Strength training remains one of the best non-running ways for runners to boost performance. Lift weights, perform functional strength movements, train the core, and complete plyometric movements to improve running economy, or how efficiently your body uses oxygen. A well-trained, efficient body uses less oxygen to power muscles when you're pushing the pace, so you'll be able to run harder for longer.
A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effects of a 10-week strength training program on running economy in female distance runners. The group who added three strength training workouts in addition to their running programs saw significant improvement in running economy.
Strength training builds the smaller muscles that running neglects, and can therefore help correct the muscular imbalances that can contribute to overuse injuries in runners. "It's your armor against getting injured; strength training can help push away some of those injuries," says Erik Taylor, a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified trainer in Redondo Beach, California.
Taylor will even replace some of the "junk miles" his clients complete with a strength-circuit workout or CrossFit session for the sake of injury prevention. "Sometimes if we take away those four-mile runs, when they're plodding and pounding on their body, and replace that with strength or CrossFit, the body is going to get more out of that."
The Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners
Taylor recommends that runners perform at least two strength sessions per week: One workout should focus on building strength using heavier weights, and the other should be a circuit-style session performed with lighter weights and little to no rest between exercises to keep the heart rate up. Stagger the strength workouts around your key running workouts for the week so you don't wear out your legs in the gym the night before a speed session or long run.
Aim to progress—in load or repetitions—often, but only increase weight or reps to the point that you can still perform the exercise with proper form. "You need to stress the body constantly for it to adapt, otherwise, progression is linear," says Taylor.
Why: "Performed correctly, there's no other exercise that matches doing a squat," says Taylor. "They trash your legs, so runners have to walk a fine line with them."
Single-Leg Pistol Squat for Newbies
- Stand with arms extended in front of the body. Balance on one leg with the opposite leg extended forward as high as possible.
- Squat down as far as possible while keeping the extended leg elevated off of the floor. Engage your hamstrings and glutes. Keep back straight and don't let supporting knee jut out over the toes.
- Raise your torso back up to original position until knee and hip of the supporting leg is straight. Return and repeat. Continue with opposite leg.
- Work up to five sets of five reps on each leg.