Whether you’ve lost track of how many half marathons you’ve done or you’ve caught the running bug with this Spring weather, strength training can help you improve as a runner! Every runner can benefit from incorporating strength training into their routine, and your body and running performance will thank you! Trying these 10 strength exercises for runners that you can do at home, right now!
Benefits of Strength Training for Runners
Strength training can improve your speed and endurance, so whether you’re squeezing in two miles before you make dinner or you’re prepping to win a race, lifting weights can enhance your performance. Running alone has a rocky relationship with weight loss, and strength training can be the metabolism boost you need to help smooth out that path and help you see consistent results.
Strength work is vital in preventing injury. Many runners have muscle imbalances, and if these aren’t addressed they can cause damage. Fixing these imbalances can also reduce any pain you experience during or after running, depending on the source. If you’ve ever had to take a break from something you love or a goal you’re working towards because of an injury, then you know the accompanying frustration and discouragement. Adding strength training into your routine can help keep you injury free.
Strength work also does cool things like improves your running form, your stability and balance, and of course makes you look more toned and a Hottie McHotterson. No complaints there!
What Muscles Do Runners Need To Strengthen?
Honestly, I’m a big fan of always working the entire body. I’m not sure your biceps and triceps help you run fast ;) but I personally have never been a fan of completely ignoring muscles. That being said, there are definitely exercises that you should focus your time and effort on, since they are directly linked with running and/or common imbalances. Your legs, glutes, back, and abs are especially important.
Single-leg exercises are effective at preventing or correcting muscle imbalances. Since running is a repetitive movement, your abductors tend to be neglected; focusing on the outside of your legs and glutes will help prevent injury.
Sometimes pain and injury come from tight muscles or trigger points. Foam rolling and stretching your calves and sore muscles can prevent pain and improve flexibility. This is barely scraping the surface of common imbalances or injuries and what runners should be doing- but you get the idea! The list below is absolutely not exhaustive, but it is a great place to start.
10 Exercises Every Runner Should Be Doing
These all can be done at home; all you need is a pair of dumbbells. I don’t have a vendetta against machines, but I would almost always recommend free weights over machines for athletes! These are photos taken from my instructional videos, so if you need more instruction or demonstration I’ve got your back
The Why: This deadlift variation will strengthen your back to help your running form and endurance, and will increase your leg strength for power and speed. It also targets muscles that are prone to injury.
The How: (Straight-legged variety) Stand up tall, feet hip-width apart, with your dumbbells facing your thighs. Hinge at your hips (throw your butt back before you bend over), keep a slight bend in your knees, and slowly lower your dumbbells along your legs until your back is parallel with the ground. Thrust your hips forward and squeeze your glutes and the back of your legs to come back up. Keep your core engaged and back straight (your natural curve, no hunching or arching) the entire movement.
Dumbbell Rows with Squat Hold
The Why: This combo move targets your upper back and lats, but will challenge the endurance of your legs and strengthen your core and lower back! Perfect for running form and improved performance.
The How: Start with your feet hip-width apart; hinge your hips (throw your butt back) and drop down into a partial squat- go down as far as you can hold it with good form. With a dumbbell in each hand and your arms out in front of you, squeeze your back to bring your dumbbells up to your chest, pause, and lower them to the starting position. Keep your core tight and don’t allow yourself to slouch, and don’t let your knees go over your toes while holding the squat.
The Why: These will improve the strength and dynamic flexibility of your legs, while recruiting other important running muscles! Single leg work (and just about any type of lunge) is extremely beneficial.
The How: Stand up tall, feet hip-width apart, dumbbells at your sides. Take a big step forward with your right leg and drop your hips straight down, while still keeping them level. Press your right foot into the ground, squeeze your glutes and thighs to help you stand up, and bring your left foot up to your right. Repeat with the left leg, and continue to alternate. Don’t let your knee go over your toes on your front leg, and try to bend each leg to 90 degrees when you lunge.
The Why: Strengthening your back and core will help keep you from slouching while running, improve your form, and help prevent lower back pain.
The How: Lay on your stomach with your hands and legs straight and extended. Keeping your core tight, contract your back to lift your head, arms, and legs off of the floor. Pause for 2-3 seconds. Slowly return to the ground.
Single Leg Hip Thrusts
The Why: This is another single leg activity to help with muscular imbalances, and improve strength and range of motion. Strengthening your glutes and hamstrings is important for people who sit a lot, too!
The How: Rest your upper back on a bench (or your couch) and sit on the floor. Extend one leg, while keeping the other flat on the floor and close to your butt. Press that foot into floor, squeeze your glutes, and bring your body up so your torso is parallel with the floor. Slowly lower back down and start another rep as soon as your butt touches the ground. Be mindful to keep your hips aligned during the move, and keep your neck in line with your spine (look at the ceiling while you’re up, look in front of you while sitting).
And thank Bret Contreras for this move, your future great butt, and the improvement in your running.
The Why: Planks work several different muscles that will help your running form. They specifically challenge the endurance of your core, which is important to keep you injury-free!
The How: Start out lying on your stomach with your hands flat on the floor, directly below your shoulders. Have your legs out straight and toes curled under. Press your hands into the floor, squeeze your core, and come up into a straight arm plank position.
Don’t allow your hips to sag or your butt to come up. Think about squeezing your core and drawing your belly button in towards your spine, and pressing your hands into the floor the whole time. Try to keep your head and neck in line with the rest of your spine. You can do these on your forearms- just place your elbows directly underneath your shoulders!
The Why: Remember the abductors I mentioned earlier? Clamshells will help strengthen the outside of your legs and glutes, which are commonly weak in runners. Side lunges, lateral step ups, Side plank stars, and lying leg abductions also target this area. Don’t neglect these muscles!
The How: Lie on your right side with your head cradled in your right palm. Bend your hips and knees in front of you 45 degrees. Squeeze the hip and outside of your butt on your left leg and lift your knee up to the ceiling at about 90 degrees, keeping your hips stacked. Make sure you don’t externally rotate your hip, which you would feel by rocking slightly backwards. Keep your feet together through the entire movement. Pause at the top before returning to starting position. Repeat reps on opposite leg.
Elevated Glute Bridge
The Why: Ooooh this exercise will strengthen your core and back, while targeting muscles in your lower body that are associated with injury in runners!
The How: Lie on your back with your feet on a bench or couch. Keep your feet in line with your knees and hips. Start with both hips and knees at a 90 degree angle. Press your heels into the bench and contract your butt and hamstrings to raise your hips up until they are fully extended. Pause and squeeze at top, and slowly lower back down. You can keep your arms out to the side, but raising them above your head will be a better challenge for your core.
The Why: The short is that I’m obsessed with these. They are efficient at working your lower abs and creating a solid core that will improve your running performance and form.
The How: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees and your thighs perpendicular to the ground. Raise your arms up so they are parallel with your thighs, fingers pointing at the ceiling.
Extend one leg out straight while lowering both arms behind your head. Let your leg and arms hover a few inches over the ground; don’t let them rest on the floor. Think about keeping your lower back flat on the floor and pulling your lower abs down. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite leg.
The Why: Side planks are another great core challenge that will improve your running form and posture!
The How: Get on your side, with your feet stacked or your top foot slightly in front of the bottom. Position your elbow directly under your shoulder, with your forearm on the ground. Press your forearm into the floor and squeeze your side. This can be made easier by bending both legs, keeping your feet behind you, and coming up on your bottom knee.
Putting It All Together
OK… so you have these exercises, now what?
- Do this workout 2-3 times through, 10 reps each. Do reps on both sides of the body when needed, and hold the planks for 30-45 seconds.
- Sign up for Running Month – each weekly workout for the month of May (5 weeks, y’all) is created with exercises runners should be doing, and put together in ways that will improve your endurance and speed (and prevent injury/imbalance!).
- It’s $11.99/mo so… with 2 weeks free you can participate in the entire Running Month for less than $12. You can cancel easily at anytime.
General Strength Training Tips
Consistency will be important for building this strength foundation and to get the full benefits of lifting weights. Shoot for 2-3x/week as you add these awesome exercises into your routine.
If you’re new to strength training, proper form is crucial! One reason we do this is to prevent injury, so taking the time to learn the proper way to strength train will be a small time investment now that will improve your body, health, and running for years to come!
The Fit Tutor membership comes with video tutorials with beginner, intermediate, and advanced exercises so you can hear and see how to do each correctly. I’m a nationally certified trainer and safetey is my #1!
Endurance vs Speed
We will go over this in more detail in a later post, but if distance running is the butter to your bread, you’ll want to increase your reps (shoot for 15-20) and decrease the weight you use. If speed is your goal, challenge yourself with heavier weights. 10 reps is still good, but you could even decrease to 6-8.
In general, no matter what your goals are, you should be using a weight that is challenging to you. Endurance trainers can shoot for a weight that is difficult around 10-12 reps, and for speed/power, shoot for a weight that’s challenging around rep #5-6. For Runner’s Month, I’ve included Plyometric exercises that are extremely beneficial for speed and power. They are a great addition to any runner’s routine.
You can strength train before a run, just make sure your run is easy-ish, no more than 45 minutes, and you focus on form since your muscles will be tired. You could also strength train on alternating days. We’ll address this more later this month :)
We won’t get into this in this post, but flexibility training is important for runners, too. Stretching, foam rolling, yoga, etc should not be neglected. I know, I know. All you want to do is run, but in order to do that long-term, you need to throw in some strength training and flexibility work to take good care of your body.
Running Month Is Here For You
Whew! That was a lot. I hope you walk away with a belief that strength training shouldn’t be neglected, some good exercises to do, and how often to do them. If you want more, sign up for Running Month here with The Fit Tutor and get several more workouts designed specifically for runners– a new one comes out each Sunday! Cannot wait!!!
Now you can access the runner’s month workouts for FREE + get a new workout delivered to your inbox each week! Sign up here:
Best of luck in your running endeavors, and if you have Spring Running Fever, may this year be the year it sticks and becomes a passion for you! :)
And don’t forget to sign up so you receive each Runner’s Month post directly into your inbox. What a great time to be alive.
Cheering you on,