A Runner's Ultimate Guide To Strength Training
Strength training is a type of exercise that uses resistance such as your own bodyweight or equipment like dumbbells or resistance bands to build strength and muscle. While the benefits of this type of training are numerous, it’s often neglected by runners.
Some common misconceptions are that strength training will add bulk that could slow a runner down, or that only consistent running makes a runner better. In reality, strength training makes you stronger, not bulkier, strengthening muscles vital to running performance. Strength training can enhance your running program while making the experience much more enjoyable.
This article will cover what you need to know about strength training for runners and how to take your training to the next level:
For runners, strength workouts are not only great exercise but also crucial for improvement. Following are a few ways that including strength workouts as part of your running routine can help you become a more robust runner.
Before you can improve your running speed, you need to build your endurance. You can achieve this through mileage; however, increased mileage without a strong foundation increases your risk of injury. One of the greatest advantages of incorporating strength training into your exercise routine is that it will reduce injury risk. Specifically, lower body and core exercises are vital for the prevention of strain on your lower back and knees. In fact, a large percentage of running injuries, especially knee and hip-related complications, occur due to muscle imbalances or muscle frailty.
Additionally, stronger core and leg muscles will allow you to maintain proper form for a longer period of time when running, which will also aid in the reduction of potential injuries. This is especially important for aging runners, since muscles, joints, and bones naturally weaken over time. Developing stronger muscles will stabilize and strengthen those joints, so you can keep running regardless of your age.
Improves Running Economy
Running economy, which is the amount of energy that a runner expends, can also be reduced through strength training. Resistance training improves running economy by up to 8%, which means you can perform for longer without getting fatigued.
By improving your strength, you will be able to fight off the cramps that creep up during the late stages of a long-distance run. For example, if you begin to feel that your lower back is sore or muscle cramps take over in the last stretch of a long run, strength training could be your solution.
Helps Gain More Speed
Researchers have also confirmed that strength training improves running speed, running economy, and muscle power.
Runners typically see improvements in their speed 12 weeks after adding strength training to their fitness routine. It doesn’t require hours of strengthening exercises, either. In fact, just training two to three times a week for 15-20 minutes can develop lean muscles that will help you cover ground more quickly.
The stronger your muscles, the longer they’ll work for you. Strength training helps your body deal with stresses and the high impact of running. This will allow you to run for extended periods of time without feeling as though you are overextending yourself or having the run take a heavy toll on your body. As previously mentioned, endurance is also necessary for developing speed since you're running improves through consistent training.
MIRROR makes strength training from home simple by allowing you to choose from specially designed workouts that can be completed right from your living room.
If you are new to strength training, be mindful that—similar to slowly increasing your mileage when running—you need to slowly build your strength. This requires building foundational strength before increasing the intensity and volume demands of heavier lifts. Heavier weight training places more force on the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints.
Starting off slow doesn’t mean you’re restricted to light training for a long period of time. Rather, a good weight training program will be periodized. This means that the targets of the program will necessarily be altered over time, similar to a running plan that will consist of a base phase, a competition phase, and eventually a taper phase. Incorporating S.M.A.R.T. fitness goals into your routine is a great way to achieve measurable results.
It’s important to note that not all types of strength training exercises are recommended for runners. For instance, powerlifting involves lifting large volumes of weight with low repetitions—usually 1 to 3. This kind of training will lead to considerable muscle mass gain, which may not be advantageous for a runner who needs to remain lean.
Below you’ll find three of the most common forms of strength training, along with a variety of training exercises for runners and the correct form for each.
Strength training requires impeccable form to be most effective. MIRROR analyzes your technique in real-time and offers form fixes. Pair smart weights to MIRROR for an immersive experience.
This type of strength training improves muscular endurance by lifting less weight and performing more reps. Lift about 70 percent of your one-rep max and complete 12 to 20 reps of each exercise. Again, if you are just starting out, be sure that you have mastered your form with your own body weight before adding any additional resistance to your exercises.
For endurance, focus on multi-joint exercises that use free weights rather than machine weights, as free weights activate more muscles and require more control. A couple of endurance strength training exercises for runners that fall into this category and involve the lower body are Romanian deadlifts, split squats, lunges, and sled pull/pushes. The majority of these can be done at home with some basic equipment.
The Romanian deadlift is different from a traditional deadlift in that the traditional deadlift requires you to bend your knees considerably to get into a squat position when picking up the barbell, while there is little knee-bending in the Romanian deadlift. Traditional deadlifts emphasize quadriceps activation, while Romanian deadlifts activate the hamstrings and glutes. If done correctly with the appropriate weight, both will effectively work the back and core muscles.
Deadlifts can be done with barbells or dumbbells; for those strength training at home, dumbbells are easy to store and are just as effective. Here’s how to do a Romanian deadlift with dumbbells: Your starting position will be hanging with your legs straight and toes facing forward. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder width. Draw your shoulders back, keeping your spine straight. Press your hips forward as you move into a standing position with the dumbbells in front of you. Push your hips back as you slowly lower the dumbbells toward your feet, to about shin level.
Split squats are an excellent exercise for your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. As a single-leg exercise, they also engage your core to help you keep balance. Runners will specifically benefit from this exercise because it targets muscle groups that are needed for running.
Your starting position will be standing and either holding a pair of dumbbells or just using your body weight with your back foot on a bench. Bend your back knee down until your knee is at a 90-degree angle. In this position, with your knees bent, get back up again and repeat. Swap the positioning of your left and right leg.
Lunges are a multi-joint exercise that can help with toning and strengthening many muscles in the lower body. Some of the muscles that are targeted during lunges include quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles. Similar to the split squat, lunges also engage your core to help keep you balanced.
The standing position for a lunge is split stance with your right foot about 2 to 3 feet in front of your left foot. Be sure that your torso is straight, your shoulders are pulled back and down, your core is engaged, and your hands are holding your hips. Bend your knees and lower your body until your back knee is a few inches off the floor. Your front thigh should be parallel to the floor and your back knee should be pointing toward the floor. Push back up to the starting position, making sure that your weight stays on the heel of your front foot.
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Miniband Glute Work
Glute work with minibands or resistance bands are some of the best exercises for runners and muscle endurance. For runners, the majority of power comes from the glutes—yet many runners neglect adequately training them. You don’t need fancy equipment to build strong glutes either! Here are a few glute strengthening exercises using just minibands. You can also perform these exercises with lighter resistance before running for glute activation:
Side steps: Loop the resistance band above your knees and get into a close-legged squat position. Step to the side with the right leg, then the left so you’re back in the original position. Do the same on the left side. Perform 15-20 reps on each side. You should feel this in the side of your glutes.
Donkey kicks: Loop the resistance band above your knees and get into a table top position. Kick your right leg up toward the ceiling until your thigh is parallel to the floor. For a further challenge, straighten your leg as you kick toward the ceiling. You should feel this in the top of your glutes.
Clamshells: Loop the resistance band above your knees and lay on your side with your legs bent 90 degrees and knees pressed together. Lift the top knee toward the ceiling, hold for a second, then lower back down. You should feel this in the middle and side of your glute. For more activation, lean slightly forward. Complete 15-20 reps on one side, then switch sides so the other leg is on top.
Functional movements mimic those you make in everyday life, such as getting up off the floor from a sitting position or picking something up from the floor. This category of training is useful for runners because it replicates some of the patterns that you perform when you run.
Bodyweight training works well for functional training. This is especially ideal for home workouts if you don’t have access to the gym or don’t have any equipment at home. If you have weights at home, you can add resistance to these workouts.
MIRROR’s resistance bands, smart dumbbells and ankle weights are a perfect complement to functional training.
Functional training exercises can consist of both upper-body and lower-body workouts. While most runners tend to focus on leg workouts, it is important to include upper body exercises as well. For runners, upper-body strength helps improve your posture by strengthening your back and shoulders. This assists with maintaining your form as you run.
These strength training exercises improve balance, coordination, and movement efficiency. Some examples of functional training exercises for runners that involve the upper body include bird-dog and upper-to-lower planks.
Start on all fours with your knees directly below your hips and your hands shoulder-width apart. Keeping your core tight, slowly extend your left arm in front of you, while at the same time extending your right leg out behind you. Pause at the top, then lower yourself back to the starting position. Perform the same movement with the opposite leg and arm. Hold a dumbbell with the extended arm for added resistance.
Begin in a high plank position with your hands below your shoulder and your abs contracted so that your body is in a straight line. One arm at a time, lower your body to your elbows so that you are in a forearm plank position. Return to the high plank position and repeat.
Single Leg Squat
Single leg squats do not require any equipment, but you can hold dumbbells in each hand if you’re looking for more resistance. To do this exercise, start by standing on one leg and lift your other leg so that it’s straight in front of your torso. Keep your core engaged and begin to push your hips back as you lower yourself to the ground. Try and get low enough so that your hips are as parallel to the ground as possible. Squeeze your glutes as you push into your foot on the ground to stand up, trying as much as possible to keep your leg straight. Repeat this with your other leg.
Begin by standing with your feet hip width apart and holding two dumbbells. Extend your body forward as you shift your weight to one leg, while the other leg moves backward to extend all the way behind you until you form a T shape. Your arms should be hanging straight down while holding on to the weight. Slowly bring your extended leg back to the starting position and repeat this with your other leg.
Strength training regimens that include plyometrics can improve stride efficiency and speed. Plyometrics are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force for short intervals with the goal of increasing power. The movements involve jumping or other quick bursts of explosive movements.
These explosive exercises are thought to help with improving neuromuscular coordination. In other words, they train your nerves and muscles to react and communicate. Plyometric training increases neuromuscular performance by increasing the set speed that muscles can act. This assists with speed, agility, and your muscles’ functional abilities.
Plyometric exercises are typically more advanced movements and involve slightly more power than endurance and functional training. As such, they are better suited for more experienced athletes. Two examples of plyometric workouts are box jumps and lateral hopping drills.
Box jumps are a quintessential plyometric exercise in which you jump from the ground up onto an elevated surface, such as a box. This exercise is high impact and targets your quads and glutes.
Lateral Hopping Drills
With your feet hip distance apart, bend your knees to squat straight down, keeping your body weight on your heels. Shift your weight from your heels to your toes as you start to jump, then quickly push upward and sideways toward the other side. Land as softly as possible by absorbing the impact by squatting deeply. Repeat jumping sideways over the line while keeping your shoulders and hips facing forward.
How Often Should You Strength Train as a Runner?
Strength training 2 to 3 times per week for an 8 to 12 week period produces optimal results. This of course requires that you balance your training schedule to include run days and strength training days.
This sample plan includes a combination of running and resistance training to give you a holistic approach to your fitness routine. However, it is merely a basic guide to give you an idea of how to structure your workouts. If you have a personal trainer, consult with them to develop a more personalized routine to suit your exact needs.
Day 1: Full-body strength training
Day 2: Speed-building tempo run (duration and speed will depend on your level as a runner)
Day 3: Easy run followed by full-body strength training
Day 4: Day off
Day 5: Speed-building tempo run
Day 6: Easy run
Day 7: Long run
Ready to Take Your training to the Next Level?
Incorporating strength training into your workout regime will take some adjustments, though the result will be worth the effort. Not only will it improve your running form, it will transform you into a well-rounded athlete.
MIRROR’s strength training workouts are designed to suit every skill level. Whether you’re just setting out on your resistance training journey or you are a strength training veteran, you’ll find specialized workouts for you.
MIRROR has exclusive programs that are thoughtfully designed. With 1-on-1 personal training sessions available and smart weights that seamlessly pair with the Mirror to analyze and perfect your form in real-time, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your fitness goals as a runner.
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