The 12 Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners (& How They Help)

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The 12 Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners (& How They Help)
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Many runners are focused on goals like running faster and covering longer distances. These are all great goals to have, but how can you accomplish them while also minimizing the risk of getting a running-related injury? Approximately 50% of runners get hurt each year, with a higher incidence of injury in newer runners. And if you’re injured, you’re probably not going to be able to chase after those goals. 

Strength training can help. Research shows that strength training reduces sports injuries to less than one-third, and can cut cases of overuse injuries in half

I get that you’re busy and would probably prefer to focus the time you have to exercise on running. Makes sense. But, I can assure you that a runner-specific strength routine can be done weekly in as little as two sessions that last 30 minutes each. Trading one hour of streaming shows or scrolling social media each week for strength training can potentially save future-you hours of frustration, boredom, and pain from a running injury.

Read more: How Strength Training Can Make You a Better Runner

How to Incorporate Strength Training Into Your Running Routine

My best advice when starting a strength training routine is to keep it simple. Aim for two 30-minute sessions per week of full-body strength work. If you have any trouble spots or have been injured in the past, you may want to do a few extra exercises throughout the week to address those issues.

If you’re training for a race, make sure you take at least one full rest day per week. You can strength train on the same day as a run if needed. 

For runners incorporating harder workouts like speed work or tempo runs, lift on the same days as those workouts to allow your body to recover fully on your easy/rest days. Do your run before strength work since that’s your main performance focus. 

If you’re going to run and lift on the same day, try to strength train at least four hours after your run so that your body can recover from the run and you can still get in a quality strength training session.

How to Structure Your Strength Training & Running Routine

An athlete I coach came to me feeling burnt out and frustrated that she wasn’t making progress with her race times. When we looked at her training, she was doing a lot of good things, but the structure of her week was not allowing her to get the most out of her training. Each day she was running moderately hard, and she was lifting weights four days a week using circuit-type workouts. Basically, she couldn’t put in a hard effort on her hard workout days because she wasn’t giving her body a chance to recover.

We adjusted her plan so that her easy run days were much easier, and she stopped strength training on those days. I also asked her to stick to a full rest day each week. On her harder days, she was able to focus on her prescribed running workout and then a runner-specific strength workout. After a couple of months with this new plan, she was finally able to see progress in her race times again.

Sample Training Schedule








Easy Run

Speed Workout + Strength Train

Rest Day

Easy Run

Tempo Run + Strength Train

Easy Run or Rest Day

Long Run

As you can see in this sample training schedule, harder runs and strength training workouts happen on the same day. The days following those workouts are rest days or easy days. Following a plan like this will allow your body time to recover between hard workouts while also maximizing the benefits of your strength training work.

Strength Training for Runners Plan

To follow this plan, you will start by alternating the exercises that are listed under “set 1.” Complete exercise A, rest for about 30–60 seconds, complete exercise B, rest for about 30–60 seconds, and then go back and start with A again. You will complete each exercise three times before moving on to set 2. 

Feel free to take a longer rest between sets if you need it. The goal is to focus on the muscle contractions and proper form; these don’t need to turn into cardiovascular efforts. You want to recover enough to get the most out of each exercise.

As you’re getting started, it may be difficult to know how much weight to lift. Start with a lighter weight and if it feels too easy, you can try a heavier weight on your next set. You want to feel fatigued by the end, but it’s also important to be able to complete all the exercises with good form. The number of repetitions is relatively low, so you may be able to lift more weight than you think!

Day 1

Day 2

Set 1

A. Goblet Squat

B. Push-ups

Set 1

A. Single Leg Romanian Deadlift

B. Chest Press

Set 2

A. Step-ups

B. Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Set 2

A. Split Squat

B. Farmer Carry

Set 3

A. Plank

B. Hamstring Curls

Set 3

A. Side Plank

B. Bridges

Goblet Squat 

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart, your toes angled slightly outward. 

  2. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell in both hands at your chest, gripping the handles with one hand on either side. Bend your elbows so the weight is positioned right at the center of your chest. 

  3. Press your hips back and begin bending your knees to perform the squat. Keep the weight close to your body during the movement. Try to get your hips below parallel with your knees. 

  4. Press through your heels and reverse the motion to return to the starting position. Press your hips forward at the top of the squat to engage your glutes more fully. 

Complete 3 sets of 8–12 repetitions.

Why it’s good for runners: This exercise strengthens the quadriceps and glutes. It also requires strong abdominals and low back extensors. Runners need strong glutes and quads to move forward, and a strong core helps with posture and stability. 


The 12 Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners (& How They Help)
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  1. Start on the floor on all fours, positioning your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Keep your elbows slightly bent. Extend your legs back so you’re balanced on your hands and toes, your feet hip-width apart. 

  2. Contract your abs by pulling your belly button toward your spine. Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows and lower yourself to the floor, until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. 

  3. Exhale while contracting your chest muscles and pushing back up through your hands, returning to the start position. 

Complete 3 sets of 6–10 repetitions.

Why they’re good for runners: Push-ups are a chest, shoulder, and core exercise that requires core stability, which is essential for runners. A strong core allows you to keep good posture and form during your run.


  1. Find a step, chair, box, or bench high enough that when you place your foot on it, your knee bends to a 90-degree angle. Stand facing the step and place your entire right foot onto it. 

  2. Shift your weight into your right foot to step up onto the bench. Bring your left foot up to meet your right so you are standing with both feet on the bench. 

  3. Return to the starting position by stepping down with the right foot, then the left, so both feet are on the floor. You can make this harder by holding weights in your hands. 

Complete 3 sets of 8–12 repetitions on each side. 

Why they’re good for runners: The step-up is a unilateral exercise, which is important because running is a single-leg activity. This exercise demands stability and strength from the knee and hip extensors, the hip adductors and abductors, the feet, and the core, which are all essential for running.

Single Arm Dumbbell Row  

  1. Begin with your feet at about hip-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand. Bring your left foot back into a lunge position while keeping a shallow bend in your right knee. Lean slightly forward. You can either place your left hand on your thigh or on a stable surface in front of you, such as a bench. The surface should be at about knee-height. 

  2. Engage your core and slowly lower the dumbbell toward the floor until it’s hanging down completely, your elbow straight. Maintain tension throughout the rest of your body. 

  3. Pull back your shoulder blade towards your spine. Lift the dumbbell up towards the ceiling while making sure it stays close to your body. The dumbbell should pass by close to your rib cage. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. 

  4. Slowly lower the weight back down into the starting position. 

Complete 3 sets of 8–12 repetitions on each side.

Why it’s good for runners: The main muscle group worked during the single-arm row is the latissimus dorsi (lats). The stronger your lats, the easier it is to rotate your upper body. Strong lats help ensure the rest of your muscles don't have to work in overdrive to support good posture while running.


  1. Begin in the plank position, face down with your forearms and toes on the floor. Your elbows are directly under your shoulders and your forearms are facing forward. Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor. 

  2. Engage your core, drawing your navel toward your spine. Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from your ears to your toes with no sagging or bending. 

Complete 3 sets of 20- to 60-second holds.

Why they’re good for runners: Planks help with stability by strengthening your core so when you’re running, you’ll have better control and form. Better running form will make you a more efficient, faster runner.

Hamstring Curls

The 12 Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners (& How They Help)
Source: Kampus Production / Pexels
  1. Lie on your back, placing the backs of your lower legs and heels on the top of a stability ball. 

  2. Position your feet hip-width apart on the ball with toes pointing up. Press your hips upwards off the floor into extension by contracting your glutes. 

  3. Slowly contract your hamstrings to move your heels towards your hips. Slowly lower yourself back towards your starting position. 

Complete 3 sets of 10–15 repetitions.

Note: If you don’t have a stability ball, you can use gliders or even small towels or washcloths placed under your feet on a hardwood floor. Bridge your hips up and keep them slightly lifted off the ground as you push the gliders or towels out with your feet until your legs are straight. Keeping your hips lifted, pull your feet back toward you until your knees are bent at 90 degrees. That’s one rep. If it feels too hard to do with both legs at the same time, try it with one leg at a time.

Why they’re good for runners: This exercise strengthens the hamstrings to flex and control the knee when the leg straightens. The groin (adductors) and glutes are also strengthened in this exercise. You need strong hamstrings to pull your body back over your leg and balance out the strength of your quads. 

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift 

  1. Stand on one leg with a weight in the opposite hand. Keeping your standing leg soft and core engaged, allow your back leg to rise up into the air.

  2. With your hips square, drive your hips backward while keeping a soft bend in the knee of your standing leg. Return to standing, squeezing the glutes, to complete the repetition. 

Complete 3 sets of 8–12 repetitions on each side.

Why it’s good for runners: This move develops eccentric hamstring strength and hip stability. Increasing the load on the hamstring helps it prepare better for the repetitive stress running places on it (this reduces your risk for injury to the area).

Chest Press 

  1. Lie on a flat bench with your feet pressing into the floor. Draw your shoulders down and back to press them into the bench. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing forward and your thumbs wrapped around the handle. 

  2. Lower the dumbbells slightly wider than your mid-chest, bringing them close to your chest. 

  3. Press your arms upwards, keeping your elbows slightly bent and return to the starting position. 

Complete 3 sets of 8–12 repetitions.

Why it’s good for runners: The chest press works your upper body and core, all of which are important for maintaining good running form. Improving your posture will help you to feel like you can keep your head up tall and your shoulders back for longer on runs.

Split Squat 

  1. Start with your feet hip-width apart. Place one foot forward and the other foot behind you, keeping your feet hip-width apart. Keep your hands on your hips or hold a weight in each hand. 

  2. Keep your back straight and lower your back knee toward the floor. Try to get the knee of your front leg to a 90-degree angle and keep your front knee behind your toes. 

  3. Push up to the starting position to complete the repetition. 

Complete 3 sets of 8–12 repetitions per side.

Why they’re good for runners: The split squat helps with proper alignment, stability, balance, and power. It can improve stride length by getting you to work more effectively from the hip. The positions of this exercise will challenge your stability while enabling you to maintain control of the movement.

Farmer Carry 

  1. Stand with a weight in each hand at your side. 

  2. Start walking with the weights in hand. Maintain a steady, upright position and posture. Do not allow the weight to move laterally or favor one side over the other. 

  3. Try to walk with short, quick steps but be sure to maintain good posture. 

Complete 3 sets of 30–60 seconds of walking.

Why they’re good for runners: This improves proper running form by building strength in the postural muscles while moving. It exaggerates the necessary tension, positioning and strength we need for optimal running form.

Side Plank

The 12 Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners (& How They Help)
Source: Airam Dato-on / Pexels
  1. Lie on your side with your forearm flat on the floor, bottom elbow lined up directly under your shoulder and both legs extended out in a long line. Feet can either be staggered for more stability, or stacked for more of a challenge. 

  2. Engage your core and lift your hips off the floor, forming a straight line from your head to your feet. Your top hand can be on the side of your hip or reaching up to the ceiling. 

Complete 3 sets of 20–45 second holds on each side.

Why they’re good for runners: Often runners have weak lateral strength in the hips and torso because of the repetitive forward movement in running. The side plank targets these areas to build strength and stability in the side body.


  1. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart, flat on the floor. 

  2. Engage your core as you contract your glutes and press your hips up. Press your heels into the floor as you hold the bridge. Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to knees. 

  3. Release and slowly lower hips back to the floor. 

Complete 3 sets of 15–20 repetitions.

Why they’re good for runners: Bridges target the glute muscles. The glutes include the gluteus maximus, which extends the hip joint, and the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, which abduct the hip. They control rotation of the hip and help with stabilizing the pelvis. 

The Bottom Line

Now that you have a simple strength training plan, it’s time to start making it a part of your weekly routine! Even if you can’t complete all of the exercises every week, even a few exercises can be beneficial to your running. If you need more help getting started with a strength training routine, get a free consultation with a personal trainer who can create a customized strength training program that helps you become a better runner.