Strength training: A complete guide for runners

strength training for runners

Strength training for runners is essential for anyone looking to run faster and get stronger.

Once you feel like you’re ready to step up your training and you’d really like to achieve a PB in your next race, consider adding strength training into your training routine.

But what exactly is strength training? In this post, I’d like to explain a few key points when it comes to strength training for runners.

strength training for runners

What is strength training?

You may have heard the term ‘strength training’ banded around the running community and indeed in the fitness industry.

Strength training is essentially a type of exercise that specialises in the use of resistance, in the form of your own body weight or weights, to build the strength, anaerobic endurance and size of skeletal muscles and bone density.

Why is strength training important for runners?

Strength training is important for runners because it helps you build stronger muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues.

It improves your speed and power and lowers your risk of injury. It also contributes to better running form. In other words, it helps you run more efficiently. 

Running is so much more than just running. In order to become a better runner, run faster and stronger for longer, you need to be dabbling in ancillary work like strength training. 

strength training for runners

Can strength training help with injury prevention?

Yes, yes, yes! One of the biggest reasons to include strength training in your training routine is that it helps to dramatically reduce the risk of injury in a lot of runners. 

The injury rate in the running community remains pretty high. Unfortunately, overuse injuries like IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, shin splints and runner’s knee are all very common.

But with an effective strength training strategy, you can avoid a lot of these niggling injuries.

Studies have shown that strength training helps to cure IT band syndrome and improves running economy.

Studies have also shown that weightlifting improves performance, economy and muscle power.

I’m new to strength training, where do I start?

The best place to start is to familiarise yourself with some basic body weight exercises.

Body weight exercises are great for beginners because you don’t need any equipment to do them (your body is the resistance/weight).

And they can be done virtually anywhere – at home, in the gym, outdoors.

The key is to focus on compound movements that use your whole body. So air squats, burpees, hip bridges, single-leg squats, inchworms, single-leg calf raises, planks, side planks, forward lunges, backward lunges – you get the point!

Once you’ve mastered some basic body weight exercises, then you can start to look at incorporating some equipment like kettlebells, dumbbells and medicine balls.

Progression in the form of added weight, difficulty or resistance is necessary in the future to avoid your body getting used to a particular workout (i.e. hitting a plateau in your training).

So, for example, if you wanted to progress an air squat, you could do the following:

Progression: Number of reps

  • Week 1 – Air squat (8 reps with 1 minute rest in between)
  • Week 2 – Air squats (10 reps with 1 minute rest in between)
  • Week 3 – Air squats (12 reps with 1 minute rest in between)

Progression: Amount of weight and reps

  • Week 1 – Weighted squat (8 reps with 4kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)
  • Week 2 – Weighted squat (10 reps with 6kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)
  • Week 3 – Weighted squat (12 reps with 8kg kettlebell with 1 minute rest in between)

Do I have to join a gym in order to do strength training?

No. There are plenty of exercises and workouts that you can do from the comfort of your own home or in your local park. 

A gym membership, although desirable if you want to add resistance/weights into your routines, is not essential.

A good strength training plan should involve both bodyweight exercises and weight training to get the full benefits of the plan.

Will I get too bulky if I do strength training? Won’t this affect how fast I can run?

Many runners mistakenly believe that doing strength training will make them more bulky, therefore slowing them down on the running track.

The truth is you’d have to do A LOT of weight training in order to gain a lot of muscle and end up looking like a bodybuilder.

By including one to three strength training sessions in your routine a week alongside your running, you will strengthen your muscles and joints and improve your running economy. 

Because running by its very nature breaks down muscle, whereas strength training builds it up, therefore the two activities counteract one another.

What about CrossFit? Is it recommended for runners?

CrossFit has become very popular in the fitness industry over the last few years. Many people seem to have a love/hate relationship with CrossFit. It’s like marmite!

On their official website, CrossFit is described as “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more.” 

The debate over CrossFit and whether or not it’s recommended for runners is a fierce one. And honestly I don’t think it has subsided!

Running is a repetitive movement that involves mostly your legs, which over time can cause imbalances in the rest of the body, which eventually can lead to injury down the line. 

CrossFit exercises involve your whole body rather than isolating one particular muscle group. 

CrossFit combines powerlifting, strength training and gymnastics training, all of which can benefit runners as you are using different types of muscle fibres.

Working your entire body can also help you lose fat, which may help to increase your endurance and speed as a runner.

Is HIIT a form of strength training?

HIIT (high intensity interval training) is the best of both worlds. It is classed as both cardio and strength training.

In my experience, HIIT is way more tailored towards cardio as it involves a lot of bodyweight exercises. 

It’s actually quite tricky to programme HIIT workouts with weights safely and effectively because they are so intense. 

If you’re not used to plyometric movements (e.g. those that use a lot of power and force), you may end up injuring yourself if you dive straight into a HIIT session with weights. 

Of course everyone’s training plan is different. But if you really want to increase your strength and build muscle, focus on fewer reps and heavier loads, with rest periods in between. 

Strength training in its true form is all about slow and controlled movements, unless your focus is power.

If so, then short, powerful movements as seen in power lifting are the way forward.

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