When we think of athletes, we think of muscular, athletic bodies that move with power, precision, and speed. Aside from sport-specific training, most athletes do additional strength training to compete at their best and keep their bodies in tip-top shape.
The same goes for runners. By adding strength training to their regimes, runners can build a lean muscular frame, allowing them to run faster for longer. Additionally, strength training is incredibly essential for body composition, strong bones, and for significantly reducing the risk of injury.
What muscles should a runner focus on?
For many sports, including running, the lower body should be the primary focus as this is what generates the most power and strength. The lower body muscles to focus on as a runner include the glutes, the quadriceps, and the hamstrings.
However, the rest of the body is essential too! The arms and core muscles are significant for running, and especially for sprinting. Having a strong core helps with running posture, balance and speed, whilst strong arms can help with arm swing, which helps propel you forward.
Should I lift heavy or light?
There has been a lot of debate over this topic. The common misconception is that lifting heavy will slow a runner down. However, several studies have shown that heavy weight training is the way to go when it comes to improving running performance for both sprinters and long-distance athletes. Essentially, the more power a runner can generate with each stride, the faster and more efficiently they will move.
How often should I train and how many reps?
If you are new to strength training, start with building a solid foundation. For each exercise, start with a moderate load - something sustainable between 8-10 reps per set.
If you regularly strength train and have the basic patterns down, you can lift heavier. Aim for 3-6 solemn repetitions per set.
For runners, incorporating strength training 1-2 times a week will be beneficial to overall performance.
10 Best Strength Exercises for Runners
Always use a stand or rack. Beginners - use bodyweight
Target Muscles: Glutes, Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Calves, Lower Back
To Set Up:
Stand under the barbell until it rests comfortably across the back of your shoulders. Grasp the bar at a comfortable position.
Stand tall with your shoulder blades pinched in and down with the bar across your traps. Place your feet slightly wider than your shoulders with your toes slightly pointed outward.
Allow your knees to bend as you push your hips backwards and down. Keep your chest up. Your knees should stay in line with your toes as you squat down. Squat to a comfortable depth (the lower, the better), then push down through your heels, driving your body back up to the starting position.
Target Muscles: Quads, Glutes, Adductor Magnus, Hamstrings, Erectors
Set-up: Start with your feet hip-width apart. Lean down and grasp the bar at a width just past the hips. The shoulders should be just past the bar, and the spine should be neutral (no bending).
Technique: Grasp the bar tight. Push through your heels, straightening the knees and pulling the hips forward until you are standing upright. It is vital to keep the spine neutral throughout the entire movement. The bar should stay over the middle of the feet the whole time.
Target Muscles: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings
Take a massive step forward, and keep your front foot firmly planted. Bend both knees as you sit the hips down. The front knee should be at 90 degrees, and should not go past the toes. Pull your body up with the front leg as you bring the back leg forward in preparation for the next step.
You can load the walking lunge by holding a dumbbell in each hand, or placing a barbell across your shoulders.
Target Muscles: Hips, Glutes, Quadriceps, Calves
Start standing in front of a box or bench. This will be the target point for you to reach with your glutes. Reach your arms out in front of you for stability. Stand on one leg, raising the other leg out in front of you, just off the ground.
Technique: Bend the knee of the leg that you have placed on the ground. Push the hips and glutes backwards, aim for the seat with your glutes whilst keeping the other leg off the ground. Focus on keeping the planted knee rotated slightly outward, do not let the planted knee turn inward. Push back through the planted heel to return to standing.
Target Muscles: Calves
Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand in a neutral position. Start with your feet hip-width apart, and your feet placed firmly on the ground. Stand tall. Slowly raise your heels until you are up on your toes before returning your heels to the floor.
Target Muscles: Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Calves
Set-Up: Place a low bench or box behind you. Extend one of your legs out behind you with the top of your foot resting flat against the bench. Shuffle your front foot to a comfortable neutral position - the front knee should at no point be past the line of your toes. To add weight, you can hold dumbbells in each hand.
Technique: Bend at the front knee and lower the hips. Push back up again through the heel of the front foot.
Target Muscles: Pecs, Anterior Deltoids, Triceps
Set-Up: Lie down with your back flat against a bench or the floor with a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing out. Place your feet flat on the floor. Start with your elbows at 90 degrees with your hands directly over your elbows.
Technique: Exhale and extend the arms straight up in a controlled manner, bringing the dumbbells to touching. Slowly lower the arms back to the starting position.
Target Muscles: Pecs, Deltoids, Triceps, Abdominals
Set-Up: Get down on all fours. Place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders, and place your feet together. Extend your arms. You should now be in a plank position. There will be space between your body and the floor with the hands and feet being the only point of contact.
Technique: Keeping your body neutral throughout the movement, bend your elbows and slowly lower your torso down until your chest is just touching the floor. Push back through the hands to return the body to the starting position. Place a weight plate on your back for added resistance.
Target Muscles: Abdominals, Upper Back, Pecs
Start in a prone position, lying face down on the mat. Bend the elbows and come to rest on your forearms which should be parallel to each other. Your feet should be together, straight out behind you. It will help if you are balancing on your toes. Draw the core in tight. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds.
Target Muscles: Abdominals, Obliques
Lie flat on your back. Bend your knees up with your feet resting flat on the floor. Cross your arms over your chest or with your hands behind your head, whatever is most comfortable. Keeping your feet on the ground, draw your core in tight and curl your upper body towards your thighs. Keep your neck tucked in and try to keep your spine straight. Slowly lower yourself back down to the floor and repeat.