Strength Exercises for Runners

Monday November 4, 2013

Written by Susan Kroll, MS, PT, CSCI, Personal Trainer

Most runners want to spend their time getting their miles in and prefer running over much else.  So why should time strapped runners take a precious run day out for strength training?


  1. Muscle strength makes runners less injury prone.  Increases joint stability and reduces the risk of repetitive stress injuries
  2. Muscle burns more calories at rest – so a runner who drops to a lower percentage body fat becomes more efficient in using fuel sources.
  3. Efficiency leads to runner being faster, greater endurance, and greater ability to recover more quickly.
  4. Running tends to lead to muscle imbalances because of the nature of certain muscles being overused and others being underutilized.
  5. And the hard fact…after the age of 30, inactive adults lose 3 – 5 % of their muscle mass per decade.  If you don’t use it, you will lose it.

Strength and endurance are vital components to avoiding injury and running strong.  Runners should devote two days per week to strength training with 48 to 72 hours between days to recover.  Best to devote time to 3 – 4 full body exercises with a focus on core endurance.

So how do I do it?

  1. Learn proper technique (meet with a trainer if unsure of proper form)
  2. Focus on full body exercises – squats, deadlifts, chin ups, push ups
  3. Have a rest or recovery run day after a heavy lift day
  4. If doing 2 lift days, make earlier in week your heavier lift day and 2nd (closer to long run day) more moderate

Sample Runners Gym Strength Program:

Choose 3 -4 total body exercises, being sure to work both front and back of body – Core engaged on all activities. Do as a circuit to add power to your running program with two laps on track at tempo followed by set of each exercise (12-15 repetitions / set) for a total of 3 sets:

  1.        Squat to Row
    1. Stand 2 feet from cable row machine (weight should be hard but controllable) or resistance bands
    2. Holding cable handles with arm extended
    3. Return to stand, pull hands toward diaphragm
  2.        Wood Chop
    1. Feet shoulder width apart
    2. Hold 5 – 8 lb medicine ball (or dumbbells) at head height over one shoulder
    3. Squat down and lower ball to opposite ankle
    4. Return to stand and ball over shoulder
  3.       Renegade Rows
    1. Push up position with hands on dumbbells/kettlebells
    2. Alternate lifting elbow maintaining body in plank position (can be modified to knees)
  4.       Bird Dogs
    1. Hands and knees with a neutral spine
    2. Reach our one leg and opposite arm – hold for count of 30, alternate sides 4 times each
    3. progress to plank position for more advanced

Other ideas –

  • plyometric jump squats – builds power for end of race
  • Single Leg Dead Lift – hip stability, balance, core endurance
  • Single Leg Squats – balance, flexibility, and strength
  • Yoga style Down Dog – strength and flexibility with reciprocal inhibition

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask a UNC Wellness Center Personal Trainer for guidance or to help you build an individualized program.