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Top 3 Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Updated: Apr 16

Running is arguably one of the best and most accessible forms of exercise for most of us.

The benefits it gives you for your heart, lungs, muscle, bone, and tendon health are incredible!

Most runners really only do one thing for training…run.

But research has proven time and again that the best thing runners can do to improve performance is to strength train.

Strength training is important for runners for several reasons.

First and foremost, it helps to improve running performance.

By building strength in the muscles that are used during running, such as the calf muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, runners can improve their stride, speed, and endurance.

Stronger muscles also help to reduce the risk of injury, as they are better able to handle the demands of running.

Additionally, strength training can help to improve balance and stability, which can be particularly beneficial for trail runners or those who run on uneven surfaces.

Specifically, strength training can:

  1. Increase muscular strength and endurance: Stronger muscles are better able to withstand the forces of running and reduce the risk of injury.

  2. Improve neuromuscular coordination: Strength training can help improve the communication between the brain and muscles, which can lead to more efficient and coordinated movements. This can reduce the risk of overuse injuries caused by poor form or technique.

  3. Correct muscle imbalances: Many runners have muscle imbalances that can increase the risk of injury. Strength training can help correct these imbalances by targeting specific muscle groups that may be weaker or underdeveloped.

  4. Improve bone density: Strength training can help increase bone density, which can reduce the risk of stress fractures and other bone-related injuries.

But how can runners who aren't familiar with strength training get started?

Which exercises give you the most bang for your buck so you can spend most of your time running?

We've put together a list of 3 must have running exercises to supplement your running training.

These three movements also hit a wide range of muscles on your legs and help target balance,

strength, and control in both single leg and double leg stances. All three of these exercises work together in targeting different muscle groups, and each has a unique stimulus in the targeted area.

1. Single-Leg Calf Raise

As your foot hits the ground while running, the calf absorbs, stores, and releases energy. The amount of force the calf goes through can be as high as 12.5x your body weight, and it can generate up to 3x your body weight at push off. Those are some crazy numbers when you think about it!

Strong calves are critical when it comes to running, and strength training will help your calves do their job better.

We want runners to be able to rep out 25-30 reps before your heel height starts to decrease.

Form Cues: Keep your foot flat as you push through that big toe. The other toes should maintain contact with the floor but not claw it. Keep your ankle from diving out at the top of the raise.

Ideally, hold on to a sturdy piece of furniture or wall when you do these. The main focus of this exercise to be building strength in the calf, not so much maintaining balance.

Try giving these a good attempt with 3 to 4 sets getting close to 1-3 reps before failure in each set.

2. Step-Ups

The step-up is a fantastic exercise for runners because it takes the hips through a full range of motion in extension and flexion, something that many runners do not typically include in their regular training.

Moving through this range of motion plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of injury.

Your hip can produce force up to 5x your body weight during the push-off phase of running, and and this exercise is fantastic at strengthening unilateral hip stability.

Find a box height that is challenging but doable for you. The key with this movement should be control and balance. You only want to use the leg on the box when stepping up.

Form Cues: When you lower yourself down, don’t plop! Control your body

weight down. Aim to be as smooth as possible.

If balance is a struggle for you, hold onto something stable. If you feel like these are doable and want an extra challenge, try exploding up into the march and then slowly lower yourself each rep.

Try knocking out 3 to 4 sets getting close to 1-3 reps before failure in each set.

3. Trap Bar Deadlift

Last on the list of three is the trap bar deadlift.

Deadlifts target more of your posterior chain, your back, glutes, and hamstrings. Adding in the extra weight of a trap bar (45lbs) creates a greater stimulus of load on your body than just using dumbbells.

As discussed above, running demands require tolerance to significant load on your body.

One way to train tolerance to that load is with…well lifting heavy objects.

We find that the trap bar makes the deadlift more accessible and easier to catch onto than a standard barbell for people who are strength training beginners.

Form Cues: Think “butt back” not “butt down.” You're not trying to sit down like in a squat you're trying to hinge down.

Imagine if both your hands are holding grocery bags and you have to shut the

car door with your butt.

Keep your back straight and look about 5-6 feet in front of you. Make sure you feel equal weight throughout both feet from your toes to your heel. Drive through your

whole foot, not just your heels.

The deadlift is a push from the floor, not a pull with your arms. Think of it like a standing leg press.

The weight you add to the trap bar will dictate how much stimulus you will

get. Heavy loads tend to lower the amount of reps vs lighter load tends to have higher reps per set to get to the same stimulus.

Aim to get 3-4 sets of 1-3 reps before failure with each set.

For this full body exercise it is a good idea to wait 1-3 mins per set if you truly are getting close to failure each set. I also recommend moving slower with the deadlift to develop time under tension.

These three exercises are some of the top strength training exercises we program for our runner clients who are looking to recover from injury, get stronger, and improve their running performance.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your longterm running is to start strength training, and these moves will give you a good start and bang for your buck with the time they require.

Plan to work on these for a month or two about 2-3x a week (Preferably on the days you're not running) and increase the weight and difficulty as you get stronger.

The frequency also depends on where you are in your running season. If you're a competitive athlete, we would not recommend starting a new program mid or near the end of your running season. If you are close to a race (1 week away or so,) you should back off the set intensity so the soreness of the workout doesn’t affect your running performance.

If you find that you experience consistent pain with any of these movements that does not resolve or get better, hold off on that movement.

That's the time for you to give us a call so we can figure out what is going on, get it resolved, and help you keep training.

If you have any questions or are currently experiencing pain or issues that are affecting your running, we're the premier running specialists for Memphis runners, and we can help you keep running without pain slowing you down.

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