How Strength Training Improves Running?

training man

Do you think weight training is only for musclebound gym junkies? Think again. Incorporating strength training into your running routine can make considerable progress, improve your running performance and prevent injury.

There’s an obvious divide among the majority of gym goers. No one talks about it but it’s there simmering beneath the surface of the pleasantries shared by the water fountain. It’s obvious as those looks of disdain the lithe individuals on the running machines throw at the ‘meatheads’ sweating all over the free weights, or the smirking grunts leveled at ‘skinny’ guys doing cardio by the monsters pushing piles of iron. Now, as common as this state of affairs is in most commercial gyms, delve a bit of deeper into the benefits of weight training and running and you quickly realize its victims may be missing a trick.

What we’re going to examine is why a runner would considerably benefit from getting stuck into a well planned and executed resistance program.

When a runner speeds up they spend less time in contact with the ground; for this reason, more force has to be applied in less time. This is why sprinting, where maximal force is used, can only be maintained for a short period of time. We can therefore conclude that if you want to increase your speed you should become more efficient at transferring force to the ground quickly. In other words, you need a good power to weight ratio along with stability and mobility.

man and kettlebell
Weight training benefits runners in several ways.

With this in mind, let’s mention some of the more well-known benefits of weight training:


If you’re serious about your running you’d be completely irrational not to supplement it with an appropriate weight training program. For this reason, top level athletes all have strength and conditioning coaches who make sure they include time in the weights room into their training programs.

running machine
You want to increase power to weight ratio, which will enable you to run more efficiently.

How to start?

When you make that step into hitting the iron in that weights room there are numerous things you should consider if your goal is to improve general running performance.

Firstly, considering the amount of endurance conditioning work a runner does in their normal training, it wouldn’t make sense to concentrate on high rep endurance work. Instead you should focus on improving areas that endurance running doesn’t, so lower rep, higher weight sets while moving through a full range of movement is definitely more useful.

Don’t worry about gaining excessive amounts of bulk when doing this kind of training either, because without a considerate calorie surplus, which is unlikely when you’re doing plenty of running, you aren’t suddenly going to turn into a bodybuilder. What you’re aiming at is an increase in power to weight ratio that will enable you to run more efficiently. This includes better acceleration, more speed and an improved ability to handle undulation.

Something you’re going to need to become familiar with is the concept of overload. What you’re trying to do is taking your muscles to a point of fatigue over a given time frame. The term used to describe this is time under tension (TUT). The intricacies of different phases of contraction are a bit complicated to go into in any depth here, but of course  every rep needs to last a given period of time to make sure the right muscle fibers are targeted leading to the desired performance result.

A basic benchmark makes sure each rep lasts at least four seconds, or two seconds in each way. The secret to improving over time is to apply an increase in overload progressively. There are numerous variables a coach can change in a structured training program, including rest between sets and number of exercises, but for running what you’re aiming for is more weight on the bar. Don’t be afraid to inch up several kilos at a time, and don’t forget to record your workouts in your log book.

resistance training
Including resistance training ( only 2-3 hours a week) will make you quickly notice that your efficiency on the road is significantly improved.

Mobility is important

One thing that you’ll need to pay attention to if you don’t want to inhibit your running performance is making sure that you don’t adversely inhibit your mobility. In spite of a popular myth, the intelligent application of resistance training won’t turn you into an inflexible mess – but there are specific precautions that are necessary to apply to keep you nicely flexible and mobile.

Never forget to warm up properly and make sure you do the mobility work applicable to the workouts you plan to conduct, especially with movements like squatting. Working through that full range is hugely important for someone trying to boost athletic performance so spending time to ensure you have the flexibility to do so is a worthwhile investment. Making sure your hips, knees and ankles move freely is an absolute must.

Including resistance training doesn’t just get you away from running all the time, but only 2-3 hours a week will make you quickly notice that your efficiency on the road is significantly improved. Quite simply, you’ll manage your weight better, you’ll suffer less injuries and your times will improve. So it’s time to overcome that social gym divide, get your hands on that barbell and shove those hairy brutes out the way!

weight training

Try out this workout routine

This is an example workout designed for a recreational runner. It consists of strength work, with an emphasis on movements that improve running performance. It also includes some stability and speed exercises. The routine will help you – if you are new to weight training – to start along the right lines in a way that will improve performance. Perform the workout 2-3 times a week with a least one full day away from the weights room in between.

  • Barbell Back Squats – 6-10 reps, 3 sets, 60 sec rest

Here we are aiming at increasing power and strength in our legs. It’s important that we take the squat depth down pretty low, with your upper legs going at least parallel with the ground. This will make sure we get a good amount of glute activation which will transfer well to running.

  • Stiff Leg Deadlift – 8-10 reps, 3 sets, 60 sec rest

The hamstrings are a very important muscle and are the primary movers when running on the flat, and a stiff leg deadlift is an excellent exercise to develop them. Make sure you keep your shoulders retracted and backbone in neutral while flexing from the hip and moving through the full range of the muscle.

press up

  • Press Ups – 10-12 reps, 3 sets, 45 sec rest

Anybody watching a runner driving up an incline will be immediately reminded as to how upper body strength plays a role. With a push up we work the chest and triceps effectively, as well as stabilizing right through the core. Keep it tight and make sure your form is strict.

  • Standing Shoulder Press – 10-12 reps, 2 sets, 45 sec rest

Working the shoulders and triceps, when done from the standing position here we’re also helping improve posture and stability. Again make sure your form is correct and that you have the mobility not to arch your back when pressing.

  • Lateral Jumps/Kettle Bell Swing Super Sets – 6 reps/10 reps, 4 sets, 20 sec rest

It’s time to include a little power into your movements. With both of these exercises, complete back-to-back in a superset, the movements involve speed, which you will appreciate because it translates extremely well to running. Jump as high as possible with the lateral jumps and use a heavy kettle bell with the swings. Coaching here is important because the exercises are complicated to do correctly.

  • Alternating Step Lunges – 10 per leg, 3 sets, 30 sec rest

This is an excellent exercise to increase not only your whole lower body strength, but also your knee and hip stability. Make sure you step down slowly and keep everything nice and tight throughout the exercise.

  • Pull Ups – 8-10 reps, 3 sets, 45 sec rest

The best bodyweight back and biceps workout. If you’re not strong enough use some heavy weight resistance bands looped over the handles and knees and work up to them. If you want to increase your upper body strength to power ratio this is a no brainer.

  • Russian Twists/Skydiver Super Sets – 16 reps/60 seconds, 3 sets, 20 sec rest

Keeping the core nice and stable is important for every runner. By performing an exercise like Russian twist we’re doing so while mimicking the crossover movement of a runner in stride. Also incorporate some isometric back work with the skydiver and your core will soon be in tiptop condition ready for the road.

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Written by Thomas Young

Thomas Young just loves bodybuilding and this is why he has found his dream job in a gym working as a personal trainer. On the weekends, he likes to go hiking and mountaineering.


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