As a running coach, I often emphasise the benefits of strength training and how it can elevate your performance. This article brings together much of the advice I give to long-distance runners, offering guidance and exercises to seamlessly integrate strength training into your routine.

1. Introduction

The benefits of strength training for long-distance runners are well-documented [1]. Yet, many runners, myself included, can be guilty of neglecting it. We always have a list of excuses: our running is going too well to need it, it’s hard to find time, we lack access to a gym, we don’t know what to do, and let’s face it—sometimes it can be boring!

That’s why I’ve created this article—to provide clear guidance and exercises tailored for runners. The goal is to make strength training accessible and straightforward, ensuring it doesn’t become a daunting or dull task. This guide is for every runner, regardless of speed and fitness level, and you can do 90% of these exercises without needing a gym or special equipment.

You can use a rucksack filled with books instead of weights, a towel on a slippery floor instead of an ab wheel, and the stairs in your house for calf-raises and drops. If you have access to a gym, these exercises will help build a strong foundation.

This is not a comprehensive guide to strength training but an accessible starting point to help you get going, explore new avenues, and add some structure to your routine in an often ambiguous field.

2. Benefits of strength training to runners

Runners are most vulnerable to injury when fatigued—whether from lack of rest, overtraining, or overexertion during events or workouts [2]. Strength training helps combat muscle fatigue, allowing you to run further and faster before reaching the danger zone where injuries are more likely.

Improving your body’s alignment and impact resistance also helps maintain good running form [3], making your body work more efficiently and conserve energy. This leads to running faster and longer, with improvements in key fitness indicators like VO2 Max [1].

In short, becoming a stronger runner makes you more resilient, improving your performance, faster times, and reducing injury risk.

3. Key points to remember

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you incorporate strength training into your running routine:

  • Stretch before each workout: Stretching is crucial for warming up your muscles and preparing your body.
  • Go slow: Perform exercises slowly and progress from the foundational to the advanced exercises. Master the basics before moving on.
  • Technique is key: Focus on perfecting your technique. Use mirrors, film yourself, and seek help from a coach if needed. Only add weights once your form is correct.
  • Everything is interconnected: Strengthening all areas of the body is essential, as injuries can often stem from weaknesses elsewhere. When you strengthen an injured area, you’re often missing the area of deficiency that caused the injury, which could mean further issues later on.
  • Training is about conditioning: We train to condition our bodies for the loads they will endure during races and training. This means that your training should be appropriate for your goals, with space for extended seasonal periods of no or minimal training for full body recovery.

4. Basics

These two exercises form the foundation for finding your centre of gravity, understanding spinal length, and properly engaging your glutes:

Mountain pose

Body squat

5. Exercises 1 – Foundational

These exercises build strength in key muscle groups used in running, particularly the core muscles, glutes, and hamstrings. Perfect your technique with minimal or no weight before increasing reps or weight.

Oblique twists

Ab-wheel holds

Side plank

Goblet squat

Weighted sit-up

Glute walkouts


6. Exercises 2 – Follow-on

Once comfortable with the foundational exercises, progress to these. As always, focus on technique and adjust weights and reps as needed.

Glute ball rollouts

Calf raises

Shoulder press

Deadlifts

Bulgarian split squats

Split-leg dumbell swings

7. Putting it all together

Incorporating strength training into your routine involves balance. If you’re new to strength training then for every strength workout, consider removing a run to avoid overloading. Here are some tips to help find that balance:

  • Perform low-intensity strength exercises after an easy run: Add bodyweight exercises like calf raises, sit-ups (without weights), and squats at the end of a run.
  • Drop unnecessary runs: Replace “recovery runs” with strength workouts. There is no such thing as a recovery run (repeat after me!) if your body really needs to recover then let it. But if your one for just “squeezing a short one in”, then these runs are prime candidates for swapping with some strength training – and you’ll soon realise the benefits!
  • Increase weight gradually: Treat weight increases like running volume, progressing slowly.

8. Summary

This article provides an accessible introduction to strength training for runners, offering a starting point for incorporating these exercises into your routine.

Beyond resistance training, plyometrics and cross-training are also widely known to enhance running performance and contribute to attaining a strong balance of activities to help prevent injury from overexertion in one area [4].

FAQs

Q: Should I do the exercises instead of running or before/after running?

A: When starting with strength training, replace easy runs with strength workouts. Avoid running immediately after strength training to allow recovery. Over time, you can integrate running and strength sessions more closely.

Q: How often should I do these exercises?

A: Aim for at least once a week, but more frequently if possible. Start with 30-minute sessions twice a week for a good balance.

Q: I am unable to perform one or more of these exercises due to an injury or a movement deficiency, what should I do?

A: Back off and avoid hurting yourself. Having a specific exercise that you can’t do can be a useful tool for a physiotherapist or coach to help identify what the issue might be, if you don’t already know.

Q: How should I fuel when doing these exercises?

A: As with any training, keep well hydrated. Training is the process of creating lots of small muscle tears so that when your body recovers afterwards it build the muscle back to be stronger than it was before. Protein is an ideal nutrient to consume after training, as it contains amino acids that aid the recovery and build up/repair of muscle. Protein supplements or food (such as eggs or greek yoghurt) that is high in protein is an ideal post-workout snack.


References

  1. Beattie, Kris & Carson, Brian & Lyons, Mark & Rossiter, Antonia & Kenny, Ian. 2016. The Effect of Strength Training on Performance Indicators in Distance Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 31. 1. 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001464.
  2. Jones CM, Griffiths PC, Mellalieu SD. Training Load and Fatigue Marker Associations with Injury and Illness: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies. Sports Med. 2017 May;47(5):943-974. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0619-5. PMID: 27677917; PMCID: PMC5394138.
  3. Šuc A, Šarko P, Pleša J, Kozinc Ž. Resistance Exercise for Improving Running Economy and Running Biomechanics and Decreasing Running-Related Injury Risk: A Narrative Review. Sports (Basel). 2022 Jun 24;10(7):98. doi: 10.3390/sports10070098. PMID: 35878109; PMCID: PMC9319953.
  4. Foster C, Hector LL, Welsh R, Schrager M, Green MA, Snyder AC. Effects of specific versus cross-training on running performance. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1995;70(4):367-72. doi: 10.1007/BF00865035. PMID: 7649149.

Acknowledgements

This guide draws on insights from many, notably Jason D’Abreo and Alison Rose, who gave me new perspectives and showed me what my body could do.

Feedback

If you find any of this content useful, or have any feedback, please leave a comment below:

Leave a Reply