Strength Training for Runners

Strength training for runners is something that any serious marathoner is interested in. The problem is that without guidance certain strength moves and techniques do more harm than good in terms of faster times, biomechanical efficiency, etc. Not to be scared off though, increasing strength through training, if done correctly will be highly beneficial to a runner

Benefits of Strength Training as a Runner

  • A strong upper body is what can make all the difference in the later miles of the marathon. As your legs begin to tire, your upper body can help to compensate if it is strong enough. It will pull you to the finish line while battling off fatigue.
  • It is great for injury prevention! A lot of injuries are caused by weak muscles. Strengthening problem areas such as the hips, knees and ankles will help injury proof a runner's body.
  • Having overall strength, in upper and lower body, will extend a runner's  "time until exhaustion", or the point where they can physiologically not go any further.
  • Running efficiency will improve. Strengthening your core, upper and lower body will translate into better form which equals better efficiency, faster times and less fatigue! Running economy IS a race performance predictor!
  • It gives you a faster kick to the finish line. Having more muscle mass in the legs means that you are able to put more force into the ground. In doing so you are able to make that finish line sprint faster. Who doesn't like an amazing, strong finish?
  • The higher the force production = the shorter amount of ground contact time = faster speed! Becoming stronger means that you will be able to produce more force. 
  • Eliminates muscular imbalances between muscles that do opposite jobs (agonist vs. antagonist muscles). 
  • Protects bone health. As we get older our bones need to be protected. Strength training will protect and also guard against stress fractures. 
  • It improves overall health! As runners, a lot of times we get on a one track mind of running and other areas of out body suffer. Doing strength training as a runner will tone all areas that we usually tend to forget. 

What is the Best Kind of Strength Training for Runners?

Running a marathon is an extremely aerobic (oxygen requiring) event. Therefore it only makes sense to train in the aerobic pathway (vs. the anaerobic pathway). Nobody training for a marathon will train like a football player. No, they will go out and train in what they are performing in – running. Training in both pathways will not allow the body of an aerobic athlete to make the large aerobic potential gains and adaptations that are possible and so instead of helping performance it will actually hinder it.

Strength training is more of an anaerobic method which is why it is extremely important as a runner to do lifts and techniques of a more aerobic nature. There are four different abilities that any lifter trains in:

  • Strength
  • Power
  • Hypertrophy (gains in muscle size)
  • Muscular Endurance

As a marathon runner we want to focus on Muscular Endurance.

Muscular endurance is the ability of the muscle to repeatedly contract over long periods of time, as in a marathon! So although most people think of ALL lifting as "strength training" we as marathoners are really going to pursue "muscular endurance lifting". Yes, it is still "strength lifting" however in the true meaning of the words and abilities, strength and muscular endurance work are different.

Runners aren't looking to becoming big and buff as true strength, power or hypertrophy work would make them. Having lean muscles is a benefit in strength training for runners in the fact that weighing less will help you to go faster and not tire as easily. This doesn't mean to say you aren't strong, only that you are leaner and have more endurance capabilities.  

True strength and power moves focus more on high intensity levels  (usually greater than 85% of a person's one rep max) with low sets (usually less than 6) and reps and longer rest periods (anywhere from 2-5 minutes) between sets.

As a runner we need to train differently and so we follow these components: 

Components of Muscular Endurance Strength Training:

  • More Reps: 12-15 and upwards of 20
  • Fewer Sets: 2-3 
  • Shorter rest intervals between sets: only 15-30 seconds

This may seem like haphazard protocol but as soon as one increases their rest breaks and lowers there sets they are no longer doing muscular endurance work. Here is where marathon running efficiency is compromised.

No worries though. I'll make it easy for you to do strength training for runners and break it down exactly as it should be done so no guess work will be involved!

On this page, I talk about which muscles runners should focus on strengthening!

3 different training plans to get you started!

Looking for specific workouts and your goal is to lose weight?

The 12 Week Half Marathon Weight Loss Challenge includes 12 different sets of strength workouts sent to you each week! 

Other Strength Workouts for Runners:

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