Boost performance and reduce injury risk with the right strength training program for runners

Add strength training to your running plan to boost performance, improve your running efficiency, and keep injuries at bay.

strength training

Why do runners need strength training?

Strength training helps you not just run faster – it also helps prevent injuries and improve your endurance. 

But do you have the right strength training program in place? Do you know what exercises to add to your training routine? And do you know exactly how strength training is beneficial to your running performance? 
We’ll talk about all that, and more. 

Even if you have your running plan nailed down, it’s so important to not skimp on resistance training. Strength training helps you:

  • Prevent injuries: Running is a high-impact activity and injuries are an unfortunate part of nearly every runner’s journey. To keep them at bay, use resistance training to stabilize and strengthen your muscles, tendons, and joints.
  • Improve your performance: Stronger muscles make you a more powerful and efficient runner. It’s important to strengthen the main muscles that propel you further – the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes – but also the smaller muscles you probably didn’t know you had (until they become sore). 
  • Improve your running economy: Strength training enhances your running economy, making it easier to sustain your target pace over longer distances. Yep, those 13.1 (or 26.2) miles will eventually get easier – and the key to that is not just to run more!
  • Enhance balance and coordination: By challenging your balance and coordination (with exercises like lunges or single-leg squats, for example), you reduce the risk of falls or missteps, and, therefore, injuries. Yay! 
  • Correct muscle imbalances: Running engages certain muscle groups more than others – which you can correct with the help of a good strength training program specifically designed for runners. 

On top of all that, resistance training helps make your training routine more fun and enjoyable, reducing the risk of running burnout and boredom. (We’ve all been there and we know; not every week is as fun as the previous one.)

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of training is staying consistent and holding yourself accountable – and that’s as true for running in general as it is for strength training.

So, to help you out, we’ve built a strength training program specifically designed for runners, which fits seamlessly into your running routine and is adapted to the equipment you have at hand. 

Find out more about the importance of strength training for runners.

Get your personalized strength training program

With Runna, you can add a fully personalized strength and conditioning plan to your running routine. 

Our strength training programs are designed specifically for runners and will help you reduce your risk of injury and improve your running form and performance. 

The app will personalize your plan based on:

  • Your experience and strength ability
  • The number of workouts you want to do each week
  • The equipment you have (from none to kettlebells to full gym equipment)

If you have no equipment available, you can start with bodyweight exercises. We’d still advise you to invest in a pair of kettlebells, dumbbells, and an elastic band at some point, because this will increase the number of exercises you can do at home. 

To get started, download the app, choose the right running plan for you – we have plenty to choose from, from our new-to-running plans to multi-day ultramarathon plans – and then add a strength and conditioning program to it. 

Or, if you’re already using Runna, simply go to Manage plan -> Add Additional Workouts -> Set Up Strength to personalize your plan to your needs. 

Choose your strength ability

When setting up your plan, you need to pick the level that best describes your strength ability at the moment: 

  • Beginner, if you have little to no experience with strength conditioning
  • Intermediate, if you have some experience with strength training and are familiar with basic movements, such as front squats
  • Advanced, if you have plenty of experience and are familiar with all complex movements, such as overhead squats

Choose your strength goal 

Pick a goal based on your preferences: running focus or all round strength. Both will help you improve your running performance but there are some differences between the two: 

  • Running focus: This plan features plenty of full-body, legs, and core exercises with minimal upper body training.
  • All round strength: With this program, you will build overall strength and muscle with a mix of upper and lower body movements.

You can switch between the two at any point!

Choose your ideal duration and frequency

Next, pick the duration and frequency of your training sessions. You can opt between 30-, 45-, and 60-minute sessions, and between 1, 2, 3, and 4 training sessions per week.

More isn't always better! Make sure your training sessions fit well in your schedule and that you’ll actually enjoy doing the work. Consistency is more important than overdoing it one week and not doing any strength training for three weeks after that. The number of sessions should be at most one more than what you’re currently doing to reduce injury risk.

So, if currently you’re not doing any strength training, you can start with one session a week and then add more over the following weeks.

Select the equipment you have

Runna will customize your workouts based on the equipment you have available. If you don’t have any, you can get started with bodyweight exercises. Alternatively, you can choose one or more of the following: 

  • Stretch band
  • Barbell
  • Box
  • Bench
  • Dumbbell
  • Kettlebell
  • Pull-up bar
  • Swiss ball

What are the different workouts you’ll get?

Once you set up everything, you’ll be given a program that fits alongside your running sessions. You’ll see the following types of workouts in your training plan: 

  • Legs and core
  • Full body
  • Upper body

Here’s what your plan will look like, depending on the goal and frequency you’ve selected: 

Session per week | Running Focus     | All=round Strength
1                               1x legs and core    1x full body      
2                               1x legs and core    1x upper body
                                 1x full body             1x legs and core
3                               2x legs and core    1x full body
                                 1x full body             1x upper body
                                                                 1x legs and core
4                               2x legs and core    2x full body
                                 1x full body             1x upper body
                                 1x upper body        1x legs and core

Find out more about selecting the correct strength training goal and frequency.    

Take your running to the next level

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How to choose the correct weight

When training with weights, it’s essential to choose the correct weight. There are two main things you need to consider: form and effort. 

Correct form

The first and most important thing to consider is your form. The weight you pick should feel challenging to an extent but shouldn’t compromise correct form. 

When you add a new movement to your routine, try it with no weight or a very light weight at first, to make sure you’re doing it correctly. Initially, that’s how you should practice it, until you’ve mastered the form. 

Then, you can add more weight progressively, but always be mindful of your form. Doing different weighted exercises with incorrect form could put strain on the wrong parts of your body and ultimately lead to an injury – which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid.  

Training effort

Next, consider the effort at which you want to work out. 

In short, we advise you not to lift at your maximum effort. Lots of weightlifters do this, but this increases the chance of muscle soreness on the next day (DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness), which might affect your next running session. 

Instead, work at about 85 to 95% of your maximum effort for the number of repetitions you’re doing. Otherwise said, if you’re doing 8 reps, pick a weight you could do 10-12 reps with. This way, you’ll gain strength progressively, without being too sore on the next day.

Strength training should still be challenging, though – if you always train with the lightest weights, progression will be very slow. Start small, but once you’re confident in your ability and form, increase the weight you’re training with.

Strength training, mobility work, pilates, cross training: What’s best?

In short, all of them. Each type of training – strength training, mobility work, pilates, cross-training – is beneficial for you as a runner in its own way. 

  • Strength training helps build muscle strength and endurance, which are essential for both speed and distance running. It can help improve running economy and reduce the risk of injury by strengthening your muscles, tendons, and joints. 
  • Mobility exercises improve the range of motion in joints and flexibility in muscles, which can lead to better stride efficiency and reduced risk of muscle strains or joint problems. 
  • Pilates focuses on core strength, balance, and overall body alignment, which are all very important for runners and help stabilize your body during workouts.
  • Cross training helps add variety to your running plan and makes it more interesting and engaging. It also helps you stay in shape if you get injured or if you need a few extra days off of running after a particularly challenging race. 

With Runna, you can easily add strength training, mobility work, and Pilates to your training plan from within the app; we have programs for all these. As for cross training, simply pick a sport you enjoy doing – cycling, elliptical, rowing, swimming, or hiking are just a few of the options.

Your choices will depend on your goals: 

  • If injury prevention is a primary concern, focus on strength training and mobility work.
  • If you want to enhance your running efficiency and core strength, consider adding Pilates and strength conditioning workouts to your plan.
  • For overall fitness, to avoid burnout, and keep things fun and interesting, add cross training to your routine.
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The best strength training exercises for runners

Below, we’ve picked a few of the best exercises you can do to compliment your running routine. For more exercise ideas, check out our full selection of the best strength training exercises for runners.

Knee drive

To do this exercise: 

  1. Set yourself up in a long lunge position with both feet parallel, facing forwards
  2. Extend your arms above your head
  3. Drive your back knee forwards so that it gets to the same level of your front knee, maintaining a low position
  4. While moving your leg, bring your arms down so that your hands touch your knee at the bottom of the movement.
  5. Return to the starting position

Overall, this is a short and sharp movement performed with power. Check out our knee drive tutorial for a short video.

Benefits of the knee drive exercise: 

  • Uses your muscles in a similar way to running
  • Increases your muscular endurance and cardiovascular performance
  • Helps you stabilize your body and improve your core strength

Squat to calf raise

For this exercise, you need to do the following: 

  1. Put your feet to be just slightly wider than your hip width apart, with toes pointed slightly outwards
  2. Stand tall with your arms crossed over your chest
  3. Sit down into a squat position to about 90 degrees; keep your head up, back flat, and look ahead as you engage your core muscles
  4. Once you’re in the squat position, hold for a second and push back up 
  5. Engage your glutes and stand on your toes of both feet to engage your calf muscles
  6. Hold for a second and get back to the starting position
  7. Repeat

Check out our squat to calf raise tutorial for a short video. 

Benefits of the squat to calf raise exercise: 

  • You get all the benefits of the squat
  • Engages your glutes and calves 
  • Helps improve your balance

Heel walk exercise

For the heel walk exercise, you’re essentially taking short and balanced steps on your heels. For this, you need to: 

  1. Point your toes as much as you can towards the sky 
  2. Take short steps forward while balancing on your heels
  3. Stand tall through the movement and look ahead of you
  4. Keep your core and glutes engaged

Check out our heel walk exercise tutorial for a short video. 

Benefits of the heel walk: 

  • Strengthens your shin
  • Engages your core muscles
  • Helps with stability

Bodyweight lunge

To do a bodyweight lunge, you need to: 

  1. Sand with both feet together, looking ahead
  2. Step forwards with your right leg placing it flat into the floor in front of you 
  3. Bend your left leg
  4. Get both legs with almost perfect right angles between the thigh and the shin, with your front foot and knee pointing forward
  5. The knee shouldn’t get further than your toes
  6. Through the exercise, don’t bend forwards; keep your shoulders back and look straight ahead
  7. Alternate legs

For a detailed explanation and a video, check out our bodyweight lunge exercise tutorial

Benefits of the bodyweight lunge: 

  • Helps increase flexibility, and especially of the hip flexor muscles
  • Engages a lot of muscles in your back, core, and legs (quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes)
  • Helps increase knee stability

The lunge exercise is very simple but also very beneficial for runners – plus, it has plenty of variations, such as the side lunge, front leg raised lunge, lunge with a calf raise, and more.  

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Strength training equipment: kettlebells, elastic bands, barbells… Or just your own body weight?

The gear you use during strength training will define what exercises you have available to you. In short, the more equipment you have, the more exercises you can do. If you have none, you can still get started with bodyweight exercises and then add new gear as you go.

Here are some of the most popular options: 

  • Bodyweight: Using your own body weight for exercises like push-ups, planks, lunges, and squats can be very effective, especially in the beginning – plus, you can do it everywhere.
  • Kettlebells: Kettlebells add more variety and will make your exercise routine more challenging, helping you improve your strength and balance. They come in a variety of weights, from 4 to 24 kg and above. Start low if you’ve never used kettlebells before and add more weight as you master the form of each movement.
  • Elastic bands: Also known as resistance bands, these are very versatile and you can use them for plenty of exercises that target the legs, hips, and core, targeting smaller muscle groups and improving balance, strength, and coordination.
  • Barbells: If you want to build more strength, barbells are the way to go. You can use them for exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, and more, to gain power and endurance. 

Here are some more equipment options you could use:

  • Box
  • Bench 
  • Dumbbells
  • Pull-up bar
  • Swiss ball

In short, start with what you have and then take it from there as you build strength. Runna will adapt to whatever equipment you have and give you the best exercises for your goals and training plan. 

Take your running to the next level

Start your plan today for just $17.99 per month / $109.99 per year.

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Download Runna on the Google Play Store.
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FAQ: All you need to know about strength training for runners

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First week free. Cancel anytime.
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