Strength Training for Runners

We all dream of running faster. Here is the ultimate guide to strength training to help us do it.
May 17, 2023
We all want to be faster, but just how can we achieve it? There’s no doubt running consistently is going to help you achieve faster times, but the role of strength training for running performance simply shouldn’t be overlooked. 


Why should runners strength train?

Firstly, being strong helps you maintain good posture and technique. If certain parts of the body are weak, other parts will compensate for that which leads to;

  1. Running economy suffering
  2. Technique changes, requiring greater effort to maintain your pace

Strength training can improve your running economy by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency. There’s multiple research studies that show that strength training in the form of heavy resistance training or bodyweight plyometrics can improve the use of elastic energy, essentially meaning you’re able to propel your body forward better, reducing the amount of work the muscles actually need to do. Research from Beattie et al concluded that strength training improved time-trial performance, economy, and VO2 max in competitive endurance athletes. Studies from Blagrove et al also note that strength training can make us run faster. This may be a result of the changes to our muscle fibres, or because strength training changes our brain and nervous system so that our muscles are better at applying force during the movement. 

Reduce risk of injury

Sadly, running related injuries are common. Some studies suggest that up to 40% of runners suffer an injury every year of training. Strength training though can definitely have a positive impact on reducing the risk of injury. Strengthening muscles and tendons through resistance training will of course limit the likelihood of injury from running. 

Strength training can also improve hip abductor and core strength, helping provide stability through the movement of running. This can reduce the risk of the common knee injury, iliotibial band syndrome, where the iliotibial band (which runs from your pelvic bone to your knee) rubs against your hip and knee bones. Training focused on strengthening the ankle joint and tendons can also reduce the risk of the common achilles tendon injuries seen in runners.


Improving running efficiency 

A study performed by Carlos Balsalobre-Fernández et al set out to see the effects of strength training on running economy. The study included a range of athletes who had a minimum VO2 max of at least 60 mL/kg/min, indicating a high level of training and ability. The strength training program had to be at least 4 weeks and the control group involved runners that performed no strength training during that time. The study found a “large, beneficial impact” of strength training on running economy corresponding to an average improvement of 2.32 mL/kg/min in running economy. In other words, the runners who were involved in the strength training group could maintain the same pace while using 3-4 percent less oxygen.

There’s also research that suggests building stronger muscles will help your ability to “spring” back more easily every time your foot touches the ground, and therefore contributing to less energy used and a greater running efficiency. Research is limited, but in theory, strength training could certainly have a positive impact on your running economy, especially at shorter distances. 

Train for strength

There is a common misconception amongst runners that strength training is going to make you bulky, and ultimately slower. In reality, if you continue to run regularly and consume similar amounts of calories, strength training won’t lead to a serious amount of muscle gain. In fact, Brad Schoenfeld, world renowned strength and conditioning coach says that runners should in fact be lifting heavy to maximise running performance. 

Don’t look at strength training as endurance; the goal isn’t to raise the heart rate, you have running which does that. The goal is build strength in the muscles that are going to contribute to greater running performance and efficiency. 

When it comes to reps, you want to mainly focus on anything between 6-12 rep ranges, whilst some of your compound lifts such as squat and deadlift, you can drop down to 4-6, to help build explosive strength and power. A good starting point for most exercises would be 3 sets of 10 reps, starting with bodyweight until you feel comfortable and competent with the movement. 

There is a term called RPE in the strength training world. It refers to the rate of perceived exertion, and it's relevant when programming for runners. RPE essentially refers to how hard you judge the weight to be on a scale of 1-10. For example, an RPE of 1 is minimal effort and an RPE of 10 is your max effort. Schoenfeld likens RPE to a run. He says to think of the load as a type of run. If an easy jog is a 5 on the exertion scale and 10 is an all out sprint, you want to be lifting at 7 or 8 - like a fast run, but not quite a sprint. “The last rep shouldn’t be easy,” he says.

Plan accordingly

The goal of strength training is supplementation to your main running programming. You’re not expected to be hitting the weight room five days a week, in fact, two days is all you need to reap the benefits. 

Consider where your intense runs are - plan for them to be at least 2 days after your strength workout, otherwise your performance may be compromised. Once you become accustomed to weight training, you can start to limit the time between sessions. 

If you need to double up your lower body workout and easy run on the same day, Kenji Doma, a sports and exercise scientist and researcher at James Cook University in Queensland, advises to leave 9 hours between them. 

An example week could look similar to below;

Exercises and Programming

Now we have discussed the why and how for running strength training, we can move onto the what. What exercises should we be doing to help improve our running performance? For this, we first have to look at the demands of running.

Demands of running

The muscular demands of running has been well researched and gives us a good indication of what muscles we should look to target through our strength training. 

A study from Lenhart et al concluded that some of the key muscles used in running were the quadriceps, gluteus medius and soleus, with peak forces demonstrated in the diagram below;

strength training for runners
Dorn et al also found similar findings when comparing running speed on muscle performance. The research showed the muscular strategy shift in human running demonstrated how peak muscle forces change in relation to your running speed. 

As running speed increases, there is a greater force directed on the hamstrings and iliopsoas, whilst peak forces in the soleus remain high at all speeds. 


The primary strategy for increasing running speed is lengthening your stride. This is achieved by forcefully pushing off the ground and that’s why you see such a large contribution from the soleus.  As running speed increases and approaches sprinting, the dominant strategy becomes increasing stride frequency. This results in pushing off the ground more often and achieved by generating power from the hip muscles such as the iliopsoas and hamstrings.

Therefore, training should focus mainly around these three muscles and can be tweaked to meet your individual demands as a runner. 



Exercise selection and programming

When looking at exercise selection for running, our goals are to increase neuromuscular strength and control, power, rate of force development and tendon stiffness. This will be achieved by implementing three main categories;

  1. Plyometrics
  2. Explosive resistance
  3. Strength


Plyometrics are exercises that are designed to produce strength and speed. Simply put, it involves a stretch of the muscles immediately followed by a contraction of the same muscle. While strength training mostly creates nervous system and muscular adaptations to get stronger, plyometric exercises will help improve explosiveness — our ability to generate maximum force in a minimum time, ideal for running.  


Exercise A - Diagonal pogo jumps

Placing your hands on your hips, perform quick diagonal jumps off both feet with your knees relatively straight. You should focus on springing off your feet and minimising yout time spent in contact with the ground. 

Repetitions: 3 sets of 30-60 seconds

Progression: start with smaller jumps, and as you progress, start to increase the height of your jump, utilising more spring. 


Exercise B - Drop jump

Step off an elevated surface on one leg such as a bench or box. Land on both feet and immediately jump up as quickly as you can. The goal again is to minimise ground contact time, so focus on little knee bend and exploding off the ground. Ensure the object you’re standing on is less than two feet tall as this will enable you to spring off the ground more explosively. 

Repetitions: 3 sets of 6-10 reps

Explosive resistance

The goal with explosive resistance exercises is to build speed and power. Unlike plyometrics, where you’re trying to minimise ground contact, with explosive resistance, you’re using the ground to generate the power. 


Exercise A - Lateral box jump

Standing next to a box, begin by raising your arms to generate momentum, squat down and explode off the ground and jump laterally onto the box, landing on both feet. You can progress the movement by adding dumbbells and dropping them simultaneously as you jump off the ground onto the box.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 6-10 reps

Exercise B - Barbell squat jump

The barbell squat jump is one of the more advanced explosive resistance exercises, but great for building overall power and speed. With an unweighted barbell loaded on your back, squat down a quarter of the way to parallel (one of the few instances this is okay to do), and explode off the ground jumping as high as you can and landing with soft knees.

Progression: If you want to challenge yourself further, you can start to add small amounts of weight to the bar. The goal here isn’t load however, more the explosiveness of the jump, so no need to add much weight, if any. 

Repetitions: 3 sets of 5-10 reps




Exercise A - Rear foot elevated split squats

Also known as the Bulgarian split squat, this exercise is a great way to strengthen the quads. With your back foot elevated on a bench and keeping your chest up, slowly lower your back knee until it almost touches the ground. Your front knee should track over your toes, and keep most of your weight centred over the front foot.

Progression: If you want to make the exercise more challenging, simply add dumbbells in both hands. Ensure you’re still able to control the weight effectively at a slow tempo. 

Reps: 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Exercise B - Lateral step down

Standing on the edge of a box, lower your non-standing leg to the ground, with your knee tracking over your toes. Keep your chest up and touch your opposite heel to the ground or stacked plate. You will have to play around with the deficit depending on how high the object you’re standing on is. 

Progression: There are two ways you can progress the lateral step down. You can add weight by holding either a light barbell plate out in front of you, or a kettlebell or dumbbell in a goblet position to make the exercise harder. Alternatively, you can add height to make the deficit greater. 

Reps: 3 sets of 8-10 reps.


Exercise A - Single leg deadlifts

Stand on one leg with a slight bend in the knee. Start the movement by hinging at the hips whilst maintaining a flat back. It’s crucial to hinge rather than squat; you’ll know whether you’re doing this correctly as your torso should almost be parallel to the ground at the bottom of the movement. Once you’re almost parallel, return to your starting position and squeeze your glutes at the end of the movement. 

Progression: Make the exercise harder by adding dumbbells or a barbell. 

Reps: 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Exercise B - Glute bridge

Starting by lying down on your back, bend your knees, bringing your feet close to your hips with soles flat on the ground. Simply lift your hips off the ground into a bridge position and squeeze your glutes at the top. Lower down slowly and repeat. If you’re feeling it more in your quads, try positioning your feet on their heels and performing the movement.

Progression - use a glute band or resistance brand just above the knees and actively push your knees against it as you’re performing the movement.

Reps - 3 sets of 10-12 reps 

Soleus / Ankle Plantar Flexor 

Exercise A - Single leg deficit heel raise

Standing on the edge of two stacked barbell plates on one leg, rise up on the ball of your foot as high as you can, squeezing your calf at the top. Slowly lower yourself down until you can feel a stretch in your calf and then repeat. Place your hand on a wall for balance and progress the movement using a dumbbell in your non-balancing hand. 

Reps: 3 sets of 6-10 reps on each leg

Exercise B - Farmers walk on tiptoes

This variation of the farmers walk keeps contant tension on the calves. Holding dumbbells or kettlebells in each hand, simply walk on your tip toes maintaining a stretch in your calves throughout. You can progress the movement by adding more load or walking a greater distance. 


Reps: 3 sets of 20 seconds walking

Training overview

As mentioned before, look to schedule two days of strength training a week, combining strength and plyometrics on the same day. A typical training day could look something like the below;


Remember, strength training is used to supplement your running programme, not replace it. Prioritise clocking up the miles, but introducing strength training twice a week could lead to new PB's, and who doesn't want that?



Beattie, K., Carson, B.P., Lyons, M., Rossiter, A. and Kenny, I.C. (2017). The Effect of Strength Training on Performance Indicators in Distance Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(1), pp.9–23. doi:


Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. and Hayes, P.R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 48(5), pp.1117–1149. doi:


Balsalobre-Fernández, C., Santos-Concejero, J. and Grivas, G.V. (2016). Effects of Strength Training on Running Economy in Highly Trained Runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(8), pp.2361–2368. doi:


Lenhart, R., Thelen, D. and Heiderscheit, B. (2014). Hip Muscle Loads During Running at Various Step Rates. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, [online] 44(10), pp.766-A4. doi:


Dorn, T.W., Schache, A.G. and Pandy, M.G. (2012). Muscular strategy shift in human running: dependence of running speed on hip and ankle muscle performance. Journal of Experimental Biology, 215(11), pp.1944–1956. doi: