The Best Strength-Training Exercises for Runners, According to a Running Coach

If you're a runner, you run, right? Well, sure, but you should also be strength training. Strength exercises are important for all runners to help prevent injury and build lean muscle mass so you can run faster and longer.

Your training shouldn't just be a lot of running. Here's how strength training can help. (Image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/GettyImages)

As a running coach and Aaptiv trainer, I've seen firsthand the benefits strength training provides. These are the best muscle-building moves for runners.

1. Single-Leg Exercises

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

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 is on the ground at a time. The majority of your energy is focused on powering 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.

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

Targeting 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 exercises increase strength in the hips and posterior chain (aka your quads, hamstrings and glutes), critical for runners.

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

3. Plyometrics

Plyo exercises help you produce the maximum amount of power in the shortest time. (Image: Neustockimages/E+/GettyImages)

Explosive exercises like plyometrics are perfect for building power. And with an increase in power, steady pace running becomes more comfortable. It also helps with leg turnover and increases agility.

Box jumps can help with getting your feet off the ground quickly, bringing your 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.

4. Ab Exercises

Work your core to improve your running pace. (Image: fizkes/iStock/GettyImages)

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 makes you a more efficient runner.

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. Having a strong core helps with this.

Examples of some great ab exercises for runners include:

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.

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