6 Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Incorporating weightlifting into your routine can help runners improve their form and speed.

Strength training plays an essential role in your growth as a runner. Specifically, strength training builds muscle so your body can handle the repetitive stress of all that pavement pounding. The stronger you are, the faster you will run.

Some weightlifting strategies for runners can help improve your speed, endurance, and form. Here's what you need to know about some of the best strength training exercises for running.

Tom Corbett

Benefits of Weightlifting for Runners

A review published in 2016 examined the impacts of strength training programs on running economy. Running economy is the amount of oxygen a person uses to run at a certain pace. People who need less oxygen to run a certain distance tend to run faster since it is less taxing on their bodies.  

The researchers looked at 93 highly-trained middle- and long-distance runners. The researchers found that the runners improved their running economies after participating in a strength training program for two to three months. Other research has found that strength training helps improve running speed and performance.

"Running is all about creating force," Tamara Pridgett, a personal trainer and writer, told Health. "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."

Best Strength Training Exercises for Running

According to Pridgett, here are six strength training exercises for runners to help build muscle, improve your running form, and increase your speed. 

You will need some equipment: a barbell or heavy body bar, a box, dumbbells, and kettlebells.

Barbell Squats

Tom Corbett

Barbell squats help build strength in your legs and overall power while running.

  • Start with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Carefully place a loaded barbell or a heavy body bar on your back below your neck.
  • Engage your core.
  • Push your hips back as you lower into a squat position. Keep your chest up.
  • Drive your heels into the ground to rise to a standing position.
  • Repeat three to four sets of 10 reps. 

Runner's Box Jump

Tom Corbett

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

  • Stand facing the box, about six to 12 inches away.
  • Bend your knees, lowering down into a quarter squat.
  • Swing your arms 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 entirely on the box, squeezing your glutes to come to a full hip extension.
  • Step back down to the floor.
  • Do three or four sets of 10 reps. 

Beginners may start with a box step-over to build strength.

Dumbbell Power Clean

Tom Corbett

The dumbbell lift is a holy grail exercise for runners focusing on 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. Keep your back flat and your 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 faces your head, and the dumbbell is just above your shoulder.
  • Drop back into a quarter squat in a controlled motion, keeping the core engaged.
  • Do three sets of eight to 10 reps per side.

Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift

Tom Corbett

The kettlebell suitcase deadlift exercise strengthens the same muscles you use while running: glutes, core, hamstrings, quadriceps, and trapezius. Plus, the deadlift helps generate power and force.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees, lowering down into a quarter squat.
  • Position the kettlebells just outside of both your feet.
  • Grasp the kettlebells, your palms facing toward your body.
  • Push through the heels to stand up, squeezing your glutes at the top of the movement.
  • In the standing position, maintain a neutral spine. Align your neck, middle back, and lower back with your ankles, knees, and hips stacked.
  • Slowly and with control, lower back down until the kettlebells rest on the floor outside your feet.
  • Do three sets of 10–12 reps.

Walking Lunge

Tom Corbett

Lunges simulate ideal running mechanics. Your running form will improve if you master proper form in a walking lunge. In a walking lunge, you shift your weight from side to side and engage your core to help with balance.

Do not hold the lunge at the bottom of the movement or allow the knee to rest on the floor. Instead, try to maintain 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 your foot flexed and your body tall and in a straight line.
  • Step a short distance forward with your right foot. Transfer your weight to the right side as your foot meets the floor.
  • Lower your left knee toward the floor with your left toes flexed down as you move into a lunge. Keep 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. Then, repeat on the opposite side.
  • Continue lunging for 50 meters, or the length of an Olympic swimming pool or two full tennis courts. Complete three or four 50-meter sets. Make sure to rest between sets.

Knee Tuck Jump

Tom Corbett

The knee tuck jump is a great exercise to improve speed and ground reaction time. The longer you are on the ground, the slower your speed.

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees, lowering down into a quarter squat.
  • Swing your arms back.
  • Jump upward, driving your knees up as high as possible without hunching your back.
  • As soon as your feet touch the ground, jump upward again.
  • Try two to tree sets of 10 reps if you are a beginner. Go for two to three sets of 20 reps if you are intermediate or advanced.

A Quick Review

Strength training can improve running speed and performance. These exercises for runners can be a helpful place to start.

Consult a healthcare provider before you start a new strength training program. They can ensure you are doing the exercises correctly and safely, reducing your injury risk.

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3 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Balsalobre-Fernández C, Santos-Concejero J, Grivas GV. Effects of strength training on running economy in highly trained runners: A systematic review with meta-analysis of controlled trialsJ Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(8):2361-2368. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000001316

  2. Smoliga JM. What is running economy? A clinician's guide to key concepts, applications and mythsBr J Sports Med. 2017;51(10):831-832. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096159

  3. Blagrove RC, Howe LP, Cushion EJ, et al. Effects of strength training on postpubertal adolescent distance runnersMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2018;50(6):1224-1232. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001543

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