Strength Training for Runners

Strength Training for Runners

In my previous article, How Strength Training Can Make You Better at Running, I stated that many of the myths about strength training in the running world were unfounded. Strength training can help fight imbalances and create a stronger and more resilient body. Strength training for runners has also been found to increase running economy, making it easier to maintain a given pace. Now that we have dispelled a lot of the myths about strength training and endurance sport performance and your excuses not to lift are gone, how do you start? How many days a week? What exercises do I need to work?

With strength training for runners the primary goal should not be to build muscle mass, because have you ever seen a hulking bodybuilder running 10 miles? If you have, it probably wasn’t pretty. The goal with strength training for runners should be improving strength, mobility, movement efficiency, and correcting imbalances.

Strength training for runners should consist of primarily compound movements with variations of the squat, deadlift, and pulling exercises being the basis of the workouts. The big three (the deadlift, squat, and bench press) can be effective in building strength in runners but it is important to include unilateral exercises, especially for the lower body. Unilateral exercises will challenge your ability to maintain proper alignment of the hips and knee which is important in the prevention of an overuse knee injury. Due to the repetitive single-leg nature of running, exercises like the single-leg squat and RDL are important to include in strength training for runners. Lunges should also be a staple of the program as they train the need to to absorb dynamic force or the pounding of running over five to ten miles.

When people think of running, they only think of the legs working. Sure the legs are the driving force for running, but you would be missing a big link in the chain if you exclude working the upper body. When runners get tired usually the first thing to go is their posture. the runner begins to slump their shoulders throwing off their posture. This leads to a lot of inefficiency in the running gate. Runner’s World magazine actually wrote an article talking about “The Runners Body”; marked by rounded shoulders, winged scapula (shoulder blades), thoracic flexion, and a forward head posture. This is very detrimental to upper body and total running mechanics. To fight this posture, it is important to make upper back training. Exercises like horizontal body body rows and pull-ups are great exercises for strength training for runners. With a suspension trainer a runner can do a multitude of variations of the rowing style exercise, from changing the direction of the pull(high versus low pull), the orientation of the grip (neutral, supinated, or pronated), and you can also add in exercises such as I’s, T’s, and Y’s very quickly for further training of the upper back musculature. Pressing strength is important in overall healthy but due to some postural abnormalities it may be detrimental to the goal of improving and maintaining proper posture. Runners can add in isolation work for their arms but it would primarily be for aesthetic reasons and would not have much effect on performance.

The primary priority of a runners training should be the actual running, whether training to increase mileage or training to be able to handle a higher pace. If adding strength training to a training program, it should not take away from the runs involved in the program. It may be a good idea though in the long term if you are running five or 6 days a week to back it down to 3-4 days a week. You will not lose much by taking out a run or two as the strength training will make you a stronger and more resilient runner. I usually recommend at least 2 days of strength training per week but no higher than 3 days. You do more than that and it could begin to interfere with the quality of the training runs. I also recommend that if you have a long run, that the strength session not be the day before as recovery is important. Full body strength training sessions should be the structure of the workouts for runners. The exercises should not be taken to failure to avoid soreness and should consist of 2-3 sets of 10 reps with an exercises variation of each foundational movement category (squat, hip hinge, press, pull, lunge). It is also important to include an exercise focusing primarily on the posterior chain to strength ing the glutes, hamstrings, and low back which will help to fight the damage desk jobs will have on your posture. Exercises like the barbell hip thrusts, the supine hip extension leg curls, and the glute ham raise can help develop the glutes and hamstrings for runners. Core specific exercises should be included in strength training for runners to help in stabilizing the spine and pelvis.

Here is an example workout for runners:

Goblet Squat 3×8

Single-leg RDL 2×10

Push-ups superset with TRX rows 3×10

TRX Face Pulls 2×12

Walking offset lunges 2×8 each, weight in opposite hand from walking leg

Barbell Hip Thrusts 2×12

Planks 3×30 sec.

Wanting to improve performance for an upcoming 10k? Or want to move and feel better? Contact me and we can begin working towards a better you!