The Best Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Young couple jogging in Brooklyn street, close up
Your training shouldn't just be a lot of running. (Image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/GettyImages)

If you're a runner, you run, right? Well, sure, but you should also be strength training. Strength exercises are important for all runners, because they help prevent injury, improve running efficiency and enhance overall running economy (a.k.a. increase lean muscle mass so you can run faster and longer).

As a running coach and Aaptiv trainer, I've seen firsthand the benefits strength training provide, and these are the best strength training exercises for runners.

Chica calentando
Challenge you balance and single-leg strength with unilateral exercises. (Image: builmifotografia/iStock/GettyImages)

1. Single-Leg Exercises

It seems pretty obvious that you should build the muscles in your legs if you're a runner. But think about this: When you're running, only one foot in on the ground at a time. The majority of the energy is focused on putting power into the ground through the balls of your foot. This is called a piston strike, and it's what leads you into your next stride.

So when you do strength work, it's important to focus on strengthening one leg without compensating with the other. That means doing single-leg exercises like:

  • Single-leg deadlift
  • Pistol squat
  • Single-leg press
  • Single-leg jumps
  • Lunge jumps

Target one leg at a time also allows you to address muscle imbalances so that both of your legs are equally strong and produce equal power with each step. That way, the time each foot spends on the ground is quality.

2. Barbell Movements

Barbell movements are great for runners. These large, fundamental movements increase strength in the hips and posterior chain (quads, hamstrings and glutes), which is critical for runners.

Barbell movements like deadlifts and cleans also improve efficiency with hip extension, which is vital, as your hips are the powerhouse of movement and produce the angular velocity your legs need to create a consistent cadence.

Determined male athlete doing box jumping at gym
Plyo exercises help you produce the maximum amount of power in the shortest time. (Image: Neustockimages/E+/GettyImages)

3. Plyometrics

Explosive exercises like plyometrics are perfect for building power. And with an increase in power comes an increase in running efficiency. It also makes steady pace running more comfortable, helps with leg turnover, increases agility and makes you more conscious of how to produce power when running.

For example, box jumps can help with getting your feet off the ground quickly, bringing knees up to your chest and making sure you land right under yourself. Sounds like everything you need to create an efficient stride, right? Other great exercises that build explosive power are sled runs and medicine ball slams.

Young attractive woman doing bicycle crunches pose, white loft s
Work your core to improve your running pace. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)

4. Ab Exercises

Any kind of core work helps improve your posture when you run, as a significant part of your posture comes from core stabilization. Having a strong core means you're able to run tall, and running tall increases overall running efficiency.

When you look at sprinters, their torsos are vertical — their spine in line with their neck and no forward lean. This is efficient running. Same thing goes for distance running. You want to have a vertical trunk so that you know you're running right under your center of mass and having a strong core helps with this.

Examples of some great ab exercises for runners include:

  • Forearm plank
  • Side plank
  • Bicycle crunch
  • Dead bug
  • Toes to bar
  • Hollow rock

About the Author

As an Aaptiv master trainer, Meg Takacs provides thorough technical detail in all of her audio-guided workouts — from running to strength training. She is an accomplished competitive runner with certifications in ISSA fitness training, CrossFit coach training, and RRCA running coach training. Her precision and drive to help Aaptiv members achieve their fitness goals makes her workouts perfect for anyone looking to level up and reach new heights.

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