The runner’s physique is all about lean, with neither that much muscle nor that much body fat. And it makes sense—if you’re looking to go further, you don’t necessarily want to be weighed down by extra muscle.
This is part of the reason why so many runners avoid resistance training. Practice, after all, makes perfect; so, why not just stick to running to get better at running?
It’s not difficult to see that cross-training is important for any sport, especially when it comes to running. The key is to strength train, however, and not necessarily for muscle mass.
Down below we’ve compiled a list of the top ten exercises you can do to ramp up your running game and leave the competition in the dust.
Strength training for running is extremely accessible.
While you can use barbells or dumbbells for heavier, compound lifts, other equipment such as medicine balls and resistance bands can also be very helpful. Even simply using your body weight is good—especially when it comes to plyometrics.
You don’t need a lot to start strength training, but the benefits will be insane.
The big thing is that you’ll be able to run faster. Training your running muscles in your lower body will make them more explosive and you’ll also be building muscular endurance. Your quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, calves, and hip flexors all work in synchrony to get you from one place to another. Some of these are emphasized during certain activities, but they all have to work together in order to for maximum efficiency.
Another key component that many runners forget is strengthening their arms. Although not as important as our leg muscles, pumping our arms as we run allows us to give more power to the forward drive, allowing. The faster we can swing our arms, the more our step frequency increases.
And to bring the upper and lower bodies together, we need a strong core in order to efficiently transfer this power throughout the body. Hitting all the correct muscle groups in a holistic manner will ensure that our bodies are developing in a balanced fashion and our running form will improve as well.
Here we’ve got the ten best strength workout training exercises to make this happen.
Although several different lunge variations exist, the plain old lunge is a terrific way to activate your glutes, hamstrings, and quads—all necessary components of being a good runner.
An important aspect of lunges is that the split in the movement puts your body in a very unstable position, effectively challenging your balance. Because you’ll be working each leg independently, that means you’ll be able to develop your muscles in a way that helps to fix muscle left/right muscle imbalances.
The key with the lunge is to focus on the downward, or eccentric, motion. That’s when most of your muscle fibers will activate, and therefore it’s where you’ll get most of the gains. Focus on going slow and steady rather than fast.
Begin by standing with your right foot forward and left foot back, with feet about 2 to 3 feet apart. Bend both of your knees and allow your body to lower down to the ground until the back knee is almost touching the floor. At this point, your front thigh should be parallel to the floor. Continue by pushing back up into the starting position, maintaining the weight in the heel of your front foot.
The push-up—you really can’t get more classic than this. It’s a staple of gym class everywhere at every level, and it’s a standard for testing upper body strength.
As we saw above, the upper body is important for running. Maybe not as important as the lower body muscles, but important nevertheless. Strengthening your deltoids, pecs, triceps, biceps, and the erector spinae of the core will all work to help you run faster.
This is also an extremely functional exercise, and you’ll see improvements in any pushing actions you do either in the gym or in everyday life. Not to mention it’s also pretty simple, not requiring any dumbbells, barbells, or other equipment.
Begin on your hands and the tips of your toes on the ground. Your hands should be about shoulder-width apart, with your feet together. Your shoulders should also be directly above your wrists. Keep your core braced throughout the entire motion in order to prevent sagging or arching.
Slowly bend your elbows until you’re almost touching the floor, or at least as far as you can go—but the lower the better. Pausing at the bottom, push through your hands and reverse the movement, locking out your elbows at the top.
The core is a super essential muscle group when it comes to all types of physical activities, and running is definitely no exception.
It keeps you stable, balanced, and is therefore necessary for producing power in an efficient manner. While training the upper body may help your running, none of that extra power is going to help you if it can’t properly transfer the lower body. This is where the core comes in.
And we definitely can’t forget about the fact that a strong core looks sexy—no one will say no to having a six-pack.
Begin in the plank position; face down on the ground with your toes and forearms in contact with the floor. Ensure that your elbows are directly beneath your shoulders and that your forearms are facing forward. Keep your head relaxed and look at the floor throughout the hold.
Bracing your abdominal muscles, keep your torso straight and as rigid as possible. While this is a simple hold, having perfect form is necessary if you want to get any benefits out of it. Repeat the position for as long as you’re able to.
One of the big three lifts, the deadlift is an absolute juggernaut of a lift. It builds explosive power, it develops muscles, and it’s a strength and health improving magic pill. You really can’t go wrong with it—especially if you’re looking to train your lower body for running.
Well, we shouldn’t say that “nothing can go wrong,” since form is especially important with the deadlift. But if done correctly, the deadlift will challenge every muscle in your body and especially the ones in the posterior chain.
Dozens of variations exist, and you use all manner of weights—from barbells, dumbbells, to kettlebells—making this a relatively accessible exercise.
There’s a lot that goes into the form, but we’ll provide a brief overview here.
You’ll want to begin with feet at shoulder-width apart and the bar right in front of you, touching your shins. Grasp it just outside of your legs and squeeze as hard as you can—this will be a lot of help if you’re using heavier weights.
Then, drive the hips forward and pull the bar upward, keeping your back flat. Lockout your knees at the top of the position and lower the bar in a controlled manner.
The step up is an all-around great exercise for the lower body, but it’s especially good for training the quadriceps. Although the quads don’t get too much use when you’re running or walking on even ground, it’s still a good idea to make sure this part of your body is strong.
Building the quads helps to protect the knees from injury, which is key if you’re planning on running for a while longer. Step-ups also train the glutes and hamstrings, and as a bonus, you’ll be working the sides of your body at different times, allowing for any muscle imbalances to be corrected. Not only is this good for aesthetics, but it’s also good for preventing injuries.
The difficulty of the step-up will depend on how high of a platform you choose to use. If you want to ramp up the difficulty, feel free to use weights as well.
Step up onto the platform with your right foot, and push through that heel to straighten the right leg and bring the left foot up. Reverse the movement by bending the right knee and then stepping down with the left leg, followed by the right leg. Continue by switching which leg you lead with.
Along with the deadlift, this is one of the big three lifts. With this variation, we won’t be using any weights, but that doesn’t take away from its usefulness. Done as either weight training or as a bodyweight exercise, the squat is a necessary building block for all athletes.
The squat is a foundational movement that works pretty much every muscle in your body. Getting good at squats is the key to lower body strength and overall fitness, and we don’t recommend sleeping on this exercise. Not to mention that your booty will thank you as well.
Performing squats is useful for identifying muscle imbalances and various mobility issues, as well as strengthening your body. It goes without saying that your running will massively benefit from including squats in your workout plan.
Begin by setting your feet at shoulder-width apart with toes slightly turned outward. Engage your core and look straight ahead. You can either point your hands forward or place them at the sides of your head.
Initiate the move by slowly hinging at the hips and bending the knees, maintaining a flat and straight back throughout. Pause at the bottom of the exercise, and push through your heels to bring yourself back up to the starting position.
The one plyometric exercise on this list, box jumps are guaranteed to improve your gait and improve your vertical.
Plyometric exercises being those that are performed by explosive, jumping movements, box jumps, will primarily strengthen the lower body muscles. This includes the quads, calves, glutes, and hamstrings. The key here is explosiveness.
Do enough of them, and you’ll also begin training your stamina and working up a sweat. You’ll be faster and more powerful than ever before.
The versatility of box jumps is another benefit to including them in your training program. If you want to go for speed and stamina, choose a smaller box and go for more reps. And if you’re looking to develop your explosive power in your legs, opt for a higher box and really get those legs burning.
Find a box that’s the size you want and stand in front of it with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and hinge the hips into a quarter squat before swinging your arms back and then forward, jumping up as your arms come to the front. The goal here is to land softly on the box, but also to be in the same position as when you started—in a half squat.
One of the two upper body exercises on this list, the bent-over row is an incredibly good movement to add to your roster of upper body lifts.
Much like with push-ups, training the upper body muscles can translate to faster and more efficient running. But the primary muscles worked by the bent-over row are the lower back muscles, along with the lats, traps, and rhomboids. Furthermore, your glutes and legs will also feel the burn as they try to stabilize your body.
Proper form is very important with bent-over rows, so it’s important to start with a lower weight as you get used to the movement. As with most exercises, slow and controlled movements are the name of the game. They’ll lessen the risk of injury and impart more gains.
Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and putting a slight bend in your knees. Grasping the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, lean forward at the waist. Maintain a perfectly straight back, with your neck being in line with the rest of your spine.
Letting the bar hang, brace your abdominals, and squeeze your shoulders together to bring the bar up until it touches the sternum. Slowly lower back down and repeat for the desired amount of reps.
Russian twists, as the name would suggest, train your body in the art of twisting. But why is this important?
Most exercises work your body in a line that goes straight down through your body. This includes lunges, squats, and most free-weight exercises. However, the horizontal line that runs through your body isn’t trained as much, but this motion is essential for those who play sports and are looking for more stability in their core.
The primary target muscles are the obliques with this movement, and they’ll help you twist and prevent twisting while you’re running.
You’ll want to start by sitting on the ground, having your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Lean backward until your upper body is at about a 45-degree angle to the ground—this will be the angle you’ll maintain throughout the entire exercise. Ensure that your back is straight as well.
Bring your hands together in front of your chest, engage your abdominals, and then raise your legs off the ground. Rotate your arms and upper body to one side, going as far as you can. Then, do the same on the other side.
Windshield wipers, also known as floor wipers, are a great movement to develop the obliques and the rectus abdominus muscles—aka, the six-pack muscles.
While a more advanced version has you hanging from a bar and moving your legs from side to side, the floor version is much more accessible. Along with your obliques and six-pack muscles, you’ll also be feeling the burn in your hip flexors and glutes. All in all, this is a terrific supplementary exercise to improve your running abilities.
Start by lying on your back on the floor. Hold a barbell in your hands, extending your arms out above you and locking your elbows. Your hands should be at about shoulder-width above you. Initiate the motion by squeezing your legs together and lifting them up, moving them to one side of your body.
Go as far as you can while maintaining stability, and then slowly lower them back down into the middle. Continue by switching sides and reversing the movement once again. If you want to make this exercise more difficult, remove the pause in the middle and just go from side to side. And if you’re looking for a bit of an arm workout as well, just up the weights on the barbell.
It’s important to put some consideration into choosing what kinds of weights to use.
If you go too light, you risk the chance of injuring yourself and going out of commission for a while. On the other hand, lifting too light won’t necessarily lead to the explosive power strength gains you’re looking for. You’re already training endurance, so you need to focus on heavy weights to build strength.
You also don’t need to necessarily lift that often. A couple of times a week should suffice.
Also, make sure that you’re always fueling up with enough protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Consider taking an endurance supplement to turbocharge your gains, and prepare to leave the competition in the dust.