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Guide to Strength Training for Runners: Impact of Exercises

Guide to Strength Training for Runners: Impact of Exercises


Strength training for runners, often transcending its conventional bounds of muscle building and lifting heavy weights, offers myriad benefits. This guide illuminates strength training’s role in enhancing performance, preventing injuries, and achieving a balanced, healthy physique through regular strength training. Integrating strength and bodyweight exercises into your training schedule could be the game-changer you didn’t know you needed, whether you’re a sprinter, a marathon enthusiast, or someone who jogs for the joy of it.

Why is Strength Training for Runners Important?

Strength training for runners isn’t just about avoiding bulky muscles; it’s about creating a more efficient, resilient body that can handle the demands of running while reducing the risk of injury. It’s essential for:

Injury Prevention

Runners often face repetitive stress injuries, affecting not just muscles but connective tissues as well. Strength training fortifies these, along with tendons and ligaments, allowing for better shock absorption and even force distribution across the body. This not only reduces the risk of injuries but also aids in quicker recovery should any injuries occur.

Performance Enhancement

A stronger runner, leveraging exercises that enhance both muscle mass and muscular endurance, is a faster, more powerful runner. Strength training improves running economy, reducing the energy used at the same pace. It boosts aerobic capacity, sprinting ability, and hill-climbing, making those challenging finishes more attainable.

Incorporating strength training with high loads, plyometric exercises, and a mix of strength training techniques can significantly enhance running economy in middle- and long-distance runners. This multifaceted approach not only fine-tunes running efficiency but also maximizes the potential for endurance and speed.

Balance and Coordination

Running requires significant balance and coordination, demanding more than simple linear movement. Strength and core workouts, especially those focusing on major muscle groups and stabilizer muscles, enhance control over movement patterns, reducing your fall and misstep risk.

Wider Health Benefits

Beyond performance, regular strength training contributes to improved Body composition, better posture, increased bone density, and a higher metabolic rate. It ensures your running journey is as much about nurturing a fit, strong, and healthy body as it is about crossing the finish lines.

Understanding the Runner’s Body

The runner’s body is a dynamic assembly of major muscle groups, connective tissues, and joint mechanisms designed for endurance, speed, and agility. Engaging in strength training initiates a series of neuromuscular adaptations leading to increased muscle strength and power. These improvements are partly due to the expansion of muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) and modifications in the stiffness of connective tissues, contributing to a runner’s speed and resilience.

Key muscle groups including the leg muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves), core muscles (for torso stability and posture), glutes (powering forward motion), and hip flexors (essential for knee lift and stride length) play critical roles in every step taken. This intricate system benefits greatly from targeted strength training, which not only bolsters muscular endurance and aerobic capacity but also enhances body composition and movement patterns.

Regular strength training, emphasizing proper form and leveraging a variety of exercises from bodyweight exercises to plyometric drills, can significantly improve a runner’s performance, minimize the risk for injuries, and ensure a balanced full-body workout.

Muscle Groups Utilized in Running

Running uses a complex network of major muscle groups, crucial for propulsion, impact absorption, and power. These include:

  • Leg Muscles: The quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves.
  • Core Muscles: Vital for stabilizing the torso, maintaining posture, and power transfer.
  • Glutes: Key for forward drive and lower body alignment.
  • Hip Flexors: Important for knee lift and stride length.

These groups are prime targets for a full-body workout, enhancing muscle fibers, muscle contractions, and overall muscular endurance.

Impact of Neglecting Strength Training for Runners

Impact of Neglecting Strength Training for Runners

Neglecting strength training can lead to issues including an increased risk for injuries like IT band syndrome, shin splints, and knee pain, performance plateaus due to lack of muscle endurance, imbalances affecting movement patterns and efficiency, and reduced efficiency from weak core and lower body strength. Common problems include:

Increased Risk of Injuries

Without strength’s protective benefits, runners face a higher risk for injuries, impacting muscles and connective tissues alike.

Plateaued Performance

Lacking muscular endurance and strength, runners may find progress stalling. Strength training, especially with heavier weights and bodyweight exercises, is crucial for breaking through these plateaus.

Imbalances and Weaknesses

Neglecting regular strength and core workouts can lead to muscular imbalances, affecting correct form and efficiency.

Reduced Efficiency

A deficiency in strength, especially in core and lower body areas, leads to inefficient running form and increased effort for every mile.

How Often Should Runners Do Strength Training?

Incorporating two to three strength training sessions, including plyometric exercises and full-body workouts, into a weekly training schedule on non-consecutive days allows for recovery and strength gains. Adjustments should be based on individual needs, correct form emphasis, rest days inclusion, and cross-training to prevent overuse injuries.

Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Finding effective and the best strength training for runners focuses on exercises that mimic running mechanics, improve muscle imbalances, and build endurance without excessive bulking. Here’s a breakdown of essential exercises:

Core Exercises

A strong core is fundamental for maintaining stability and posture during runs. Here are some strength training workouts for runners that target your core.


  • Benefits: Strengthens the entire core, shoulders, and glutes.
  • Steps: Start in a push-up position but rest your forearms on the ground. Keep your body in a straight line from head to heels. Engage your core and hold.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Mountain Climbers

  • Benefits: Improves core stability and strength, and enhances cardiovascular endurance.
  • Steps: From a plank position, alternate driving your knees towards your chest in a quick, controlled motion.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 30 seconds.

Glute Bridge

  • Benefits: Targets the glutes and hamstrings, crucial for powerful strides.
  • Steps: Lie on your back with knees bent, and feet flat. Lift your hips towards the ceiling, squeezing your glutes at the top, then lower.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

Leg Raises

  • Benefits: Strengthens lower abdominals and hip flexors.
  • Steps: Lie flat on your back, legs straight. Slowly raise your legs to a 90-degree angle, then lower them without touching the floor.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Upper Body Exercises

Though running is predominantly a lower-body activity, upper-body strength contributes to better posture and endurance. Here are some strength training exercises for runners that will help build a stronger upper body.


  • Benefits: Strengthens the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Steps: Begin in a plank position. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the ground, then push back up.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

Dumbbell Row

  • Benefits: Improves upper back and arm strength.
  • Steps: Bend over with a dumbbell in one hand, and support yourself with the other. Pull the dumbbell towards your hip, then lower it.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 12 reps per arm.

Superman/Back Extension

  • Benefits: Strengthens the back and improves posture.
  • Steps: Lie face down, arms extended forward. Lift arms, chest, and legs off the ground, then lower.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

Bear Crawl

  • Benefits: Enhances shoulder stability, core strength, and coordination.
  • Steps: On all fours, lift your knees off the ground. Crawl forward with opposite hand and foot movements.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 30 seconds.

Lower Body Exercises

The lower body exercises focus on strengthening the legs for endurance and power.

Reverse Lunge

  • Benefits: Targets the quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Steps: Step back with one foot and lower into a lunge. Push through the front heel to return to standing.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 12 reps per


Split Squats

  • Benefits: Improves balance and lower body strength.
  • Steps: Stand with one foot forward, one back. Lower into a lunge, keeping your front knee over the ankle. Push back up.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 10 reps per leg.

Single-Leg and Double-Leg Squats

  • Benefits: Enhances leg strength, balance, and stability.
  • Steps: For single-leg, stand on one leg and squat, keeping the other leg extended forward. For double-leg, perform a traditional squat.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 8-10 reps per leg for single-leg, 12-15 for double-leg.

Single-Leg Deadlifts

  • Benefits: Strengthens the hamstrings, and glutes, and improves balance.
  • Steps: Balance on one leg, hinge at the hip to lower the torso, and reach toward the ground, keeping the other leg straight behind you.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 10 reps per leg.

Step Ups and Downs

  • Benefits: Builds leg strength and power.
  • Steps: Step onto a bench or platform with one foot, then the other, and step back down in the same order.
  • Reps and Sets: 3 sets of 10-12 reps per leg.

Addressing Common Strength Training Concerns for Runners

Addressing Common Strength Training Concerns for Runners

Fear of Bulking Up

Many runners worry that strength training will add bulk, potentially slowing them down. However, strength training, when tailored for runners, focuses on endurance and stability rather than hypertrophy (muscle growth), ensuring runners gain strength without unnecessary mass.

Finding the Right Intensity

The key is to integrate strength training in a way that complements running. This means focusing on lower weights, higher repetitions, and exercises that mimic running mechanics, avoiding excessive fatigue that could detract from running sessions.

Time Management

Incorporating strength training into a busy schedule can seem daunting. However, short, focused sessions, even 20-30 minutes long, can be highly effective. Prioritizing quality over quantity ensures you reap the benefits without overwhelming your schedule.

How Backcountry Physical Therapy Can Help Strength Training for Runners

At Backcountry Physical Therapy, we understand the unique needs of runners. Whether you’re dealing with legs sore after running, seeking to enhance your performance, or aiming to integrate effective strength training into your routine, our specialized physical therapy for athletes offers tailored solutions.

Our expertise in runners’ physical therapy ensures that you receive care that’s not only about recovery but also about empowering you with the strength, balance, and flexibility to run further, faster, and with fewer injuries. Trust us to be your partner in achieving a balanced approach to running and strength training, where each step is stronger, and each stride is more stable.


Strength training is an essential, yet often overlooked component of a runner’s training regimen. It bolsters injury prevention, enhances performance, and contributes to a well-rounded athletic profile. By understanding the importance of strength training, integrating it properly into your routine, and addressing common concerns, runners can unlock their full potential. Remember, strength training for runners isn’t a one-size-fits-all; it’s a personalized journey toward becoming a stronger, more resilient athlete.


Does strength training improve running?

Yes, strength training significantly improves running by enhancing muscle endurance, efficiency, and power, contributing to better performance and reduced injury risk.

What is the best workout for a runner?

The best workout for a runner includes a mix of running-specific exercises that target the core, upper, and lower body, focusing on strength, stability, and endurance.

What type of strength training is best for runners?

Functional strength training that mimics running movements and focuses on endurance, stability, and preventing muscle imbalances is best suited for runners.

a man standing with his arms crossed in front of him.

Dr. Scott Runyon

Backcountry Physical Therapy

We Help Mountain Athletes Not Only Recover From Injuries, But Build Them Back Stronger Than They Were Before, So That Injuries Are Less Likely To Happen Again!