Beginner’s Guide to Weight Training for Runners

English: Arthur Saxon performing a bent press....
This might be a little much even for the pros out there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am exhausted. My muscles burn. Arms shake. I am pushing my body in a way that I know I will be sore tomorrow.

And when my coach says “one more,” I’m pretty sure I can’t do it.

But I do it.

Do what?

Not another mile, or 400 repeat, but another rep with my 15 pound free weight!

Runners are divided on the need for strength training, and the opinions on the matter range from “I don’t need it” to “it’s for the professional runner” to “I hit the gym all the time!” Not long ago, I was a member of the “weight training is scary” camp, and avoided weights like the plague. Part of the reason was that I didn’t know what sort of strength exercises to do, but I also didn’t really think it was necessary.  I’m not competitive (except with myself) and my only sponsorship was coming out of my own pocket.  Did I really need to hit the weights?

Yes! The reality is that all runners benefit from strength training.  Research has shown that regular strength training helps with injury prevention by strengthening all our muscles, not just those we use to run.  Strength training also directly improves our running performance: by working our core, we extend the time we can run before exhaustion sets in.  And effective strength training also improves our form and increases our lean body mass, which helps our entire body to be more efficient and consequently capable of running faster.

Strength training is intimidating, at least it was for me, and the weight room at the gym can seem full of strange machines with bulky, grunting men.  Luckily, you do not need a gym to get in a strength training session; I do this quick full-body circuit solo in my living room with a resistance band and a 15-pound weight.  If I can do it, you can too! *

*THE NOT-SO-FINE PRINT: I’m not a doctor, and I don’t know your body the way I know my own. It’s always a good idea to ask a health care professional or a coach or someone else who knows your body before you start doing some new workout you heard about online!  Please do that!

Running Weight Circuit

Do 12-15 repetitions of each exercise and move on to the next.  Repeat the entire circuit 2-3 times according to your fitness level.

1. Plank

2. Squats

3. Abdominal crunch

4. Clamshells (You can put a resistance band around both of your legs at mid-thigh to make it more difficult. Lie on the ground on your side with your knees bent and raise your upper leg like an opening clamshell.  Repeat on the other side.)

5.  Push-up (Begin on your knees if you need, and keep your arms close to your sides.)

6. Reverse abdominal crunches (Lie on the ground with your legs crossed and elevated vertically or at a 45 degree angle from your body.  Lift your legs until your butt is off of the floor and slowly lower it back to the ground.)

7. Lunges (repeat on both sides)

8. Dips (Sit on a stable object with your arms anchored on either side of your body.  Support your body with your arms and slowly lower your body towards the ground until the arms are at a 90 degree angle.  Straighten your arms and repeat.)

Remember to move with intention, not too fast and not too slow.  This will maximize the effects on your body and also ensure your form is maintained.  Improper form can lead to injury, so if these exercises are new to you, you may want to schedule a visit with a personal trainer or, at the very least, watch the videos to ensure your form is correct.

Do you strength train?  What is on your strength training routine?

Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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  1. I strength train on days that are too nasty to be doing something outside, which isn’t often enough, TBH. I do Insanity workouts. They are pretty fun and pretty tough?

    1. I haven’t tried Insanity – maybe because I’m scared!

      Also, because it is already like pulling teeth just to do this! I always need a little weight training motivation!

  2. I haven’t done strength training consistently since I was injured. I keep telling myself I need to start doing my core routine again, but the biggest obstacle is TIME. It seems like most days it’s all I can do to get the run in, especially now that I’ve bumped up the mileage to train for a marathon. But I find time to eat ice cream and watch crummy TV, so it’s probably not the time deficit so much as it as a severe deficit of love for planking.

  3. Don’t forget that weight-bearing exercise is excellent for building/maintaining bone density — one of the main benefits for distance runners, especially with regard to the usually-neglected upper body.

  4. I usually strength train regularly but I’m doing the Hanson marathon plan and it has me running six days a week! I have no way of fitting in anything BUT running on that kind of plan. Good thing I only have 11 more weeks…

    1. That’s a ton of running!

      I usually strength train right after a hills or speed workout since I follow it for an easy day of running. I’ll make a goal of doing it for 10 minutes – and sometimes I go longer but sometimes I don’t! I feel like a little better than nothing!

  5. I am the WORST about this stuff lately. Like Caitlin I feel like I barely have time to run. I used to do my strength work in the evenings, but now you couldn’t pay me to stay up later and do anything other than lay around and read after 10:00! Hopefully, when I’m back in serious mode I’ll get my act together – at least that’s what I keep telling myself!

    That being said, I try to do one plank a day for as long as I can. I keep getting to 2 minutes and then I get lazy and take a break for a few days. I’m back up to 90 seconds and this time I’m going for 5 minutes. 5 MINUTES OR BUST!!!

    I also try to do a bridge routine for my abs, butt and lower back. I also like the McMillan core for runners routine. Last xmas, I treated myself to the dvds, of course I have not done it consistently enough to get past the second routine of the first dvd. ARGH! I do like it though – quick and effective!

    Anyway, this seems like a great routine you’ve concocted and maybe I’ll have to give it a try!

  6. An important strength move not to be forgotten is working on the glutes. I know I don’t use mine enough in running so I’ve been doing a lot of bridges to strengthen my butt up!
    But a great list of good moves there 🙂

  7. Weight training is awesome! When I started incorporating weight training into my routine (regularly), my times got faster, and I had less injuries. Core work is so important and can be done everyday, even if it’s just for 5 minutes!

  8. I’m with Vanilla! When I finally became consistent in strength training, my times got better. I use a Jillian Michaels DVD once or twice a week, and it has made a big difference in this training cycle. 6 week 6 pack has a lot of the moves listed above and the variety in squats and lunges definities hits my glutes.