Do Runners Need Strength Training?

 As a runner, it’s easy to dismiss strength training and revolve your training regimen around your speed and mileage. But did you ever wonder if strength training can help your running journeys? We’re here to tell you that, yes, strength training can be a game changer. There must be a solid reason why top athletes from all sports have a strict gym routine, right?

But we’ll focus solely on runners here, so stick around to learn about the benefits of strength training for runners, how to get started, and more.

What Are the Benefits of Strength Training for Runners?

Strength training can make you a better runner in many ways. Here are just two of the biggest benefits, which are enough to show how stronger muscles can translate to higher performance.

Improved Running Economy

Strength training can do wonders for your biomechanics, which can make you a more efficient runner by improving how your body uses oxygen at high speeds (running economy).

Studies have consistently found that runners who consistently train for strength take longer to fatigue. And it makes sense when you consider how strength training can teach your major muscle groups to remain stable and work in tandem, resulting in less oxygen waste.

Injury Prevention

We all know how running can be strenuous on the bones, especially among older runners. The constant pounding creates a force that must go somewhere, and it ends up being absorbed by the body, often the joints or spine.

But when you build stronger muscles, they can absorb the force instead, thus protecting the more susceptible parts from physical stress.

Best Strength Exercises for Runners

Unsurprisingly, runners should focus on strengthening their lower body muscles, as these can have the biggest direct impact. Try some of these exercises for the major muscle groups in that area:

  • Squat: A compound exercise that works your entire lower body in one go. The standard variation is especially good for big quads.
  • Bulgarian split squat:A squat variation that is a bit heavier on the glutes and adductors.
  • Lunge: Great for stronger glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
  • Hamstring curl: For the back thigh muscles that also help to stabilize the knee joint. You’ll need a special machine for this exercise, though.
  • Calf raises: Great for big calves. Can be done on a machine or a ledge. 

You should also never neglect your upper body, especially the core and back muscles, which can help your spine as much as the leg muscles help the knees. Here are some great compound exercises:

  • Deadlift: Deadlifts are as close to a total body exercise as you’ll get. They work almost all of the back muscles, the glutes, hamstrings, forearms, and more. Can be done with any kind of weight.
  • Plank: An easy-to-do exercise that can be done anywhere and helps build stronger core muscles. You can level it up with harder variations as you progress.
  • Push-up: A chest-heavy exercise that also works the core and helps you build a muscularly balanced physique.
  • Tricep dip: Great exercise for growing the largest arm muscle, the tricep, which can improve arm swing and contribute to muscle balance. You can do bench dips if you don’t have access to a dip machine.

Incorporating Strength Training

Fortunately, you don’t need more than 2-3 days per week of strength training to reap its benefits, so it can be easy to incorporate into your routine.

One way we suggest is by dividing your strength training into two days: one for the upper body and one for the lower, and pick 4-6 exercises for each. You can use the ones listed above for a start.

Depending on your weekly running routine, you can either do your strength training after an easy 30-60 minute run or on a free day.

Common Misconceptions

Despite all the benefits of strength training, some runners still feel uneasy about it. But that can often stem from misconceptions surrounding weightlifting. Let’s break those down.

Fear of Getting Bulky

While it’s true that getting too big can slow you down, it’s also easy to underestimate how difficult it is to get bulky.

Bodybuilders don’t get bulky by training twice a week at the rate we suggested. Instead, they go for 6+ sessions per week at a much higher intensity. And they follow it up with a bulky diet to maximize muscle growth.

In contrast, doing 10 exercises per week for general health and running performance is wildly different. You won’t just grow “too big” to run by accident.

Fear of Gym Injury

Any athletic endeavor comes with an inherent risk of injury. But if you follow proper form with your strength exercises and avoid overloading your body, then you eliminate almost all of the risk.

Time Constraints

Maybe you think you don’t have enough time to do strength training. And we know how daunting it might seem if you’re already busy. But consider that it could take you as little as one hour a week (30 mins x 2 sessions) to make the most out of your training and weigh that against the potential benefits.

Final Words

We understand that strength training can seem boring to many runners, but know that getting started is the hardest part. You don’t even need to get a gym membership, as a pair of dumbbells at home can get the job done.

Once you start seeing the results, you’ll feel more encouraged to stick to your gym routine and it won’t feel like a chore anymore. Most importantly, pick a sustainable routine that won’t burn you out, even if it seems suboptimal.

Interested in more running tips? Check out these articles below:

Cardio Exercises for Beginners: Get Fit at Home

How to Train for Running at Altitude


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