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Strength Training For Runners: A Guide to the Exercises You Need To Get Faster

Taren Gesell

Strength training is one of the number one most important performance and health enhancers for runners; elite runners all over the world are prioritizing strength training alongside their training plans and use age groupers should be doing the same. 

Whether you’re a beginner runner training for your first 5k or 10k, or you’re an advanced runner planning on taking on a half-marathon or marathon, runners, cyclists, triathletes, swimmers, and endurance athletes of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds need to include strength training if they want to be healthy and successful in reaching their goals.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • Why is strength training important for runners 
  • The benefits of strength training for runners
  • How much strength training runners should do
  • What are the best strength exercises for runners
  • How to create a strength training for runners plan
  • Best strength training equipment for runners
  • How runners can strength train at home

By the end of this article, you'll have a better understanding of how to incorporate strength training into your running routine to improve your performance and overall health.

Athlete Gretchen Clemens runs the half-marathon portion of her first ever IRONMAN 70.3 triathlon.

History of Strength Training for Runners

Strength training for runners has come a long way in the last few decades. In the past, coaches and runners thought that strength training would make athletes bulky and ultimately slower. However, we have come to understand the benefits of strength training, we now know that strength training does nothing but improve the performance and health of runners. 

In our opinion, strength training is second only to sleep in how much it improves the performance of endurance athletes.

7 Key Benefits of Benefits of Strength Training for Runners

The purpose of strength training for runners is to improve race performance and overall health. By having a body that functions better, runners are able to run more efficiently and with less risk of injury. 

Strength training also helps improve the health of runners by strengthening the bones and joints, which in turn helps to prevent injuries. Additionally, it helps to improve the overall health of the body, which is important for runners who want to maintain a high level of fitness.

Seven measurable benefits of strength training for running:

  1. Measurable race performance improvement
  2. Improved running economy, athletes will use less energy at every pace
  3. Better body composition, lower fat and higher muscle
  4. Improved hormone profiles
  5. Reduced muscle loss, a key factor associated with aging well
  6. Better mood
  7. Increased metabolic rate, making it easier to keep fat stores low

These benefits are not just opinions, they are supported by numerous studies.

One of the most concrete pieces of evidence of the benefits of strength training for runners is a meta-analysis published in the journal "Science Translational Medicine" in 2017 that looked at a broad sample of many studies and confirmed that strength training reduced the amount of energy required to swim, bike, or run. These improvements were seen in both beginners and advanced athletes.

Another commonly associated benefit of strength training is the reduced likelihood of injury. While this is difficult for researchers to study due to the many variables involved, coaches and physiotherapists often report observational evidence that strength training reduces the likelihood of injuries. However, a study published in 2018 found evidence that running reduces the likelihood of injury.

Best Strength Training Equipment for Runners

While a gym membership or a personal trainer are effective, they're expensive, time consuming, and can be overkill for runners simply looking for a quick, affordable, and effective strength training program. If you like the gym or your personal trainer, by all means keep using them, but we’ll provide a home based strength training program that’s extremely effective here.

We feel the best strength training equipment for runners is the equipment that’s easiest to access. The equipment we recommend needs to satisfy the following conditions:

  • Easy to store, it doesn’t take up too much space in the home
  • Easy to purchase, not expensive or hard to find
  • Can be done effectively at home without a huge learning curve or need for a partner
  • Is extremely versatile so athletes can do a lot of different strength exercises with it
  • Is extremely effective and based on supported science

The key to effective strength training for runners is to focus less on super heavy weights and complex machines, instead runners should focus more on simply activating muscles and creating stability. The following equipment is excellent for a home gym:

  • Free weights like kettlebells, dumbbells, medicine balls, and slam balls 
  • Stability bands, both the small 8-12” and large 36” bands are useful 
  • Foam balance pads and wobble boards to create lower leg mobility 
  • Exercise rings or TRX straps are equally great 

These items are affordable, versatile, and can be used to target all the major muscle groups that runners need to strengthen.

The Best Home Gym Strength Training Equipment: The Kettlebell

MOTTIV athletes perform a Renegade Row with kettlebells, in a snapshot from a guided strength workout in the MOTTIV app.

One piece of equipment that we particularly recommend for running strength training is the kettlebell. Kettlebells are inexpensive and the most versatile piece of equipment we’ve ever identified, making them the perfect addition to any runner's home gym. 

Kettlebells are particularly effective for runners, who need to create stability in the body, because the center of mass in a kettlebell is off center from where you hold it. The nature of this design of a kettlebell requires you to stabilize your core and build stability with every strength movement you perform.

Additionally, most people find kettlebell training is a lot more fun than most forms of traditional strength training because they need to develop a lot of technique to handle the kettlebell.  Developing technique engages the brain and people find this surprisingly interesting.

Athletes need to take special care when purchasing their first several kettlebells. Getting the right weight is critical, use this chart to select the kettlebell sizes that are best for you:

Recommended Kettlebell Weights:

Male (typical) 20lbs/9kg 25lbs/11kg 35lbs/16kgs
Female (typical) 10lbs/5kg 15lbs/7kg 20lbs/9kg
Male (strong) 25lbs/11kg 45lbs/20kg 65lbs/30kg
Female (strong) 25lbs/11kg 35lbs/16kg 45lbs/20kg

Unless you have a deep background in weightlifting you should start with the typical weights. Additionally, look for a kettlebell made of steel or cast iron, with a handle that is not sticky whatsoever. With just two or three kettlebells, runners can perform a complete and very effective strength and mobility training program right from home, often for less than $200.

Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Compound movements are the best exercises for runners because they involve multiple muscle groups and joints; just like the typical movements you do throughout the day. While strength training with machines lock you into a specific range of motion, compound exercises are very dynamic and the most similar to the real forces that runners will have to withstand while running. 

Some of the most basic and popular compound movements for runners include squats, deadlifts, lunges, and step-ups. But these simple exercises can be modified to different variations to create a more well rounded strength training program and keeps things interesting.

Below are some commonly used exercises in our training plans for running, triathlon, duathlon, cycling, and swimrun events.  These are all designed by our strength training coach Craig Slobodian specifically for the needs of age group endurance athletes. They will build up the correct muscle groups for endurance training, while counteracting the imbalances that build up over the course of years of typical day to day life.

The Side Squat or Cossack Squat strengthens the quads and glutes, as well as side-to-side stabilizer muscles.

The Reverse Lunge and Press helps to strengthen the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, as well as the lats and the core.

The Weighted Windmill exercise is a strength and mobility movement, strengthening the glutes and core, while providing mobility throughout the body.

Strength Training Plan for Runners

Creating a strength training plan for runners can be a bit overwhelming, but with the right guidance, it can be easy to fit into your weekly routine. 

How Often Should Runners Strength Train?

First, let's talk about how often runners should do strength training. During the off-season and base building season (November to March for athletes in the Northern Hemisphere), we recommend that runners do two to three strength workouts each week. 

During the race season, when endurance training is much more intense and needs to be the focus of our training, we recommend just one strength workout per week. 

Performing more strength workouts during the offseason and base building season, and fewer strength workouts during race season, will allow athletes to build a lot of strength when the training load of endurance training is low, then athletes can carry that strength into race season and focus more on strength maintenance while endurance training intensity is ramped up.

How Many Sets and Reps Should Runners Do?

Next, let's talk about sets and reps. The traditional 8-15 rep range isn't recommended for runners because this rep range tends to tear down muscle and make you feel sore in the following days which can make you run with bad form and introduce injuries. 

Low rep ranges of 2-6 are great for building strength without putting on size, so you can increase your power to weight ratio which really improves endurance sport performance. 

High rep ranges or isometric holds are great for building muscular endurance which will decrease your fatigue later on in your running workouts. 

We recommend 3-5 sets of each exercise for most runners.

How Long Should Strength Workouts Be?

We recommend keeping strength workouts to just 30 minutes long with a five-minute warm-up and a five-minute cool-down. Strength workouts that are 60 minutes or longer are very stressful on athletes and can hinder recovery. We are looking for quality and efficiency over quantity.

Strength Workout Intensity

The intensity of strength workouts should vary depending on the time of year. During the base building season and off-season, runners can go more intense during strength workouts and end the workout feeling tired and sweaty. 

However, during race season and during the year round rest week workouts, workouts should be very low intensity and focused just on activating, as opposed to building up, muscle groups. Athletes should end workouts feeling a little guilty of how easy they went during these sessions.

When Should Runners do Strength Training Workouts? 

For years, most coaches treated strength training as an afterthought and scheduled strength workouts on rest days. This scheduling is counterproductive because strength workouts are stressful on the body so this makes your rest day not very restful. 

We recommend doing strength workouts on its own day, or paired with an otherwise key workout like an intense run, a tempo run, or a long run. The run should be scheduled prior to the strength workout so that you’re not performing the run on tired legs, using bad running technique and opening the door for injury.

Trail Running to Increase Explosive Power

As a bonus tip, a great way to increase explosive power is to do a lot of your long runs on hills and trails. Studies have found that trail runners had much more explosive power than road runners even though they ran less and did less strength training. 

Developing more explosive power will allow you to run more efficiently, using less energy, as found in this study

We prompt our athletes to do most of their running on hills and trails in all of our training plans. Here is an example of a typical long run, roughly six weeks out from a half marathon:

Run Strength Training Program Keys:

Here are the key points to remember when you’re incorporating strength training into your run training plan:

  • Perform two to three strength workouts per week during the off-season and base building season
  • Perform just one strength workout per week during race season
  • Low rep ranges of 2-6 or high rep ranges of 15 and isometric holds are best
  • Strength workouts should be 30 minutes long with a five-minute warm-up and a five-minute cool-down
  • Intensity of strength workouts should vary depending on the time of year
  • Schedule strength training on its own day, or paired with an otherwise key workout
  • Do your long runs on hills and trails to increase explosive power.


Strength training for runners has come a long way in the last few decades and is now seen as one of the most important ways to improve race performance and overall health. 

You might be thinking, “Great, one more thing I have to find time for to reach my goals.” But the most amazing thing we will close with is a study that found strength training is so effective that runners don’t even need to make additional time to strength train to get the benefits.  

Endurance athletes can, and should, replace some of their current endurance training hours with strength training. So you can actually run, ride, or swim less, strength train more, out of the comfort of our home, with the small amount of equipment we’ve outlined, and perform better while being healthier. 

There’s no reason not to prioritize strength training in whatever training plan you’re creating.  If you need help creating a strength training plan, or want a complete training plan for any running race, triathlon, cycling event, duathlon, or swimrun that includes strength training, along with the methods we’ve outlined in this blog post, check out our app.

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Taren Gesell
Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MOTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast, Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.

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