Running Tips – Strength Training to be a Better Runner

The best way to get better at running is … by running. That doesn’t mean that strength training is not important for runners, though. With so much time dedicated to training runs throughout the week, it’s easy to blow off time in the gym. With this installment of the Running Tips series, I’m going to explain the best exercises when strength training to be a better runner.

Running Tips - Strength Training to be a Better Runner

There are some compelling reasons why strength training can help your progress as a runner and even increase your speed. If you want to know more about why you should be lifting weights, check out this guest post I wrote last year for Allison’s blog: 5 Ways Strength Training Makes You a Better Runner.

The Movements of Running

Set aside your knowledge of what muscles are necessary to strengthen for running and start to think instead of what movements take place during running. Those movements are what you can focus on in your strength training.

Let’s break down the act of running:

Although running is obviously a very active lower body sport, your upper body and torso are also working. Your arms are swinging back and forth with elbows close to your sides; your abdominals and spine musculature are working to maintain your posture; and should there be a sudden change in terrain, like an uneven road or trail, you might bend to one side to keep your balance.

As for your lower body, you are pushing off from your foot in plantar flexion, flexing at the knee and extending at the hip. Running primarily takes place in the frontal plane, so movements like hip abduction and adduction are less a priority in the actual motion of running.

What does this mean for the exercises to focus on for prime running form?

Shoulder flexion: Close-grip bench press, scapular pushups, close-grip cable press, close-grip overhead press.

Shoulder extension: Close-grip rows, close-grip pull-up and pull-downs.

Spinal extension. Many runners bend from the waist in slight spinal flexion, rather than a whole body forward lean which is considered a more efficient running form. To offset this focus on your abdominals in flexion, spinal extension should be prioritized: Supermans, cobra position, the cow position of cat/cow.

Plantar flexion: Standing calf raises

Knee flexion: Hamstring curls, with machine, cable, resistance band, or swiss ball

Knee extension: Leg extensions, with machine, cable or resistance band

Hip extension: Forward or reverse lunges, step ups, squats, deadliest, leg extensions

Hip flexion: Pike, Captain’s Chair knee raises

Stabilization: Plank, wall sits, bird dogs, dead bugs (Need a quick workout which focuses on stabilization? Try my 15 Minute Abs Workout!)

(The lower body movements of the three joints are often referred to as triple extension and in fact all three joints are working when doing exercises like squats, lunges and step ups)

Running Tips - Strength Training to Be a Better Runners

Injury prevention 

Don’t ignore muscles underused in the act of running, just because you think they’re not necessary. Remember, your muscles all work together and it can be helpful to think of your body’s movements as part of an overall linked chain, rather than staccato movements each performed in unison. That means, even if your hip abductors and adductors aren’t working as much as your hip extensors during running, ignoring them completely during strength training can lead to imbalances and injury. Think sumo squats, lateral lunges and step ups, and medial lunges and step ups.

(Want more running injury prevention tips? Check out this post on Treating and Preventing ITB Syndrome)

Endurance vs strength

If you want your strength training to be sports specific to running, then it makes sense that focusing on an endurance type of training (usually 15 repetitions or higher) would be your focus. However, having strength and power to build upon are also important. Ideally, you would program your strength training over the course of a year, leading up to your target season or event. Begin with strength, then power, then be working on endurance as you approach your target.

If you’re unsure of how to come up with a program based on your current status and your running goals, it can be a great idea to work with either a personal trainer or a running coach with strength training experience, so he or she can help you put a good routine into regular practice.

How Often Should You Strength Train?

ACSM guidelines recommend strength training takes place two or three times per week. As a trainer, I recommend a minimum of two strength sessions a week for training effect to occur. If that seems like two to three days you’ll find it difficult to also have time to run, you may consider breaking it down into much shorter mini sessions to do four times a week. In terms of your timing for strength training, it’s a great workout to schedule on an off day, but if you’re lifting weights on the same day as running, run first, since that’s your priority and you want fresh legs for your running workout.

More Resources

Check out some of these great posts from other bloggers on adding strength training to your running routine:

Christine from Love Life Surf has three posts on incorporating yoga: Yoga for Runners, Yoga for Runners – Part 2, and Yoga for Runners – Part 3

For Breaking Muscle, Flavia del Monte write about Weight Training Basics for Runners

Coach Jess from Race Pace Jess gives you a Quickie Post-Run Strength Workout

Amanda from Run to The Finish has a great You Tube workout of Stability Exercises for Runners

Laura from Mommy Run Fast shares 6 Important Strength Exercises for Runners

Runners, do you consistently strength train?

Is strength training more important to you for injury prevention, or performance?


  1. This is such valuable info. I was into strength before I started running so I’m pretty good about keeping it in my schedule. That said, I’ve let it slip on a couple of training cycles and could really tell the difference. Thanks for this!
    Marcia recently posted…CurrentlyMy Profile

  2. I’m a huge advocate of strength training. I’ve said it many times – because I added in plenty of strength work about 9 years ago, I’m running stronger and faster at 44 than I did when I competed in college!
    Kim recently posted…Day With KT Is EvolvingMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      I couldn’t agree more! I think some runners are afraid of adding weight or bulk, but the greater muscle strength really helps with speed and endurance.

  3. And I love this post so much. I’ve been better about strength training but still need to be better about it. Such great info and thank you for the link love!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…NYC Half RecapMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Thanks and you’re welcome! I am always trying to squeeze more strength training in because it does make such a difference for me.

  4. This is great info!! So true though! I mean… people often think that cardio is the only way to go… but you need some strength training in there too!! Thanks for sharing!!
    Cailee recently posted…Sweet Nothings!My Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Thanks, Cailee! Yup, people have it in their heads that all cardio all the time is good for them, but hopefully that mindset will change! Thanks for visiting. 🙂

  5. Exactly!!! I think the lack of strength training when I ran cross country in school is what ultimately caused me to get sick of running. I really wasn’t getting anywhere focusing on the one thing, but my coaches never said to do anything but run!
    Meg B @ Our Misadventures recently posted…#megsboringlife – March Part 1!My Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      I think sports like running and cycling have traditionally had the sole focus be on training in the sport itself, rather than adding in strength training. It can be so helpful for runners to add some weights into their training!! Do you run now, or did you really get sick of it?

  6. Really wonderful and helpful post! I injured my hip while training for my first 1/2 in 2012. The PT and rest from running was really tough to get through but it taught me the importance of strength training consistently. It helped me become a stronger runner for sure.
    Denise @ Healthy Disney Family recently posted…DEAL ALERT! Nordstrom 3X Points, Lancôme GWPMy Profile

    • Carly Pizzani says:

      Hi, new friend! 🙂 Glad we connected through our FB pages! Yes, I learnt the hard way that strength training wasn’t optional when I had ITB syndrome years ago. I totally credit weights for me staying injury free ever since.

  7. I love these tips Carly, I am not doing enough strength training at all. I am having my ups and downs as I am training alone for my first half marathon {Zooma Napa Valley} next month, and I get discouraged. I will take note and keep this in mind 🙂
    Lynda@fitnessmomwinecountry recently posted…Wednesday Wonderfulz #4 Race EditionMy Profile

  8. Thiѕ text is invaluable. How can I findd out more?
    Edith recently posted…EdithMy Profile

  9. Hi Carly 🙂
    I couldn’t agree more. I m trying to fit in strength training at least 2 times a week. If i m not doing weight lifting i like to do something fun like hiking or biking. I used to love boxing as well but can’t find a place i like here in London (yet!).
    To my experience footwork in boxing can really help a runner. Great post
    ellen recently posted…Fast & Easy Dinner rollsMy Profile


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