Weight Training for Runners

About the Author

Doug Adams PT, DPT, SCS, OCS, CSCS Dr. Doug Adams is a Physical Therapist who has published and spoken at an international level on all things related to running. Doug has taught thousands of professionals his systematic approach to providing personalized plans for runners through the Certified Running Gait Analyst and Endurance Running Coaching courses. He also designed and created a portable 3D Motion Analysis system called Helix 3D for analyzing and categorizing running form that is used widely throughout the Department of Defense, professional sports, and commercial sectors.

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Weight training is a fundamental aspect of a well-rounded training program for runners, serving as the perfect complement to the miles logged on the road or track. Weight training helps with more than building muscle; it helps craft a resilient body that can endure more, recover faster, and sprint harder.

This guide lays out a tailored approach to weight training designed to complement your running routine and propel you toward your personal best with strength and confidence.


Essential for Runners

Why Weight Training is Essential for Runners

In the pursuit of peak performance, runners often focus on accumulating miles, overlooking the transformative power of weight training.

Yet, integrating weight training into a running regimen is crucial for several reasons.

Improve Running Efficiency and Speed

Weight training bolsters the muscles and tendons, enabling runners to propel themselves forward with each stride forcefully. This increase in muscular strength translates directly to improved running efficiency, as the body uses less energy to achieve higher speeds.

The enhanced power aids in developing a more effective stride pattern and length, which are crucial components for increasing speed over various distances.

Contributing to Injury Prevention

The repetitive nature of running places considerable stress on the body, often leading to overuse injuries. Strength training counters this risk by fortifying the muscles and connective tissues surrounding the joints most susceptible to injury.

A stronger body can better withstand the demands of running, reducing the likelihood of common ailments such as shin splints, runner’s knee, and IT band syndrome.

A balanced strength training program for runners ensures no muscle group is over or underdeveloped, maintaining proper alignment and biomechanics during running.


The Basics of Weight Training for Runners

Despite its benefits, some runners hesitate to incorporate weight training into their routine, fearing it might lead to unwanted bulk. However, this common misconception couldn’t be further from the truth.

Clarifying Misconceptions

The goal of weight training for runners isn’t to build bulk but to enhance strength without significantly increasing muscle size. Runners benefit from focusing on lower weights with higher repetitions or incorporating plyometric movements, which improve power and speed without the muscle gain typically associated with bodybuilding.

Outlining the Goals

The primary objectives of weight training for runners extend beyond injury prevention, aiming to increase muscular power and improve neuromuscular coordination:

  • Injury Prevention: By strengthening the body’s musculature, runners can protect themselves against the common injuries that often sideline athletes.
  • Muscular Power: Enhanced muscular strength allows runners to push off the ground more forcefully, increasing speed and efficiency with less perceived effort.
  • Neuromuscular Coordination: Weight training improves the communication between the brain and muscles, leading to more coordinated and efficient movement patterns. This not only contributes to better running form but also reduces the energy expenditure for each stride.


showing three different gym exercises: squat, push up and deadlift

Creating a Balanced Weight Training Program

With careful planning and attention to recovery, weight training becomes an invaluable tool in a runner’s arsenal, driving improvements in performance and resilience on the road or trail.

Compound Movements

These lifting exercises work multiple muscle groups simultaneously, mirroring the integrated muscular efforts required for running.

  • Squats: A fundamental exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back, essential for powerful strides.
  • Deadlifts: Strengthen the back, glutes, and legs, improving posture and stability during runs.
  • Lunges: Enhance balance, coordination, and unilateral muscular strength, critical for even stride distribution.

Bodyweight Exercises

These bodyweight exercises are crucial in building foundational strength, offering flexibility and convenience for runners of all levels:

  • Planks: Improve core strength and stability, vital for maintaining form, especially during long runs.
  • Push-ups: Target the chest, shoulders, and triceps, supporting upper body strength, which is crucial for maintaining posture and breathing efficiency.
  • Bodyweight Squats and Lunges: Enhance leg and core strength without needing weights, allowing for a focus on form and endurance.

How Often Should Runners Weight Train

The frequency of weight training in a runner’s schedule is important for maximizing benefits while minimizing fatigue and the risk of overtraining.

Guidance on Frequency and Scheduling

Most runners find optimal results when doing 2 to 3 strength training sessions weekly. This frequency allows for significant strength gains without compromising recovery.

Ideally, weight training should be done on the same days as hard running workouts or the day after. This strategy helps concentrate the hard efforts into specific days, leaving the rest of the week for recovery and easy runs.

Tips for Integrating Weight Training

Focus on the efficiency and effectiveness of each exercise rather than the volume of workouts.

Adjust the intensity and frequency of weight training based on how your body responds. Consider reducing the weight training load during peak running training periods or tapering before a race.

Lastly, make sure your weight training program is balanced, targeting all the major muscle groups used in running. Doing so prevents imbalances that could lead to injury.


Advanced Techniques for Seasoned Runners

For runners who have already integrated basic strength training into their regimen and are looking for ways to push their performance further, advanced techniques like plyometrics and heavy lifting can unlock new levels of power and speed.

These methods are particularly effective for seasoned runners aiming to refine their athletic capabilities.

Incorporating Plyometrics for Power

Plyometrics are pivotal in developing explosive strength, crucial for sprinting and efficient running.

These exercises focus on fast, powerful movements that improve the speed at which muscle fibers can contract, translating directly to quicker and more powerful strides:

  • Box Jumps: Jump onto and off a sturdy box with both feet, focusing on minimizing ground contact time.
  • Bounding: Take exaggerated, powerful strides over a distance, focusing on propelling yourself forward with each leap.
  • Skip for Height: Similar to skipping, but with an emphasis on reaching maximum height with each skip.
  • Single-leg Hops: Perform hops on one leg to build unilateral explosive power, which is crucial for the push-off phase of running.

Leveraging Heavy Lifting for Greater Gains

While traditional weight training for runners often focuses on lighter weights and higher repetitions, incorporating heavier lifts can provide substantial benefits.

  • Enhanced Muscular Strength: Lifting heavier weights increases the overall strength of the muscles, which can translate to more powerful running strides.
  • Improved Running Economy: Stronger muscles are more efficient, reducing the amount of energy expended for each stride.
  • Injury Prevention: Stronger muscles, tendons, and ligaments are better equipped to handle the stresses of running, potentially reducing the risk of injury.

Advice for Incorporating Heavy Lifting:

For those considering integrating heavy lifting into their regimen, a systematic approach is key to harnessing its full benefits while ensuring safety.

Begin your journey into heavy lifting on a cautious note; opt for lighter weights to hone your technique, ensuring a solid foundation upon which you can progressively build. As you grow more comfortable and your form becomes second nature, you can confidently increase the weight.

Direct your focus towards compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. These exercises are invaluable, engaging multiple muscle groups simultaneously and delivering extensive strength gains that translate into improved overall fitness.

However, the rigors of heavy lifting demand respect for the body’s need for recuperation. Prioritize recovery through adequate nutrition and sufficient rest, essential practices that support muscle repair and growth, helping to avert overtraining and injury.

Additionally, seeking the expertise of a strength and conditioning coach can be transformative. Professional guidance ensures that exercises are executed precisely and tailors your routine to meet your fitness goals best, creating a safer and more effective lifting experience.



Seize the Benefits of Weight Training for Your Running Journey

As you’ve seen, incorporating weight training into your running routine offers profound benefits, from enhancing running efficiency and speed to significantly reducing the risk of injury.

Remember, consistency in weight training, as in running, is key to seeing tangible improvements.

Now, lace up your running shoes and grab those weights—your best running self awaits.