programming: A personal trainer can create a tailored strength training program that addresses your specific needs, goals, and any existing muscle imbalances. This ensures that your training plan is both effective and efficient in helping you become a stronger, faster, and more resilient runner.

  • Proper form and technique: A personal trainer can teach you the correct form and technique for each exercise, reducing the risk of injury and ensuring that you get the most out of your strength training sessions. Proper form is crucial for targeting the right muscle groups and preventing overuse injuries.

  • Motivation and accountability: A personal trainer can provide the motivation and support you need to stick to your strength training program. They can help you set realistic goals, track your progress, and hold you accountable for attending sessions and putting in the necessary effort.

  • Variety and progression: A personal trainer can continually update and modify your strength training program to keep it challenging and engaging. This can prevent plateaus in your progress and ensure that you continue to see improvements in your strength and running performance.

  • Education and guidance: A personal trainer can provide valuable information on various aspects of strength training, including exercise selection, programming, and recovery. They can also offer advice on other factors that contribute to running performance, such as nutrition, stretching, and mental preparation.

  • Time efficiency: By working with a personal trainer, you can make the most of your available training time. They can ensure that your workouts are structured and focused, maximizing the benefits of each session.

If you are a female in search of a personal trainer, check out Fitnello Fitness. They provide a variety of online and in-person services for all fitness levels.

2. Follow a Guided Workout:

A guided workout provides a well-structured and organized plan, ensuring that you cover all essential muscle groups and follow a logical exercise sequence. This can help you make the most of your workout time and achieve a balanced training routine.

Guided workouts typically include a variety of exercises and routines to keep you challenged and prevent boredom. Many programs also incorporate progressive overload, ensuring that you continue to make progress as your fitness level improves.

Notebook with a guided workout plan for the week. Each weekday has a workout routine.

3. Avoid Relying on Momentum:

When you use momentum to move the weight, you're not fully engaging the targeted muscles throughout the entire range of motion. This can lead to suboptimal muscle activation, limiting the effectiveness of your strength training workout.

Relying on momentum can compromise your exercise technique and form. Proper form is crucial for targeting the intended muscle groups, ensuring balanced muscle development, and preventing muscle imbalances that can lead to injuries or postural issues.

Using momentum to lift heavier weights than you can control can place excessive stress on your joints, tendons, and ligaments, increasing the risk of injury. Additionally, when you use momentum, you may lose control of the weight, potentially causing accidents or injuries.

By using momentum, you're not training your muscles to work through the full range of motion, which is essential for improving strength, flexibility, and overall muscle function. This can limit your progress and make your strength training less efficient.

When you rely on momentum, you lose the ability to control the weight through the entire movement. This lack of control can lead to improper movement patterns and diminish the benefits of the exercise.

4. Don’t Go Too Light in Weight:

While it's important to use weights that you can control and maintain proper form with, consistently using weights that are too light can limit the effectiveness of your strength training.

Using weights that are too light may not provide enough resistance to adequately challenge your muscles. To promote muscle growth and strength gains, you need to apply enough stress to the muscles, which requires lifting weights that create sufficient resistance and challenge.

5. Add Variety to Your Routine:

Performing the same exercises and routines consistently can cause your body to adapt to the workload, eventually leading to a plateau in your progress. By introducing new exercises, changing the order, or varying the intensity, you can continue to challenge your muscles and promote growth and strength gains.

Additionally, different exercises and variations can target different muscle fibers within a muscle group, ensuring that you develop balanced strength and muscle development. This can help to prevent muscle imbalances, which can lead to injury and postural issues.

6. Make It Fun:

Making strength training fun can help keep you motivated and engaged in your workouts, improving your adherence to your fitness program. Here are some tips to make strength training more enjoyable:

  • Mix it up: Regularly change your exercises, workout routines, or equipment to keep things fresh and interesting. This can help prevent boredom and ensure that you continue to challenge your muscles in new ways.

  • Set goals: Setting short-term and long-term fitness goals can make your workouts more purposeful and rewarding. Track your progress and celebrate your achievements as you reach each milestone. Check out this article on 30 Fitness Goals you can set for yourself!

  • Try group classes: Participate in group fitness classes or strength training sessions at your local gym or community center. These classes often incorporate a variety of exercises and can be a fun way to stay motivated, meet new people, and learn new exercises.

  • Make it social: Partner up with a friend or family member for your strength training sessions. Having a workout buddy can make the experience more enjoyable, provide motivation, and add an element of friendly competition.

  • Use music: Create a workout playlist with your favorite upbeat songs to help you stay energized and motivated during your strength training sessions.

  • Try new equipment: Experiment with different types of strength training equipment, such as resistance bands, kettlebells, or suspension trainers. This can add variety to your workouts and keep them interesting.

  • Reward yourself: Establish a reward system for achieving your strength training goals, such as treating yourself to a new workout outfit or a relaxing spa day. This can give you something to look forward to and help keep you motivated.

  • Focus on the fun aspects: Find exercises and routines that you genuinely enjoy and look forward to doing. By focusing on the aspects of strength training that you find fun, you're more likely to stick with your program and achieve your fitness goals.

Group of friends flexing and working out.

7. Balance muscle groups:

Ensure that your strength training program targets all major muscle groups, including those specifically important for running, such as the core, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. It's essential to address muscular imbalances and prevent overtraining.

8. Focus on functional exercises:

Incorporate functional exercises that mimic the movements involved in running or target the stabilizing muscles used during running. Examples include lunges, single-leg deadlifts, planks, and step-ups.

9. Prioritize quality over quantity:

Concentrate on performing each exercise with proper form and technique, rather than trying to fit in as many exercises as possible. This will help to maximize the benefits of your strength training sessions while minimizing the risk of injury.

10. Allow for recovery:

Ensure you have at least one rest day per week to allow your muscles to recover and rebuild. Adequate rest and recovery are essential for preventing overtraining and maximizing the benefits of your strength training program.

The Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Now that we have discussed strength training, its benefits for runners, and when to incorporate it into your routine, let’s dive into some effective workouts! By incorporating a well-rounded strength training program into their routine, runners can optimize their performance and achieve faster running times.

Lower Body Workout for Runners

Here's a lower-body strength training workout designed specifically for runners. This workout targets key muscle groups that are essential for running performance, stability, and injury prevention. Perform 3 sets of each exercise with 8-12 repetitions per set, and rest for 30-60 seconds between sets.

Barbell Squats

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward.

  • Lower your body by bending your knees and pushing your hips back, as if sitting in a chair.

  • Keep your chest up and your core engaged.

  • Return to the starting position by pushing through your heels and extending your hips and knees.

Dumbbell Forward Lunges

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.

  • Step forward with one foot and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90-degree angles.

  • Keep your chest up and your core engaged.

  • Push through your front heel to return to the starting position.

  • Repeat on the other leg.

Dumbbell Single-leg Deadlifts

  • Stand on one leg with a slight bend in your knee.

  • Hinge forward at your hips, extending your free leg straight behind you.

  • Lower your upper body until it is parallel to the ground, keeping your back straight and your core engaged.

  • Return to the starting position by squeezing your glutes and pushing your hips forward.

  • Repeat on the other leg.

Barbell Glute Bridges

  • Begin by laying a padded mat or yoga mat on the floor to provide cushioning for your back.

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart.

  • Position a barbell across your hips, making sure it's centered and evenly balanced. You can use a barbell pad or folded towel for added comfort and to protect your hips.

  • Hold the barbell in place with your hands, palms facing down, positioned slightly wider than hip-width apart.

  • Engage your core and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.

  • Ensure that the weight remains balanced on your hips and that your feet stay flat on the ground throughout the movement.

  • Hold the top position for 1-2 seconds, making sure to maintain tension in your glutes and core.

  • Slowly lower your hips back to the ground, controlling the descent.

Calf Raises

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your core engaged.

  • Slowly raise your heels off the ground, coming onto the balls of your feet.

  • Hold for 1-2 seconds at the top, then slowly lower your heels back to the ground.

Side-lying Leg Lifts

  • Lie on your side with your legs straight and stacked on top of each other.

  • Engage your core and lift the top leg towards the ceiling, keeping your foot flexed and your hips stable.

  • Lower the leg with control to the starting position.

  • Repeat on the other side.

Upper Body Workout for Runners

Here's an upper-body strength training workout designed specifically for runners. This workout targets key muscle groups that support good running posture, arm drive, and overall stability. Perform 2-3 sets of each exercise with 8-12 repetitions per set, and rest for 30-60 seconds between sets.


  • Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

  • Lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping your body in a straight line from head to toe.

  • Push through your hands to return to the starting position.

Pull-ups or Inverted Rows

  • For pull-ups, find a pull-up bar and grasp it with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart.

  • Pull your body up until your chin is above the bar, then lower yourself back down with control.

  • For inverted rows, set up a bar or TRX straps at waist height. Lie beneath the bar or straps, and grasp them with an overhand grip. Keep your body in a straight line and pull your chest up to the bar or your hands, then lower back down with control.

Dumbbell Bench Press

  • Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward.

  • Start with the dumbbells at chest level, elbows bent at 90 degrees.

  • Press the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended, then lower them back down with control.

Bent-over Dumbbell Rows

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.

  • Hinge at your hips and bend your knees slightly, keeping your back straight.

  • With your palms facing your body, row the dumbbells towards your chest, squeezing your shoulder blades together.

  • Lower the dumbbells back down with control.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

  • Sit or stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.

  • Start with the dumbbells at shoulder level, palms facing forward.

  • Press the dumbbells overhead until your arms are fully extended, then lower them back down with control.

Plank to Push-up

  • Start in a forearm plank position, with your elbows directly beneath your shoulders.

  • Press up onto your hands one at a time, transitioning into a push-up position.

  • Lower back down onto your forearms one arm at a time.

  • Alternate the leading arm with each repetition.

Summary of Strength Training for Runners

In conclusion, incorporating strength training into a runner's routine is essential for optimizing performance, preventing injuries, and improving overall health. By focusing on key muscle groups and incorporating a variety of exercises, runners can maximize the benefits of strength training and take their running to the next level.

And there you have it, folks - everything you need to know about strength training for runners! Whether you're a seasoned marathoner or just starting, incorporating strength training into your routine can help you run faster, longer, and with less risk of injury.

Remember, a strong body equals a strong run! So go ahead, grab those dumbbells, and start pumping out some reps. And if you're feeling a little unsure of where to start, don't worry - we've provided some sample workouts to get you going.

But most importantly, have fun with it! Strength training doesn't have to be a chore - throw on some tunes, try out some new moves, and enjoy the benefits of a stronger, healthier body. As always, happy running (and lifting)...

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