Weight training for runners? Yes! Throughout my years as both an athlete and coach in the world of track and field, I’ve noticed a few things that separate the elite from the average. One common mistake many runners make is not incorporating weight training into their weekly regimen or treating it as supplemental instead of essential. You may reach many of your goals with cardiovascular training as your only source of conditioning, but that road does not often lead to longevity and superior performance. You deserve better! And you can expect some serious physiological improvements with the addition of weightlifting.
Some proven benefits include:
- More efficient runs (less effort)
- Better coordination and symmetry
- Shorter recovery
- Lower risk of injury
While I continually stress the importance of lifting weights, it’s important to note that runners need not train like body builders. Aim for two sessions each week, two to three sets per exercise and between six and 10 reps per set. For an effective training session, plan to lift after, not before your run. Give yourself at least three hours between running and lifting. Running with stiff, exhausted muscles is a fast pass to the IR list.
There are many valuable exercises for runners, each with its on variations, however these are my top five picks for weight training exercises you should be doing as a runner.
This explosive move takes a bit of coordination, so start with lighter weight. Grab a barbell, a single kettlebell or a plate and hold at your chest with elbows tucked in by your sides. Standing with feet a bit narrower than hip-width apart, lift your right knee to hip level. Toes should be pointing up (this is your starting position). Next, rapidly skip once to switch from standing with your right knee elevated to your left knee. Then, you’ll skip one more time while simultaneously pressing your weight of choice overhead. Repeat six times on each leg.
Knee stability and glute strength are two limiting factors of this exercise. Go as heavy as you can with good form. Choose a box or step that allows for your supporting knee to be around the height of your hip. With dumbbells or kettlebells in your hands, square up your body with the box or step and place your right foot on it. Your right knee should be positioned above your laces. Next, extend your right hip by squeezing your glute. You’ll extend your knee while driving your left knee up. Finish off this move by stepping back down with your left foot to return to your starting position. Complete eight to 10 reps on each leg. If you have trouble with stability, bring your left foot down to the box instead of bringing your knee up. To progress with this movement, try a higher box before adding additional weight.
Spatial awareness will greatly improve with this exercise! With a weight in each hand, you’ll want to start with both feet on a small platform, six to 12 inches high (two bumper plates stacked is your best bet). Once your feet are set, step back into a lunge with your left leg. While keeping your right knee above your laces, bring your left knee down so that it flanks your right heel. Once you’re stable, step back up and repeat for a total of 10 reps per leg.
Many develop a love-hate relationship with the sled (“iykyk”), and it’s for good reason. It will leave you feeling superhero powerful and defeated all at once. This total body exercise is reminiscent of a fartlek or the final push of your run. Pile on the plates — they should be heavy enough to heat up those quads, but light enough to push for 20 to 40 yard intervals.
Take note of the grip points on the sled. Beginners should take a higher grip, with the body at 45-degree angle and those that are more seasoned may desire to take a lower grip, with the body closer to 90 degrees. Whichever you choose, be sure to keep the hips lower than the shoulders. Arms flexed or extended is a matter of preference. Start with the body in a straight line from head to ankles (neutral spine). Then, drive the sled forward moving one foot after the other at your natural stride length. Plan to finish your workout with this one. Repeat for serval rounds for a desired total distance or length of time.
Although most of your time is spent moving forward, we can’t neglect the posterior chain. Weakness in the back, glutes and hamstrings is a recipe for disaster. This is a great variation to the barbell good morning because it keeps the load low and include some shoulder mobility. Link a long rope attachment to pulley positioned at mid-shin height. After selecting an appropriate weight, grab the rope with both hands and step back far enough to give the cable some slack. Keep your knees slightly bent and hinge forward, pushing your hips back and allowing your arms to move forward. Then extend your hips and back to bring your hands back toward your hips. Don’t allow those shoulders to round and keep your hips neutral. Complete 10 reps.
Just as posture plays a huge role in running, it should transfer over into your weight training. “Soften” your knees on all exercises listed by not fully locking them out during extension. For the upper body, don’t be a slouch — chest up, shoulders back, no slack! Your strength will gradually increase over time, give your body a chance to adapt before loading up the bar. Give these moves a try during your next session; you won’t be disappointed!
DuMaine is from the Philadelphia area. After competing in track and football, he spent 10 years as a track coach. Enduring sport-related injuries and a passion for fitness led to a career in health & wellness. He earned his degree in Exercise Science from Bryan University. He is an Eagles and car enthusiast. Caribbean is his favorite cuisine and most of his screen time is spent watching YouTube and Netflix documentaries. He is an avid runner and hiker, but is still a sprinter and hurdler at heart.