These Are the 6 Best Strength Exercises for Runners

Build your strength and you'll run faster.

Strength training plays a key role in your development as a runner, helping to build muscle so that your body can handle the repetitive stress of all that pavement pounding. And the stronger you are, the faster you’ll go.

"Running is all about creating force," explains Tamara Pridgett, a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified trainer and All-American sprinter, who also recommends sneaking in some core work during your training. "The more force you can generate, when done with proper technique, the faster you’ll run. To improve the max force we apply to the ground, one must lift weights." Here, her favorite run-strong moves.

barbell-squat-half-marathon-training
Tom Corbett

1. Barbell Squat for Strength

These squats help build strength in your legs and contribute to overall power when running.

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Have a loaded barbell or a heavy body bar on your back just below your neck
  • Engage your core
  • Push your hips back as you lower down into a squat position—keep your chest up
  • Drive your heels into the ground to rise back up to a standing position.

Do 3 or 4 sets of 10 repetitions per set.

jump-box-half-marathon-training
Tom Corbett

2. Runner's Box Jump

The box jump increases power, which in turn improves your speed.

  • Stand facing the box—about 6 to 12 inches away
  • Bend your knees, lowering down into a quarter squat
  • Swing your arms back behind you—keeping a natural bend in your elbows
  • As you drive your arms forward, push through your feet to jump up onto the box—try to land softly
  • Stand up fully on the box—squeezing your glutes to come to a full hip extension
  • Step back down to the floor

Do 3 or 4 sets of 10 repetitions per set. Beginners may want to start with a box step-over to build strength.

dumbbell-power-clean-half-marathon-training
Tom Corbett

3. Dumbbell Power Clean

The dumbbell lift is a holy grail exercise meant to focus on both strength and power.

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
  • Bend your knees, lowering down into a quarter squat
  • Hold a dumbbell in your right hand—hang your arm in front of your body and keep your back flat, and core tight
  • Lead with your elbow as you pull the right arm up—the dumbbell should scale your body
  • Come to a full standing position—keep your knees soft and not locked
  • Flip your wrist so your palm is facing your head and the dumbbell is just above your shoulder
  • Drop back down into a quarter squat in a controlled move keeping the core engaged

Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions per side.

suitcase-kettlebell-half-marathon-training
Tom Corbett

4. Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift

This deadlift exercise strengthens the same muscles used when running—glutes, core, hamstrings, quadriceps, and trapezius. Plus, this lift helps generate power and force, which is crucial.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart
  • Bend your knees, lowering down into a quarter squat
  • Kettlebells should be positioned just outside of both your feet
  • Grasp kettlebells—palms facing towards the body
  • Push through the heels to stand up, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement
  • The standing position should maintain a neutral spine—neck, middle, and lower back aligned and ankles, knees, and hips stacked
  • Slowly and with control, lower back down until the kettlebells rest on the floor outside your feet.

Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions per set.

walking-lunge-half-marathon-training
Tom Corbett

5. Walking Lunge

Lunges simulate ideal running mechanics. If you can master proper form during this exercise, your running form will also improve. You'll be shifting your weight from side to side and an engaged core will help with balance. Do not hold the lunge at the bottom of the movement or allow the knee to rest on the floor. Imagine a slow continuous motion.

  • Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart
  • Lift or drive your right knee upward to a 90-degree bend—keep the foot flexed and your body long and in a straight line
  • Step a short distance forward with the right foot and transfer your weight to the right side as your foot meets the floor
  • Lower your left knee towards the floor—with left toes flexed down as you move into a lunge with each leg as close to 90 degrees as possible
  • Squeeze your glutes as you push up with your right leg and move your left side
  • Raise your left knee upward to a 90-degree bend—keep the foot flexed and your body long and in a straight line
  • Step your left leg a short distance forward and transfer your weight to the left side as your foot meets the floor
  • Lower your right knee towards the floor—with your right toes flexed down as you move into a lunge
  • Squeeze your glutes as you push up with your left leg and move into the next lunge

Do lunges 50 meters—the length of an Olympic swimming pool or two full tennis courts. Complete 3 or 4 50-meter sets resting between sets.

knee-tuck-jump-half-marathon-training
Tom Corbett

6. Knee Tuck Jump

This is a great foundation to improve speed and ground reaction time. The longer you’re on the ground, the slower you run.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart
  • Bend your knees, lowering down into a quarter squat
  • Swing your arms back
  • Jump upward—drive your knees up as high as possible without hunching your back
  • As soon as your feet touch the ground jump upward again

Beginner? Try 3 or 4 sets of 10 repetitions or jumps per set. If you are intermediate or advanced, go for 3 or 4 sets of 30 repetitions per set.

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