Strength Training Exercises for Runners

The primary objective of strength training in runners, especially distance runners is develop muscular endurance to improve performance by increasing maximum aerobic capacity, improve tendon and muscle tension.. The primary objective of strength development in distance runners is to develop force for extended periods at lower intensities maximizing the aerobic system, utilizing maximum sustainable force by slow twitch muscle fibers.

Distance runners also need to train for power development to increase the force of muscle contractions to improve speed especially during faster segments of the endurance race (MacDougal & Dale, 2014). Power training in distance runners is more effective for races from 1,500 meters to 5,000 meters; 10,000 meter specialist will have less of a need for power development but still need muscular strength.

Why Strength Training For Distance Running?

  • Injury prevention
  • General strength
  • Enhance mobility and flexibility
  • Improve running technique
  • Develop aerobic capacity
  • Improve anaerobic power

Benefits of Strength Training for Distance Runners

  • Increase muscular endurance
  • Increase bodyweight strength
  • Increase power (strength and speed)
  • Improve event specific abilities
  • Improve general muscular strength

Strength training can increase maximal aerobic power and can delay fatigue in the slow twitch muscles fibers, allowing for longer runs because of improvements in running economy. Proper strength training will increase fat-free muscle mass, not weight gain from more muscle mass, more lean muscle mass will improve the efficiency of the runner.

Strength endurance resistance training once to twice a week and submaximal power training at intensities of 70-80% once a week will not impair the desired adaptations with endurance training. Distance runners can train to improve power with submaximal loads at 70-80% intensity, however it is recommended to train power the day before strength endurance (Zatsiorsky & Kraemer, 2006). Training endurance and power in the same day is not recommended because of the conflict in energy demands and physiological adaptations in the muscles.

Strength endurance and bodyweight training using general preparation exercises should be part of the injury prevention and management protocol to address physical weaknesses in distance runners. Proper strength training is a proactive measure for coaches and athletes to correct muscle imbalances, postural issues and other movement concerns. 

Getting Started

A new macrocycle will start with increasing muscular endurance and power development.

The strength endurance sessions consist 6-8 exercises with 3-4 sets per exercise with higher repetitions (8-12) at lower intensities (50-60%) focusing on proper lifting technique and full range of motion using barbells and dumbbells.

Bodyweight exercises can be mixed into the training program with strength endurance. Strength endurance and body weight training sessions are performed on longer endurance based training days.

Athletes will see initial improvements during the first training cycle which can last 3-4 weeks because of an increase in muscle coordination and technical proficiency in the lifting movements.

After the first cycle is complete, a new cycle is started, training shifts to higher intensity movements with more complex exercises once a week and strength endurance and bodyweight training once week in the form of circuit training.

Peak Phase

When peaking in the distance running events, training for strength endurance and dynamic power is recommended. Reducing the training volume by 50-60% while maintaining intensity is important. Strength endurance and bodyweight training will help maintain strength and stamina in the muscular system. Dynamic efforts will improve explosive power to assist runners with powerful surges and kicking during competitions.

Moderate to heavy resistance for submaximal power, high intensity plyometrics and intensive medicine ball throws should not be used for 14 days before a major race.

Weight Training Workout Plan 

Sunday Post-workout: Weight training and medicine ball throws

Tuesday Post-workout: Weight training and circuit training

Thursday Post-workout: Bodyweight training (pre-season only)


Strength training for distance runners can be addressed in many forms. Traditional weight training, medicine ball throws, sprint drills, bodyweight training and circuit training with various exercises are the most common forms of strength training

Improvements in both strength and endurance are needed for optimal performance, training is not designed to increase maximal strength but to improve the force generated by the slow muscle fibers. The number one goal of the strength training program is to create neural adaptations that improve the force potential of the slow twitch muscle fibers, followed by the development of power for the anaerobic portions of the race, during surges and the final kick in longer races (MacDougal & Dale, 2014). 

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