Strength Exercise For Runners

Traditionally, runners have relied solely on long periods of running training to enhance their performance, especially when trying to improve their running economy. But this is the problem with tradition – just because you have always done it that way, it doesn’t mean it’s the optimal way to do it.

Why Strength Training For Runners?

Strength underpins and provides the foundation for the generation of rapid force during every step (ground contact) in running. Therefore, strength will have a BIG effect on running economy.

If fast pain-free running is your goal, it may seem counter-intuitive to do any training other than running. The important performance benefits of strength training, including heavy resistance, explosive resistance and plyometric training for endurance runners have been well documented in recent systematic reviews. As such, strength training should be considered an important addition to a well-planned training programme for middle and long-distance runners of all levels.

The Benefits Of Strength Training For Running

The key benefits runners can obtain from a strength training programme include:

  • – Improved running economy
  • – Faster time trial performance
  • – Faster maximal sprint speed
  • – Reduced risk of injury

Running Economy Benefits For Strength Exercises

Strength training interventions lasting 6–20 weeks, added to the training programme of a distance runner with greater than 6 months running experience, have been reported to enhance running economy by 2%–8%. Running economy improvements will theoretically enhance endurance running performance by allowing the runner to run at a lower oxygen or energy cost during training and racing. Running economy is an important determinant of distance running performance that expresses running efficiency as the oxygen uptake necessary to sustain a fixed sub-maximal running speed.

The concern around gaining muscle mass is not completely unfounded given that resistance training is associated with muscle hypertrophy (increase in muscle mass). However, when resistance training is performed concurrently with endurance training, this response seems to be negated. Any muscle mass that is gained is likely to be functional, useful mass that will enhance, not damage running performance. This is related to increases in relative strength, rather than absolute strength. So, runners of all abilities should ensure they have some element of strength training in their weekly routine – preferably from qualified coaches who know how to get the best out of those sessions and make the most of their time

Which Strength Exercises Should Runners Do?

Runners should consider incorporating twice-weekly strength sessions for at least 6 weeks into their current running routine. If you are just starting out and have no injuries, choose 3-5 exercises that target the hip, thigh, and calf muscles. Aim for 3-4 sets of 8-12 slow repetitions and ensure there is enough resistance for your muscles to feel fatigued by the end of each set. Take 2-3 minutes recovery between sets. If you are rehabilitating a specific injury, follow the guidance of your physiotherapist.

It is important to remember that there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to training strength for endurance runners. A well-planned program should not negatively impact other running sessions. If needed seek the assistance of a health professional or strength and conditioning coach who has experience working with runners to ensure you start out safely and get the most out of your strength training program.


Orlagh Kearns, Physiotherapist

This article was written by Orlagh Kearns, our physio with a special interest in strength and conditioning for runners. She has a Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine, is an experienced physio who also provides strength and conditioning sessions for athletes and runners of all abilities here at Central Performance, and loves to train and get out for a run herself so she knows what runners are looking for!

Feel free to contact Orlagh for more information about getting into the right strength program to maximise your running.