Best Strength Exercises For Runners (According To The Experts)
We asked a select group of fitness experts for their top tips when it comes to the best strength exercises for runners
If you’re looking to improve your running game, ensuring that you’re performing the right strength exercises to support your goals is key.
We all know that regular training and a healthy diet are important factors when it comes to your running, but one area which is sometimes neglected by runners is the incorporation of strength-building exercises into their workout routines.
So, what are some of the key things to bear in mind when it comes to strength training for running, and what are some of the best exercises to perform to help support your running goals?
We asked a select group of experts for their top tips and advice when it comes to the best strength exercises for runners.
Here is what they said.
Why Strength Training Is Key To Running Success
Jake Harcoff, Certified Kinesiologist and Head Coach at AIM Athletic
Strength training can be extremely beneficial to running when programmed effectively.
While the benefits of resistance training are numerous, above all else, runners who regularly perform strength exercises will experience increased movement economy, increased velocity and power at their VO2 maximum, as well as reduced risk for injuries.
Movement economy refers to the aerobic energy cost of performing submaximal activity by the exerciser.
Research has shown that runners who regularly train with strength specific exercises, can experience as much as a four per cent increase in running economy compared to those who do not.
A runner’s VO2 maximum is the maximum amount of oxygen that they are able to use during activity, and a determinant of overall aerobic capacity.
While VO2 max is increased by all kinds of exercise, strength training can help the runner maintain higher running velocities once they reach this point of maximal oxygen consumption.
Practically speaking, if two runners with the exact same VO2 maximum were to race each other, it would be the one who could produce more power, and velocity, with each stride that wins.
Finally, runners who strength train will also experience a reduction in injury risk.
Running is extremely hard on the body. While it is typically done at sub-maximal speeds, it is also a very cyclical and repetitive activity.
As with any repetitive movement, where the same muscles are being recruited over and over again, there is always the risk for imbalances, and eventually overuse injuries to occur.
Properly programmed strength training can help to target the muscles that are often neglected by running, allow the body to stay balanced and prevent certain muscles from becoming over developed.
The bottom line? Strength training is key to running success, and can be a game-changer when it comes to overall performance.
I suggest that anyone who takes running seriously, should also be on a specific strength program including compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, and various lunges.
For all of the runners I work with, I also tend to skew the overall volume of their strength training to more posterior chain exercises that target the back side of their bodies. This is because running is mostly a front side body activity. This is to help them maintain adequate balance.
Consider Trying Single-Leg Stability Exercises
Alina Kennedy, Running Specialist Physical Therapist and Owner of The Runners Physio
The strength training demands for runners are quite unique.
Long distance runners don’t need brute strength, power, or explosive speed so many typical gym programs aren’t specific to the needs of runners.
What runners need in terms of strength is instead muscular endurance and tissue resilience (to prevent injuries).
This means that the best strength exercises for runners are ones that work on single-leg stability exercises (like arabesques and single-leg squats against a wall), as well as core and glute endurance (like planks and side planks with leg raises).
What I have found is that many runners prefer to do exercises at home rather than at a gym due to time restraints.
Luckily, this actually works quite well and a lot of the best exercises for runners don’t require heavy weights. Using body weight and focusing on control (rather than brute strength) is a really effective way to strength train as a runner.
However, it is also worth noting that heavy-load weight training can be beneficial for runners too.
Some runners prefer going to the gym, and that is also totally fine! We actually have some great research that shows runners who lift heavy, run faster.
If a runner enjoys going to the gym and lifting heavier weights, my recommendation would still be to focus on single-leg stability. Things like lunges and step-ups with weights are great for runners!
Don’t Neglect Your Upper Body
Robert Herbst, Personal Trainer and Wellness Expert
Many runners who lift weights neglect their upper body.
They should work their shoulders and upper back to help them build strength so that they can maintain good form when running.
As they run, they move their arms back and forth hundreds or thousands of times depending on the distance, which can cause fatigue.
They should thus consider performing two sets each of 10 reps of Face Pulls and Shrugs to strengthen their rear delts and traps during their strength workouts.
That workload is sufficient to build strength without building extra mass they will have to carry around when they run.
Focus On Building Single-Leg Strength
Alyssa Kuhn, Doctor of Physical Therapy at Keep the Adventure Alive
The most important exercises for running are exercises that challenge single-leg strength and stability.
Almost everything we do in our daily lives and in our training challenges double limb strength (for example, squats, deadlifts, walking, etc). This can hide some asymmetries or imbalances from side to side.
Running is a sport that essentially requires a small single-leg squat over and over again. If you notice any asymmetries, for example, one leg is weaker than the other, you may put yourself at a higher risk for developing pain when running.
The best way to make sure both sides of your body are in-sync is to add single-leg exercises into your running training routine.
These can look many different ways. Some of the more common exercises are lunges and single-leg squats, which are great. There are many ways to modify these as well to best fit your fitness level.
Along with single-leg strength comes the ability to be able to stand on one leg. If you can do that, don’t stop reading yet!
Almost nine out of 10 people I meet have difficulty doing this single-leg dumbbell pass exercise initially, so I want to put you to the challenge! This balance exercise challenges lateral stability which is hard to get reps of in our daily lives. Try it out to see how you do!
Conclusion – Wrapping Things Up
So, there are plenty of reasons to incorporate a goal-specific strength training plan into your workout routine as you look to improve your results from running.
The experts featured in this article have helped to highlight the importance of strength training when it comes to running.
Here are some of the exercises the experts suggested incorporating into your training regime:
• Single-leg Deadlifts
• Single-leg Hops
• Face Pulls
• Side Planks with Leg Raises
So, focusing on building strength through single-leg stability exercises alongside some common favourites such as deadlifts and squats (while also not neglecting your upper body in the process) could be a good start to your training routine.