By Fraser Babbage
Running will always remain the most important form of training for runners, however weight training for runners can completely transform your progress if performed effectively.
The issue at large is that runners aren’t typically employing the appropriate type of weight training into their plans to reap the rewards. Nowadays, you’ll see a lot of runners’ strength training based on CrossFit ‘WODs’, strength circuits, bodybuilding plans, or gym classes, which isn’t going to optimise training for runners to improve their actual running.
But done properly, and weight training will hugely benefit runners and help them in reaching their full potential.
Weight Training for Runners: The Benefits
A runners’ weight program should be structured to include functional, dynamic movement patterns to complement running, and should be completed one or two times a week.
A 2008 study by Støren et al. showed an 8-week strength training program, mixed with endurance running, led to improved running economy and increased time to exhaustion amongst well-trained, long-distance runners, without an increase in maximal oxygen uptake or body weight.
Weight Training for Runners: Exercises
Below is a list of functional compound movements, split between upper body and lower body exercises, that concentrate on strengthening areas specific for runners. Therefore there’s a focus on the posterior chain, the hips, major muscle groups in the legs, as well as an engagement from the core.
You’ll note that the exercises aren’t overly complex movements – that’s because they needn’t be. Strength training with weights is more technical than the natural movement of running, therefore the focus should be on executing the movements with proper technique.
Because runners do enough metabolic and cardio whilst running, weight training should concentrate on building power and strength; that means lifting heavy weights, sets of 4-8 reps, and full recovery between sets.
Lower Body Exercises
The squat is a multi-joint exercise aimed at strengthening the hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps. It’s a fundamental strength exercise that all runners should be incorporating into their weight training. A weighted squat will enhance a runner’s power production and the absorption during each stride taken.
Equipment: a barbell is ideal for using heavy weight; a kettlebell or dumbbells can also be used.
It’s very important to make sure the technique is spotless on the lunge. This controlled movement develops unilateral strength to increase muscle mass and improve power through the legs. The lunge is fantastic for stability, joint range of motion and core control; all things that are essential for runners.
Equipment: dumbbells or kettlebells are ideal as it helps with maintaining balance. A barbell can also be used for greater weight, but it is more difficult to balance.
The deadlift primarily targets the glutes, hamstrings and lower back. It incorporates the hip-hinge pattern which promotes a forceful hip extension, which will help transfer force generated from the ground. It also strengthens the posterior chain which will develop an effective stretch shortening cycle whilst decreasing risk of injury.
Equipment: a barbell is ideal for using heavy weight.
Upper Body Exercises
Bent Over Row
The bent over row targets the back (posterior chain) and core muscles. This is great for stabilising the torso and, as a result, improving your running posture and overall running form. A great exercise for runners, especially for those that have a desk job.
The reverse fly targets the mid-back, posterior shoulder and rhomboid muscles. Again, it’s a great exercise for the posterior chain and will help a runner in improving posture and maintaining the ideal upright body position throughout the run. This is another great exercise for runners that have desk jobs as it will look to correct any hunching of the shoulders as it strengthens the posterior shoulder.
Equipment: dumbbells are ideal.
Weighted Press Up
The weighted press up (a press up with a weight plate placed in the middle of your back) is a great way to improve your overall upper body strength and core at the same time. This will help with posture to improve running efficiency and reduce fatigue.
Equipment: a weight plate is ideal.
Støren O, Helgerud J, Støa EM, Hoff J. Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Jun;40(6):1087-92. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318168da2f. PMID: 18460997.
Rønnestad BR, Mujika I. Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2014 Aug;24(4):603-12. doi: 10.1111/sms.12104. Epub 2013 Aug 5. PMID: 23914932.
Fraser Babbage is a former national age-level cross-country and middle-distance track athlete. With vast experience across running distances from 400m to 10K, Fraser established Run01 to share fundamental training advice and a range of useful information to support runners through practical experience and scientific evidence.