Strength Training for Runners: 5 Lifts to Improve Performance

Ever wonder what strength training for runners looks like?

Too many runners think it’s a recipe for getting big, bulky and slow.

Or they’re quick to dismiss strength training because they want to:

🏃‍♂️ Run more miles
🏃‍♀️ Train for a marathon
🏃‍♂️ Finish races
💪 ...NOT look like a bodybuilder

Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing: No matter where you’re at on your running journey, strength training will make you a better runner.

Still wondering about strength training for runners?

If you want to be a better runner, improve performance, speed recovery and prevent injuries, add these FIVE moves to your training plan.

Here’s what you need to know…

Evan Jensen started lifting weights about 10 years ago after his first 100-mile ultra ended in a DNF after 88 miles.

The DNF that forced me to find a better way to train

I ran a lot of marathons and some shorter ultras (50K and 50 miles), before I stepped up to the starting line of the Cascade Crest 100-Mile Ultra in Washington state 12 years ago.

🏃‍♂️My training strategy looked like this:

  • Run a ton of miles
  • Push the pace every time
  • Treat nagging injuries (almost daily) with ice, heat, wraps and voodoo remedies
  • After a long run or race, feel broken for a few days, a week or longer

😭When I ran my first 100-miler, it didn't end well...

  • I dropped out at 88 miles, completely broken
  • Major muscle soreness + fatigue
  • A shin splint that literally plagued me for SIX months after the race
  • And of course the mental sting of failure

💪That DNF forced me to rethink everything I knew about training to RUN

  • I took time off running to let my shin splint heal
  • I chatted with doctors, coaches and trainers about how to be a better runner
  • I worked with Strength Coach Bryan Krahn for about six months, lifting weights 3-5 days a week
  • And a year later, I FINISHED my first 100-mile race

🏋️‍♀️The result

  • I've been lifting weights about 3 days a week for more than 10 years
  • I've stepped up to the starting line of 14 100-mile ultras, and run 1,500 to 2,000 miles a year.
  • Running a DIY marathon once a week is easy,
  • IMO, strength training for runners will improve performance, lower your risk for injuries, speed recovery, and help you be a better runner.
Evan Jensen is the editor for The Rundown. He's also a personal trainer and running coach, and he lifts weights three times a week. He also holds the record for the most finishes at the Mountain Lakes 100-Mile Ultra in Oregon.

Strength Training for Runners: 5 lifts to improve performance

If you ask Dr. Google about "strength training for runners," you'll literally get 31.5 million results.

That's a lot to sift through. 

💪So what if you wanted to give strength training a try to:

  • Build strength & endurance
  • Speed recovery
  • Lower the risk for injuries
  • And keep going...

Note: If you're new to strength training...

  • Start with light weights
  • Learn the movement for each exercise, before adding weight
  • Aim for 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps per exercise 


Strength training for runners: These FIVE moves are a good place to start: 

1. Barbell Deadlift

1. Barbell Deadlift


1️⃣ Stand and hold a barbell with both hands in an overhand grip.

2️⃣ With your back straight and knees locked, bend your body at your waist and lower down to the floor.

3️⃣ Then straighten up while still holding the bar at arms length.

🏃‍♀️ How it helps runners

  • This compound movement works your BACK and HAMSTRINGS

TIP: Looking straight ahead or slightly up, can help keep your back in a safe position.

Alternative exercises:

  • Dumbbell Deadlift
  • Banded Deadlift
  • Bodyweight Single-Leg Deadlift
2. Dumbbell Single-Arm Row

2. Dumbbell Single-Arm Row


1️⃣ Place one knee on a bench, one hand in a push-up position. Body parallel to the floor with back straight, one hand holding the dumbbell onto your side.

2️⃣ Pull the dumbbell up to the side of your chest, keeping arm close to the body.

3️⃣ Lower the dumbbell returning to starting position.

4️⃣ Complete all reps on one side before switching to the other side. 

🏃‍♂️ How it helps runners

  • This movement works your BACK and helps improve ARM SWING.

💪 Fun fact: The average runner does 150-180 arm swings per minute (75 to 90 per side)

Alternative exercises:

  • Seated Cable-Row
  • Barbell Bent-Over Row
  • Band Standing Row
3. Dumbbell Forward Lunge

3. Dumbbell Forward Lunge


1️⃣ Stand upright with dumbbells in each hand down your sides.

2️⃣ Lunge forward with your left leg, landing on your heel first. Lower your body by bending at your knee and left hip, while lowering the right knee until it almost touches the floor.

3️⃣ Return to the starting position by pushing on the left leg.

4️⃣ Repeat with right leg and alternate between your left and right legs.

🏃‍♀️ How it helps runners

  • This compound movement works your GLUTES and QUADS and helps improve BALANCE.

😃 Fun fact: Mohican 100 Winner Jeremy Pope's strength training plan includes lunges, push-ups and Bulgarian split squats.

Alternative exercises:

  • Bodyweight Lunge
  • Barbell Lunge
  • Reverse Lunge
4. Barbell Squat

4. Barbell Squat


1️⃣  With the barbell across your upper back, set your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Have your feet turned out slightly.

2️⃣ Keep your chest up and knees out as you sit back and down into your hips.

3️⃣ Under control, reverse the motion and push yourself back up to a standing position.

🏃‍♂️ How it helps runners

  • This compound movement works your QUADS.

🦵Fun fact: This is a great exercise to help prevent "trashed quads" from a long run, hills, or both.

Alternative exercises:

  • Bodyweight Wall Sit
  • Dumbbell Front Squat
  • Bodyweight Squat
5. Seated Calf Raise

5. Seated Calf Raise


1️⃣ When performing this exercise, put the ball of your foot on the step.

2️⃣ Place your lower thighs under the lever pad, which will need to be adjusted according to the height of your thighs. Now place your hands on top of the lever pad in order to prevent it from slipping forward.

3️⃣ In order to get full range of motion, point your toe as far as it will go. And then, let the heel drop down as low as it will go.

4️⃣ Lift the lever slightly by pushing your heels up and release the safety bar. This will be your starting position.

5️⃣ Slowly lower your heels by bending at the ankles until the calves are fully stretched. Inhale as you perform this movement.

6️⃣ Raise the heels by extending the ankles as high as possible as you contract the calves and breathe out. Hold the top contraction for a second.

🏃‍♀️ How it helps runners

  • This exercise helps strengthen your CALF muscles + prevent SHIN SPLINTS.

Alternative exercises:

  • Leg Press Calf Raise
  • Smith Machine Standing Calf Raise
  • Bodyweight Calf Raise
Evan's advice: Strength training 2-3 days a week will make you a better runner.

💪Every runner should lift...

Here's my take on strength training for runners...

There's probably a few runners who fit the criteria of a "genetic anomaly" who can run a million miles without developing running related injuries.

But for the rest of us, the force and impact or running takes a toll on bones, joints, and muscles.

If you want to be a runner for a long time, speed recovery, and greatly reduce your risk for running-related injuries that can sideline you for months or longer, strength training is one of the best things you can do.

Here's another way to put this: "Every runner should lift."

What do you think about strength training for runners?

Share your thoughts and advice in the comments below.

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Evan Jensen
SANDY, Oregon
2 Following

I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...


Brynn Cunningham Agreed! Every runner would benefit from lifting!

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