Say whaaat?!

That’s right – you can get better at running by not running. Well, actually, I should re-phrase that. You’ll need to run a bit. Nothing builds running economy like running!

But if you want to get faster, feel stronger when you run, or put a stop to all those nagging injuries, you most certainly do not have to just run more. It’s not one of those “practice makes perfect” scenarios.

There’s no doubt about it – running can be hard on the body. We absorb a lot of impact each time our feet land. In fact, it can be anywhere from 2 to 3 times your bodyweight depending on your gait (Nilsson, et al, 1989).

And if we continue to do that on a daily basis for years and years, the vast majority of us are going to get injured. There are a few superhuman individuals out there who will never sustain an injury, but for us mortals, our bodies will at some point say “NO MORE!”.

But does that mean we shouldn’t run?

Hell to tha NO!

It just means we need to look at our training strategically and determine whether there are other ways of reaching our running goals beyond just running. And the good news is that in the majority of cases, there are 🙂

So if you want to shave minutes off your race finish time (giving you bragging rights at the office), or finish a race feeling strong and not needing to spend 3 days on the couch afterwards (because really, who can afford to do that?), or you just want to put up a fight against injuries so you can continue to do what makes you feel most alive for many years to come, read on….

strength training for runners

The way you can get better at running by not running isn’t by resting on the couch…it’s by cross-training! Specifically, STRENGTH TRAINING.

Strength training is the secret sauce when it comes to boosting your speed, improving your recovery, and reducing injuries. Not only does strength training strengthen the muscles used when you run (#duh), it also helps correct muscular imbalances, improves your posture so you look totally awesome in your race pictures, and, when done in a certain way, can boost your anaerobic capacity.

Translation? You’ll become far more efficient at longer and steadier-paced runs.

But not just any old session with the weights will improve your running. To be most effective, strength training for runners needs to be done in a strategic way. It needs to be just enough to enhance your running, without being so much it ends up harming your performance.

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Frequency

The amount of strength training you’ll do each week will depend on where you are in your race season. If you’re in your off-season or are just running for fun and don’t have any A-Races coming up, you can afford 3 or even 4 days of strength training each week. This is of course dependant on your weekly mileage, your goals, and your fabulously unique body, but especially if you are a beginner, you’ll make some great gains with 3 days of strength training per week.

If you’re in race-mode, I’d recommend incorporating 2 days of strength training into your routine. If the thought of adding 2 additional workouts kind of makes you freak out, take a look at your runs for the week. Do you have an extra recovery run you could trade in favour of a strength training day? Is there an easy run you can piggyback a strength training session onto?

Get the Cliffnotes version of this post plus a sample workout here: 

I Want to Get Better at Running By Not Running!

Intensity This is the fun part! While intensity is all relative to the individual doing the activity, in general, I want all my runners training at a level they find challenging. I read all these articles about how strength training for runners should involve light weights and high reps…and while there are no absolutes when it comes to fitness, I try to stay away from that style of programming.

strength training for runnersIn order to get stronger, faster, more muscular, or to run longer, we need to push the body beyond what it is currently comfortable. This is known as progressive overload, and it’s the key to improving any area of your fitness. So when it comes to strength training, we need to use loads that challenge us!

Again, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to strength training for runners, however a good rep range to aim for is between 8 and 12 reps. This will allow for a good mix of strength development and muscle tone so you can look good while you run fast 😉 Use a weight that begins to feel difficult within the last 3 reps but allows you to maintain proper form right until the end.

Now if you really want to shake things up, you can begin to incorporate metabolic circuits into your training. I typically reserve these for my runners who are a little more well-versed in the weight room, however you can make them as simple or as challenging as you like, so don’t shy away from them!

Metabolic circuits involve completing strength-based movements at a higher intensity with little-to-no rest in between. This keeps your heart rate elevated throughout, which will strengthen not only your muscles, but also your heart and lungs. See? You CAN get better at running by not running! 😉

If you keep things really intense, like between an 8 and 9 on a scale of 1-10, you may very well tap into your anaerobic energy system. Whereas our aerobic system (which is used during steady-paced running) relies on oxygen, our anaerobic energy systems power us through activities without using oxygen as fuel. Dashes to the finish line and running up stairs would be two examples of the anaerobic system kicking in while we run. strength training for runners But the kicker is that by improving our anaerobic efficiency, we can drastically increase our aerobic efficiency (Burgomaster, et al, 2004). So you could incorporate speedwork into your running program (which I highly recommend!). But you could also add in a short metabolic circuit into your strength training program to accomplish a lot of work in a short amount of time.

Tabata intervals done with kettlebell swings or battle ropes, barbell complexes or bodyweight complexes, or even a combination of treadmill sprints and strength-based exercises are all fantastic ways to boost your anaerobic capacity.

Time

Fear not – your strength training sessions don’t need to be as long as your Sunday long runs! By being strategic with the exercises you pick and resting as little as possible between exercises, you’ll be able to get an incredibly effective workout in 30-45 minutes. This can be reduced even more if your workouts are more metabolic in nature.

Strength training for runners is different than bodybuilding programs, fat loss programs, or general health programs. There are certain exercises that are great for runners and other exercises that are not as beneficial. So pick the exercises that will serve you the most, do them hard and do them well, and then move on with your day!

Type

As a runner, you’ll benefit from using free weights such as dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells for the bulk of your strength training workouts. These require more core activation and coordination than machines do, and for the most part they are more functional as well. Besides, completing a perfect deadlift or throwing a heavy kettlebell over your head is a pretty badass thing to do 😉 strength training for runners

If you don’t have any access to equipment, don’t worry – you can get an amazing workout with just your body! Learn the basics like squats, lunges, and push-ups, then get creative with things like single leg deadlifts, box jumps, and different variations of planks.

As you can see, proper strength training for runners isn’t some afterthought that’s thrown into a program at the last minute. It requires a bit of strategizing, but it doesn’t have to take up all your time and it definitely doesn’t have to be a gruelling hour in the weight room!

It’s oh-so necessary when it comes to reducing injuries, performing well, and feeling like an overall badass, and it’s the secret that will allow you to continue chasing those post-run endorphins for years to come.

If you’d like to begin incorporating some strength training into your program but aren’t really sure which exercises to pick or where to start, you’re in luck! I’ve put together a free 10-page guide that will provide you with a sample workout and will summarize all of the above information so you can seamlessly integrate it into your existing running program. Grab your copy of the guide by clicking below!

I Want to Get Better at Running By Not Running!

So, my running friends – do you incorporate any strength training into your program? Any favourite exercises you’d like to share? Comment below and let me know!

Sources

Burgomaster, K.A., Hughes, S. C., Heigenhauser, G.J.F., Bradwell, S.N., & Gibala, M.J. (2004). Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology 98(6): 1985-90.

Nilsson, J. & Thorstensson, A. (1989). Ground reaction forces at different speeds of human walking and running. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 136(2): 217-27.

Showing 37 comments
  • Patty @ Reach Your Peak
    Reply

    Great post! I am actually starting to get back to lifting now but want it to improve my running. So you think I’d be better off doing circuit type workouts with little rest than trying to lift heavy which means less reps, more rest, adding more weights each week?

    • Ariana
      Reply

      Hey Patty! Yes and no…as I mentioned in the post, there are no real hard and fast rules here; a lot of it depends on the individual and their experience. What I recommend for a lot of my beginner and intermediate lifters is working with moderately heavy weights – within the 8-12 range, and structuring the exercises in a way that requires less rest between.

      For example, I might have them do 10 bent-over rows, 10 goblet squats, 10 overhead presses, and 10 walking lunges on each leg. This way the upper body rests while the lower body works, and vice versa.

      For my more advanced lifters I’ll often have them work on one heavy lift per session and then follow that with a metabolic circuit, which could still be a heavier barbell complex. Rest breaks should be incorporated in a way that allows the body to recover JUST enough to perform the next lift with proper form, but not so much that we get all chilled out. I really don’t see a need for the 3-5 minute rest breaks for those of us who aren’t training to be powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters.

      Does that make sense? It’s kind of convoluted haha.

  • Reply

    Strength training has done wonders for me and I can’t imagine not doing it. Totally agree!

    • Ariana
      Reply

      Isn’t it amazing?!

  • Christine - The Choosy Mommy
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing this! I am 5 months post-baby and unfortunately winter is upon us but I hope to be hitting up the gym soon enough to get my run on again!

    • Ariana
      Reply

      You’re welcome! I hope some of these tips come in handy when you make it to the gym 🙂

  • Nicole @ Fitful Focus
    Reply

    I’ve seen a HUGE improvement in my running since I started using strength training as my cross training. My pace has gotten faster, my recovery has gotten faster, and I’m less prone to injury 🙂

    • Ariana
      Reply

      AWESOME! Congrats girl! 🙂

  • Elle
    Reply

    YES! I know that the muscle I am building in my quads is helping my running! Great information. Thanks!

    • Ariana
      Reply

      You’re so welcome! Hooray for strong quads!

  • Reply

    Once I turned 50, I started noticing my running times slowing down. I also kept getting these nagging injuries. I did my research and decided to go with a coach–not a running coach, but a crossfit coach. She’s incorporated a lot of strength training into my regimen and it’s translated to faster race times as well as a few relatively injury free years!

    • Ariana
      Reply

      That’s awesome! Congratulations on your success with your coach. It’s amazing how adding in a different form of activity can help reduce and even eliminate those injuries.

  • Reply

    Looking forward to checking out your guide! This is exactly what I need. I want to strength train, just don’t know how to get it done! Thanks 🙂

    • Ariana
      Reply

      You’re welcome! Please let me know if you have any questions!

  • Artney @ My Pretty Brown Fit
    Reply

    This is great! I do believe everything you said and think strength training plays a very important part when it comes to running and training. I look forward to getting back to lifting.

    • Ariana
      Reply

      I’m happy to hear you agree, Artney! Let me know if you ever have any questions when you get back into it! 🙂

  • Shann Eva
    Reply

    Such great information. I haven’t run a race yet, but I’ve been working on my endurance and have incorporated strength training. Good to know it will help!

    • Ariana
      Reply

      Yes you are totally on the right track!

  • MCM Mama Runs
    Reply

    I’ve been working on incorporating weight training back into my training plan after too many months of doing nothing but running. I”m really hoping it will help with my hip issues.

    • Ariana
      Reply

      It will for sure! I’m sure you are already doing this, but be sure to include lots of single leg work and things like clam shells, monster walks, etc. 🙂

  • Kathryn @ Dancing to Running
    Reply

    Such a great reminder! Weight and strength training is great for all athletes. Not only does it help with developing endurance, but it’ll also help to make runners stronger, and in turn, faster.

    • Ariana
      Reply

      Yes! You hit the nail on the head 😀

  • Natalie
    Reply

    This is awesome!! As a runner coming back from a major injury that resulted in surgery, I am a huge fan of strength training.
    These days I am more about strength, core and dynamic stretching almost more than I am about running. I love all the great info in this post and your guide sounds great. Thanks!!

    • Ariana
      Reply

      I’m with you on that, Nat! It’s all about the core strength 😉 Thanks for the feedback!

  • Becki S
    Reply

    Love this post! I have seen a huge change in my ability to sustain a pace or just be able to go out and do a 5k without having to really work “hard”. Thanks for sharing with the community!

    • Ariana
      Reply

      You’re welcome! I’m glad you’ve been able to experience the benefits firsthand 🙂

  • The Cheeky Cow
    Reply

    I think a lot of frustration comes into play (as well as a lot of giving up) when people just think they can start running. I’ve watched friends think they can run a mile and then 2 by the next week and up to 5 by a month later. It normally truly does not work that way.

    • Ariana
      Reply

      You’re so right – there’s a lot more to it! Many people look at running as an easy and inexpensive form of exercise, and it’s far from that 😛

  • Sara
    Reply

    I’ll be passing thi on to my husband! He’s a runner e just did a marathon on the weekend and would like to shave some time off. Very valuable info

    • Ariana
      Reply

      That’s great! Congratulations to your husband! 🙂

  • Lauren
    Reply

    I used to be a distance runner until a couple pregnancies did a number on my ligaments. When I started incorporating HIIT training (including kettle bell, battle rope, sprints, body weight exercises, etc) my body transformed to leaner. Also with distance running, I stayed at an aerobic pace. One of the things I love about running is getting in the zone at that easy pace. HIIT training challenged me and built up my aerobic capacity by going anaerobic often.

    Lauren, RunHoly.com

    • Ariana
      Reply

      I’m happy you found HIIT training! As you’ve noticed, it can accomplish many of the same physiological things as running but can definitely be more challenging on the mental side of things 😉

  • Farrah
    Reply

    Yay for strength training! As you already know, I’m all for it! 😛 I really need to get back into interval training! <3 Maybe this will finallyyyy get me back into running!?

    (Fun fact–all my interviews thus far have talked with me at length about my powerlifting. It's been making my interviews super fun! 😛 )

    • Ariana
      Reply

      I would be SO happy if this got you back into running 😉

      And that is SO awesome about your interviews!! I can imagine that bring a totally different vibe to them!

      • Farrah
        Reply

        One of today’s comments was super flattering/kinda amusing! 😛 The program director said something along the lines of, “Your application is one of the most interesting and unique ones that I’ve seen. I kept seeing all these random things you’d done and kept thinking, ‘No, there’s no way that could possibly be true,’ but you do it all, and you do it well!'”

        My heart is glowy!

  • Alicia
    Reply

    Great post Ariana, I love how informative it is. I’ve definitely found that strength training has helped my running game. I used to run 10-13k every other day and while I was in great shape, it completely ruined my ankles. I never realized that you absorb so much of your bodyweight whilst running – that definitely explains my ankle problem! I think it’s nice to find a balance of the two and throw running into your routine to shake things up a bit. Look forward to keeping up with your other posts, hopefully we’ll run into each other soon 🙂 x x

    • Ariana
      Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Alicia! Sorry to hear about your ankles, but whatever it is you are doing now is working because you are still in great shape! 😀 I’m sure our paths will cross again soon enough!

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