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Exercises to Make You a Better Runner
Strength Training for Runners

Exercises to Make You a Better Runner

Runners who wanted to get better used to concentrate on three things. Eat well, sleep enough and run a lot. While that was relatively good advice 20 years ago, today we know more.

In a 2008 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Støren O. separated well-trained runners into two groups. One group performed an exercise called half-squats. They did four sets, with no more than four reps each time. The exercises were done three times a week, for eight weeks, in addition to their regular endurance training.

Meanwhile, the control group kept up their regular endurance training program. At the end of the eight-week experiment, the people who did the heavy weight, low rep exercises saw significant improvements.

You would expect the people lifting weights would become stronger than the control group, and they did. They increased their one-rep-maximum lift weight by 33.2%. The surprise was how much they improved their endurance. Subjects who engaged in the heavy weight training took 21.3% longer to get exhausted when running at maximum speed.

Imagine how much better your running times would be if you could increase your endurance by 21.3%. But it's not just about better times. In several studies, researchers found that runners who engage in regular weight training get better results, with fewer injuries than those who only run. It helps you build lean muscle for when you need bursts of power. As a bonus, lifting weights strengthens your bones and helps protect against age-related bone and muscle loss.

The key is doing appropriate exercises properly. To help you design a program that works, let's get rid of a few weight training myths.

Myth 1: Avoid heavy weights. Many runners believe heavy weights will cause them to get slow and bulky. That's not how it works. You don't get big just by lifting heavy; you also have to eat more calories than you burn off. Since running burns lots of calories, the only way you're going to get bulky is if you seriously overeat.

Myth 2: Train with light weights and high reps. If you do 10-20 reps for each exercise in the gym, you're working muscles the same way as when you run. To maximize strength gains, lift heavier and keep the number of reps in the 4-8 range. If you can move a weight more than eight reps, it's too light, and you should probably get something heavier.

Myth 3: Rest no more than 30 to 60 seconds between sets. Running elevates your heart rate and keeps it up, generally through the whole workout. But when you're building strength, that hinders muscular development. Here's why.

Lifting weights draws energy from something called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). (ATP transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism.) After thirty seconds, only about 50% of the ATP is replenished. When you move something heavy, it takes between 2 and 3 minutes for your body to bring ATP levels up near 100%. If you want optimum power for each lift, wait at least 2-3 minutes between sets.

When you're ready to build some muscle, consider the following exercises.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat. One leg is elevated behind you while the other does the work. This allows you to use half the weight (saving your back), develop better balance and get the same resistance benefit as traditional squats.

The RFESS targets your glutes, hamstrings, hips, hip flexors and quadriceps. Many runners have strong quadriceps and weak glutes. This exercise strengthens the hips and glutes, helping to prevent overuse injuries.

Click Here to learn how to do the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat.

Lateral Lunges. Runners tend to move and train in one direction, forward. Lateral lunges work your outer and inner thigh (abductors and adductors), building muscles that running neglects. Grow those weaker muscles, and you'll see balance improve. 

Push-ups / Elevated Push-ups / Bench Press. Start with regular push-ups to work your chest, triceps, core and almost every other muscle in your upper body. As you get stronger, progress to elevated push-ups. If you consider both of those too easy, start using the bench press.

Click Here to learn how to do Elevated Push-Ups.

Click Here to learn Proper Foot Positioning on the Bench Press.

Other exercises will help, but these are the bare minimum any runner should consider.


Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2008 Jun;40(6):1087-92. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318168da2f.
Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners.

Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2014 Aug;24(4):603-12. doi: 10.1111/sms.12104. Epub 2013 Aug 5.
Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review

Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2011 Dec;21(6):e56-63. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01149.x. Epub 2010 Jun 18.
Changes in muscle strength and morphology after muscle unloading in Special Forces missions.

European Journal of Applied Physiology. 2012 Aug;112(8):2849-57. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-2256-x. Epub 2011 Dec 1.
Effects of plyometric training on passive stiffness of gastrocnemii muscles and Achilles tendon.

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength and Conditioning Association. 2014 May;28(5):1289-97. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000267.
Lower-body determinants of running economy in male and female distance runners.

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