Before we get into the best exercises for runners, let’s take a step back and recap why strength training is so good.
3 Reasons Runners Should Do Strength Training
For runners of all abilities and distances, from 5km to crazy ultra runners, strength training brings a wealth of gains. There’s a lot of well-proven reasons for this, including…
It’s easy to spot beautiful runners: they have a great knee lift, graceful kick-back and relaxed arm-swing. They just look effortless even when they’re motoring.
This is because they’ve nailed their economy.
There’s a lot of factors which impact running economy including run mileage, bodyweight and biomechanics. Another is strength training.
Lifting weights develops motor unit recruitment and decreases ground contact time, both of which improve efficiency.
Rather obviously, strength training results in increased strength! But why do runners need to be stronger? Well - particularly when it comes to longer distances upwards of 10km – muscular strength plays an important role in maintaining good running form as the miles build up.
You’ll notice those who’ve neglected strength training at Mile 18 of a marathon: they’re hunched over, dragging their heels, eyes gazing downward. In all likelihood, this isn’t because their cardiovascular system is at its limit, but because their skeleton-muscular system has packed in. It wasn’t strong enough to withstand the stress (pounding) it just received.
Perform regular strength training and you’ll increase the distance you can run with good form (which also links to improved economy, better endurance and reduced injury occurrence).
Running is fairly brutal on the body, increasingly so as distance increases. Constant pavement pounding creates a lot of stress on your body, from physical stress like muscle and tendon damage to hormonal stress and even mental and emotional challenges.
While strength training doesn’t particularly address the mental challenges of run training, it does have a significant impact on injury reduction through improving movement patterns, creating stronger muscle fibres and making our tendons and ligaments more bomb-proof.
5 Best Strength Training Exercises For Runners
A quick Google will highlight a lot of great exercises for runners. But, in the face of so many options, it’s easy to procrastinate, delay and never get round to actually doing any! So we’ve condensed the best into a list of five particularly valuable exercises.
The deadlift is a great exercise to safely lift a heavy weight – which is what you’ll want to do to gain most bang for your buck. As with all these exercises, ensure your form is top-notch. Ask for help if you need to learn the correct movement pattern but, once it’s dialled, you’ll love a heavy deadlift session!
It’s a great exercise for runners because it’s a large compound move which targets all the major muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, back, shoulders and glutes) and also burns a lot of calories.
Lunges are a very run specific. You work one leg at a time and recruit your anterior chain (the muscles at the back of your body, ie your hamstrings, glutes and back). It’s your hamstrings and glutes which propel you forward as you run, so incorporating lunges into your weekly strength routine will pay dividends.
There’s also a tonne of lunge variations including step-forward lunges, step-back, pulsing on one leg, lateral lunges and so on. Just have a quick Google for other variants.
3. Single leg squats
I prefer single leg squats to ‘normal’ squats for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s much safer. Nailing proper squat technique is hard and it’s very easy to get wrong and cause injury. Secondly, single leg squats are more run-specific, challenging one leg (and your balance) at a time.
Single leg squats are tough, so begin by simply lowering yourself onto a high box on one leg and using both legs to stand up again. Repeat this until you’re strong enough to try to upward phase on a single leg too.
Skipping is 100% not just for 80s kids. It’s a fantastic plyometric exercise to work your calves, Achilles tendon and plantar fascia. Skipping regularly will improve your propulsion from each step, meaning you’ll cover more ground with each stride, as well as decrease your ground contact time – you’ll bounce off quicker.
5. Core work
I know it’s tedious, but core work is the most neglected aspect of strength training, to many runners’ detriment. Having a strong core – mainly abs and lower back – is crucial for maintaining good running form, particularly in the latter stages of a race. And there’s a tonne of exercises you can perform to work these muscle groups, including planks (of which there’s loads of variations), leg and dorsal raises, press ups and sit ups.