5 Strength Training Exercises to Make You a Better Runner

Woman running on road

Adam Riemer |

If you’re a seasoned runner, building endurance, increasing mileage, and hill workouts are probably part of your repertoire. Strength training, on the other hand, may not be so familiar – but it should be!

If you’re not currently strength training to improve your running, below are some reasons why it’s time to start in order to improve your athletic performance, as well as some exercises to perform regularly.Woman running on road

Why is Resistance Training Important for Runners?

  • Builds endurance to help prevent fatigue
  • Prevents muscle imbalances
  • Improves running form and movement economy
  • Develops both slow and fast-twitch muscle fibers. (Slow twitch are the muscle fibers of endurance, that ones active during endurance events. Fast twitch fibers are the sprinters, important for speed and your final “kick”).
  • Improves body composition and aids in weight loss

When and How Often Should You Do a Resistance Training Session?

“Make your hard days hard and your easy days easy” is a philosophy many runners use. Add the strength session on the same days as a hard workout so your easy days are truly easy. After your run and cool down is the optimum time.

Start with two sessions per week. Two full-body workouts are preferred over a “leg day” or “core day” so your muscles recover in a similar fashion before your next run!

Which Strength Training Exercises Should a Runner Do?

Running is a full body activity – it’s not just your legs working! Power and stability of your arms, trunk and hips - as well as your foot turnover - contribute by optimizing form and decreasing fatigue.

Here are five exercises to build muscle, prevent injury, run and recover faster. They should take about 15 minutes to complete once you get into the routine. However, take your time to ensure your form is perfect and it will carry over best to running!

  1. Agility Ladder Lateral High Knees

This exercise strengthens muscles in a different plane of motion from running - the frontal plane – contributing to hip and pelvis stability. Start slowly and increase speed and knee height as your coordination for the exercise improves.

Do 5 passes to the right and left, pumping your arms strongly and maintaining a forward gaze. If that last bit is hard, do the exercise in front of a mirror or watch your reflection in a sliding glass door so you can see your feet without bending your neck. Always keep the speed ladder untethered so it will move if you accidentally trip yourself. (I’ve been there!)

  1. XFit Power Band Resisted Running

Many runners cave at the hips as fatigue increases during a run or race. We spend much of our time standing on one foot while the other is moving through the air, so being able to stay tall at the hips while on one foot is key to strong running.

  • Position the power resistance band so it’s anchored down to a spot behind you, low to the ground. Ideally, it should be wrapped around a sturdy pole or tree, about 3 feet behind your starting position. The angle of pull should be down and back – not straight back – for the best effect.
  • Wrap the untethered end of the band around your hips. Lean forward from the hips then move from one foot to another into an exaggerated run position.
  • Start slowly at first, pausing on each foot, then build to continuous running as stability improves. The same posture cues noted above apply here: bring your knee up high, drive your arms and stay tall in the head and trunk!
  • Do 25 and build to 2 continuous minutes.
  1. Medicine Ball Plank

This is a great way to level-up your usual plank.

  • Get into a plank position with the medicine ball under your hands. Look at it to keep your head and neck properly positioned and slightly elevate your buns to ensure you’re not sagging at the hips.
  • Brace your trunk muscles, breathe and hold!
  • Begin with 30 second holds and work your way up from there.
  1. Diagonal Lift in Half Kneeling with Resistance Bands

Every movement the human body does in everyday life involves rotation, so it’s important to train that way as well. This exercise develops rotational strength and stability of the head, neck, trunk, hips/pelvis and shoulder blades.

  • Start in a half-kneeling position with a resistance band anchored near the floor to the outside of the kneeling knee.
  • Hold the opposite end of the band in both hands, and with straight arms, lift diagonally across your body from hip to a point just above the opposite shoulder.
  • Slowly return to the starting position. If balance allows, turn your head and watch your hands as you lift for an added challenge. You may want to use a Yoga Knee Pad or Balance Pad for cushioning under your back knee in addition to working balance.
  • Begin with 10 on each side.
  1. Single Leg Deadlift with Kettlebell

The idea with this exercise isn’t to build bulk, but to train the glutes and hamstrings as hip extensors in a single leg balance position, just like the hip extension component of running. High reps/low weight is ideal here. The deadlift is a hip hinge movement, not a squat.

  • Stand on one leg with a kettlebell in the opposite hand. Keep your standing leg straight as you hinge forward from the hip toward the floor, letting your back leg lift and extend behind you.
  • Make sure to keep your shoulders pulled back and maintain a flat back as you reach the kettlebell toward the floor. Hinge forward only as far as you can whilst keeping this position. You do not need to reach all the way to the floor!
  • Do 15 reps each leg.

Bonus Exercise: Yoga!

Yoga’s structured, multi-joint stretching is much preferred over typical static stretches because the latter tends to create muscle imbalances. Plus, yoga requires motions runners don’t often train but need, such as trunk rotation, back extension and flexion, and is fantastic for single leg balance!

Happy Running!

Jessica Nicolosi Slaven, PT
Fueled by coffee, running, funky tunes and wine, Jess is a 25-year running veteran with a BS in Exercise Science and MS in Physical Therapy. She can be found running and air drumming on the treadmills and trails of Boulder, Colorado. Follow her personal running journey @runnerjessnic

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