For a happier, healthier you join My Health & Wellbeing for unlimited free access.

Get Started

January Download our guides now!


Are you a wellness warrior?

Vote today

Listen to our podcast today


How To Use Strength Training To Improve Your Running

4 MIN READ • 11th April 2016

Guess what – it’s possible to run faster without spending more time on the roads. Here’s how to add strength work to your training plan

Do you think you’d be a better runner if you had weekly workouts with a strength and conditioning coach? Perhaps you would be. Multiple studies show that smart strength plans can improve running technique and reduce the time it takes for runners to reach exhaustion. Case in point – one such study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine compared three groups of runners who trained twice-weekly for 12 weeks – one group was on an endurance-only plan, another group was on a strength-only plan, and the final group was on an endurance and strength plan. Unsurprisingly, the strength and endurance runners came out on top, improving their rate to exhaustion by an average of 13.7 percent and their 4k time by around 8.6 percent. The evidence for strength training is stacking up, but choosing the right resistance exercises and finding a plan that works for you isn’t easy. “Strength training can be off-putting to runners who run for enjoyment,” says Tim Stevenson, elite strength and conditioning coach at “But it plays an essential role in injury prevention.

By using an integrated and balanced strength training programme, you can support the maintenance of good posture, as well as strengthen bones and tissues that are exposed to high levels of stress through running.” Injury prevention is better than cure, and strength training will enhance your endurance and running economy to boot. Read to hit the weights? Here’s how to design your own strength plan…

    First things first – a great strength coach will always take a few moments to assess your fitness, discuss your goals and look over your experience. And you should do these things, too. Grab a pen and paper and write down your short and long-term goals. What do you want to achieve by the end of the fortnight? Which races are you aiming for? Are there any weaknesses you want to iron out? “Every runner has the same end goal, which is to run a quicker time,” says Allyn Condon, former Olympian and general manager at The Gym Bristol. “However, each individual runner will have specific goals within a programme, and it is important to establish these prior to selecting exercises.” Allyn recommends you consider your strength training history, injury history, any physical imbalances and time available.

    Here’s a secret – focus on movements, not muscles. The movement patterns you use in your strength plan should mimic those you use when you run. “A good balanced programme is what is required, not a clear focus on individual muscles,” agrees Allyn. “Runners with little strength training experience should try and incorporate lower body, upper body and core training in a session.” Here are a few things to focus on…

    The weight you use will depend on how strong you are and how much experience you have doing the move. As a good rule of thumb, begin with light weights and gradually increase the resistance as your lifting technique improves. There is strong evidence to suggest that all runners (yes, even marathoners) can benefit from heavy strength training, mainly because the more force you can generate from the ground, the faster you will run.
    “Start with light weights and low reps to develop a feel for the exercises and allow muscles, tendons and ligaments to adapt to the new training,” says Allyn. “This will ensure good foundations are being built for future training. There is no point in building strength on an unstable base.” Got it?

    Most people who run for fun will benefit from a solid strength base, and this tends to mean training for muscular endurance – around 12- 20 repetitions for 2-3 sets. Explosive moves should performed over a smaller range of 5-10 reps for 2-3 sets. “The key is to use perfect technique,” says Tim. “Any exercise performed poorly tells the brain that it is ok to move like that. So, for example, if you do squats in the gym and the knee caves in, the same thing will happen when you go out for a run – the knee will come across the midline of the body, which is going to hinder your performance.” Focus on performing the moves with perfect technique, rather than meeting a set number of repetitions. If you can’t do the number of reps with good form, stop, rest and then come back to it or do more reps next time.

    We get it, you’d rather be out running than stuck in a stuffy gym, but 2-3 full-body strength sessions a week will enhance your skills. If you can squeeze in four sessions per week, you have the time to be more specific – for example, you could split your workouts into two leg sessions, one core session and one upper body workout. Start strength training early in your running plan to give your body time to adapt to weight work before running intensity increases.

    When running, lots of muscles work at once, so it makes sense to use multi-joint exercises (think squats, walking lunges and deadlifts). Not only are these moves reflective of your sport, but they’re also time-efficient. And as most runners want to spend more time on the roads and less time in the gym, it doesn’t make sense to spend hours performing single-joint moves (think bicep curls and shoulder shrugs). There are exceptions – calf raises (a singlejoint move) are great for runners – but make multi-joint moves the mainstay of your workout.

    Running is a single-leg sport, as you use one leg at a time. Singleleg gym exercises boast a lot of benefits – they enhance lower body strength, improve your balance, increase proprioception skills (the brain’s understanding of where you are in space) and work the core muscles. “Start with bodyweight exercises like lunges, single-leg squats and single-leg deadlifts,” says Tim. “If you want to go to the next stage and add some weight, choose rear-footelevated split squats using dumbbells or a barbell.”

    Running is an explosive sport. With each footfall, you push off from the toes and explode into the air. Plyometric (jumping) exercises will help to maximise your power output. “Plyometrics help the body handle the forces received from the ground when the foot makes contact,” adds Tim. “Single-leg hops in multiple directions, lunge jumps and vertical jumps are all great options, and these moves will certainly boost injury prevention and performance.” Hooray!


Allyn Cordon’s example plan for runners is a good starting point for newbie gym goers.
MULTI-JOINT EXERCISES: squat or deadlift
FUNCTIONAL MOVEMENTS: walking lunge, step up, box jumps, single-leg hops
GLUTE AND HIP EXERCISES: weighted glute bridge or donkey kicks
CORE CONDITIONING: overhead bar walks
UPPER BODY WORK: simple pushing and pulling to develop upper body balance}

Show your inbox some love

Get a weekly digest of Health & Wellbeing emailed direct to you.

Next up

Access everything, free!

Unlock the website for exclusive member-only content – all free, all the time. What are you waiting for? Join My Health & Wellbeing today!

Join the club today
Already a member? Log in to not see this again
Join My H&W