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Run Strong, Run Far: The Ultimate Strength Training Program for Runners

16 Mins read

Are you ready to take your running game to the next level? Then you come to the right place.

Here at Runners Blueprint, I firmly believe in the power of a well-rounded training program that includes strength training.

As runners, we tend to focus solely on pounding the pavement and logging miles, but that’s only part of the equation. Incorporating weightlifting into your routine can help prevent injuries, improve your running economy, and ultimately help you reach your goals faster.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Weightlifting? That’s not for me. I’ve never lifted a weight in my life!” But don’t worry, my friend.

In today’s post, I’m going to break down the basics of weight lifting for runners. I’ll provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to design a strength training program that will work for you, whether you’re a seasoned weightlifter or a complete beginner.

So, are you ready to experience the same benefits? Let’s get started on designing the ultimate strength training program for runners!

What Is Strength Training?

Strength training is like a secret weapon for runners. While many runners focus solely on pounding the pavement, a well-designed strength training program can provide a wide range of benefits, from injury prevention to improved running performance.

But what exactly is strength training? In simple terms, it’s any form of exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance, whether that be weights, machines, or even just your own body weight. And while the idea of lifting heavy weights might seem intimidating, there are plenty of options for creating resistance that requires little to no equipment at all.

In fact, research shows that bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats can be just as effective for building strength and improving endurance as traditional weight-lifting exercises. And the benefits don’t stop there. Strength training has also been shown to help prevent injuries, improve bone density, and boost metabolism (more on this later).

And what’s the best part? You don’t need fancy equipment or an expensive gym membership to get started. With just a few basic exercises and some simple guidelines, you can start reaping the benefits of strength training in no time.

The Importance of a Strength Training For Runners

So why should runners bother with strength training in the first place? Let’s check a few reasons:

Improved Performance

A 2020 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that a 12-week combined endurance and strength training program improved running performance and muscle strength in female recreational runners. The researchers found that the combined training group had a significant improvement in 10 km run time, running economy, and muscle strength compared to the endurance-only group.

Improved Running Economy

A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that a 6-week strength training program improved running economy in collegiate distance runners. The researchers found that the strength-trained group had a 2.9% increase in running economy compared to the control group that did not perform strength training.

Fix Muscle Imbalances

Regular resistance training can help correct muscle imbalances and mobility issues—the root cause of many an overuse injury.

Said otherwise, strength training can help safeguard your body against trouble.

Improved VO2 Max

A 2019 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that a 12-week strength training program improved maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) in recreational runners. The researchers found that the strength-trained group had a 5.7% increase in VO2 max compared to the control group that did not perform strength training.

You Won’t Bulk up

If you’re shying away from strength training because you’re afraid of bulking up, then stop it.

The fact is, with the right resistance training program, you’ll be able to boost your muscle strength and density with no drastic increases in muscle mass and weight.

Arms Strength And Running

Arms strength is key to a runner’s efficiency. With every foot strike, you’re pumping your arms. The stronger the arms, the more power you generate.

It Makes You Stronger In general.

Adding strength to your upper body makes you more athletic in general.  Once you start spending more time strengthening your upper body, you’ll be surprised at how easy others exercises will get. I’m talking about real technique, not overcompensation which we all know it’s cheating.

Almost every workout you do, from Yoga to HIIT classes, contains upper-body exercises, such as push-ups, planks, and press-ups—all of which call for a decent level of upper-body strength.

Prevent Injury

Injuries are an inevitable part of being a runner. The cumulative stress of regularly logging the miles will, sooner or later, take a toll on your body.

Soreness, aches, cramps, strains, and inflammation can all plague the neck, arms, shoulders, and back. Again, strengthening your upper body is one step toward helping you keep and improve technique.

Increased Resting Metabolism

When you build muscle mass, you increase your resting metabolism, and that helps your body shed more calories.

Muscle is active tissue. Every pound of muscle burns about six calories per day at rest. In fact, a pound of muscle burns roughly three times as many calories as a pound of fat—that’s quite a lot. That’s why strength training is often recommended for people trying to lose weight.

Additional resource – Keeping muscle during marathon training

 It Takes Little Time

As a runner, you do not need to become a full-time Olympic weightlifter to start reaping the benefits of resistance training.

Logging in two to three sessions a week (even if it’s just a simple body-weight workout)  is enough for making the most out of your strength training since your main aim is improving running performance, speed, and endurance—not necessarily in that exact order.

Running and Strength Training Schedule for Beginners

If you’re a runner looking to improve your performance, you might be wondering how to balance strength training with your already-packed running schedule. Don’t worry – it’s easier than you might think!

First of all, it’s important to focus on your goals and tailor your strength training plan accordingly. Are you looking to correct muscle imbalances, improve your running form, or prevent injury? Whatever your aim, there’s a strength training program out there that will help you achieve it.

The good news is that you don’t need to devote hours of your time to weightlifting. In fact, just 20 to 30 minutes of resistance training, two to three times a week, can help you see significant improvements in your running performance.

I recommend that you strength train two to three times per week, taking at least 48 hours of rest in between strength training workouts. Plus, space out your strength workouts with at least 48 hours of recovery time.

For optimum results, you need to let your muscles and connective tissue adapt by providing them with plenty of time to recover from training load of the strength session.

Begin with the Warm-up

You don’t want to start picking up heavyweight cold, nor for your muscles and joints to tighten and be in pain.

Start with a 10-minute warmup of brisk walking, light jogging, and dynamic stretches, such as inch worse, lunges, high knees, and the sort.

When you’re done, take the time to cool down. Stretch your body, and perform a few mobility drills to help improve your flexibility and mobility in the specific area, and speed up recovery.

The Importance of Proper Form

Proper form is the foundation of any effective workout routine. It’s like the bedrock upon which you build a solid structure. Without it, you risk injury, muscle imbalances, and inefficient movement patterns. In fact, bad form is like a house of cards; it may look good at first, but it’s just waiting to crumble.

So, when it comes to strength training, it’s important to understand that quality is always more important than quantity. You may feel tempted to lift more weight or do more reps, but if you sacrifice proper form, you’re only setting yourself up for failure. It’s much better to do a few repetitions with perfect form than a lot with bad form.

Learning proper form may take some time and effort, but it’s a worthwhile investment in your fitness journey. In fact, research has shown that proper form can enhance the effectiveness of your workout, reduce the risk of injury, and improve muscle imbalances.

A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that proper form during squats increased muscle activation in the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings.

To build proper form, do the following:

  • Engage your core, stand tall, and head your head in a neutral position.
  • Focus on smooth, slow lifts and equally controlled descent.
  • Move slowly, ensuring that you’re relying on muscles, not the moment, to do the lifting.
  • Protect your joints by gripping them properly.
  • Keep your body well-aligned and move smoothly through each exercise. Don’t use momentum to swing the weight around.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and down. Do not shrug. Avoid aligning your ears with your shoulders.
  • Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

What’s more?

Consider hiring a personal trainer to teach you proper form from the get-go and learn how to properly complete each exercise.

Can’t afford one?

Study online videos and tutorials to learn proper lifting techniques—there are plenty of sources around.

Additional Guide – Leg workouts for runners

No Cheat Reps

Let’s talk about cheat reps.

It might be tempting to push yourself to the limit and squeeze in a few more reps but trust me; it’s not worth it. Sacrificing form for a few extra reps can lead to poor technique, injuries, and a waste of your valuable time and effort. Instead, focus on performing each repetition with proper form, and don’t hesitate to lighten the load if your technique starts to suffer. Your muscles will thank you, and so will your future self.

Running and Strength Training Schedule

If you’re new to strength training, you might wonder about the best way to combine it with your running routine. Should you run first, then weight train, or lift the weight and then hit the pavement?

My advice is simple: lift first, run later. During your first few months, prioritize your strength training routine to improve your technique and form and avoid getting distracted by fatigue from running. Once you’ve developed a solid foundation, you can switch up the order or perform both workouts on separate days.

Additional resource – Running Vs. Strength training

Start Simple

Now, let’s talk about the ideal running and strength training schedule. As a beginner, focus on two non-consecutive days of full-body strength training each week. Start with equipment-free routines that target the five-movement patterns: squatting, pushing, pulling, hinging, and core work.

Mastering these fundamental movements will reduce your risk of injury and allow you to lift more weight in the future.

Once you feel comfortable, add some resistance with exercises like deadlifts, glute bridges, reverse lunges, overhead presses, hammer curls, and chest presses.

And don’t worry if you’re not familiar with all the tools of the trade; bodyweight exercises are a perfect stepping stone to the world of strength training. Plus, research shows that bodyweight exercises can be as effective as using equipment or weights, making them a great option for beginners or those without access to a gym.

As you get fitter, progress to using tools like TRX bands, medicine balls, resistance bands, slider disks, kettlebells, barbells, and weight machines.

Don’t worry if that sounds too technical. Bodyweight exercises are the perfect stepping stone to the world of strength training.

Find the Proper Amount of Weight 

It’s important to start with a weight that is lower than your current ability and then build from there.

Swinging the weight around or relying on momentum to complete the exercise means that the load is too much, and you need to scale down.

When you’re doing multiple sets of an exercise, your muscles should feel fatigued by the last rep and on the brink of breaking point by the last two reps. If you’re breezing through all your reps with good form, it’s time to increase the load.

Proper weight choice differs depending on the exercise. For example, if you’re doing chest presses, it’s important to control the weight throughout the exercise. If you’re relying on momentum to finish the last two reps, opt for a lighter weight.

Additional Resource – Your guide to weighted vests for running.

Typical Running and Strength Training Schedule

But what about your running and strength training schedule? Here’s a basic schedule that can help you make progress and avoid injury:

  • Monday: Interval run
  • Tuesday: Strength workout
  • Wednesday: Easy run
  • Thursday: Strength workout
  • Friday: Long run
  • Saturday: Strength workout
  • Sunday: Rest

The Range Reps

When it comes to the number of reps, keeping them low and the weight challenging enough is the way to go. Opt for a weight that you cannot lift more than eight times and do at least three sets of five to eight repetitions per exercise.

The number of reps you do has a significant impact on your strength results.

Here is a quick overview of the number of reps and its impact on your strength results

  • The 2 to 5 range rep: this builds super dense muscle and strength.
  • The 6 to 12 rep range: This builds both muscular strength and muscular
  • The 12 rep range and above. Ideal for building endurance.

Beginner Strength Running Plan For Beginners

If you are just starting out, take your training slowly and make sure to alternate between weight-lifting and running days.

According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, alternating between strength training and cardio on different days can result in better performance improvements than doing both on the same day.

Otherwise, you’re risking overtraining, which can lead to injury and slow down your progress.

As a beginner, start with two strength workouts a week for three to four weeks, then add a third workout in month two.

Research shows that beginners can achieve strength gains with just two workouts per week.

Shoot for at least 20 to 30 minutes per session, then gradually add time and intensity until you’re lifting hard for 50 to 60 minutes a session.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that a longer duration of resistance exercise led to greater muscle hypertrophy, or growth, in untrained individuals.

Don’t Rush

Focus on bodyweight training to improve all-around strength and stability, and should wait for at least a couple of months before incorporating heavy weights.

According to a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, bodyweight training can improve muscular endurance, strength, and power in untrained individuals.

The beginner routines shared below consist of low to medium-intensity exercises, with the primary purpose of building a base of core strength and endurance on which to base more challenging exercises.

The beginner training schedule is suitable for runners with less than 8 to 12 weeks of strength or core training experience while following a routine that involves strength training on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and running on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (as shown in the training sample below).

Additional resource – Clamshells for runners

The Concept of Training Split

To schedule your workouts the right way, you need first to determine what weight training split and weekly schedule to opt for.

If you are already familiar with strength training, then you know about splits and how they are used.

If not, then below is a simple explanation and description.

The most common and widely tested is the 3-day full body split.

This simple method is recommended for a beginner with any goal.

The Concept of Training Split

To schedule your workouts the right way, you need first to determine what weight training split and weekly schedule to opt for.

If you are already familiar with strength training, then you know about splits and how they are used.

If not, then below is a simple explanation and description.

The most common and widely tested is the 3-day full body split.

This simple method is recommended for a beginner with any goal.

The Exact Weekly Breakdown

The Exact Weekly Breakdown

In case you have no idea what that means, here is an example of a training week:

  • Monday: Strength Workout A
  • Tuesday: Run
  • Wednesday: Strength Workout B
  • Thursday: Run
  • Friday: Strength Workout C
  • Saturday: Run
  • Sunday: Rest

Sure, this might sound simplistic, but if you’re serious about achieving consistency during the first few weeks and months, you need to keep your training simple.

Otherwise, if it’s too complicated or intense, chances are you’re not going to stick with it for the long haul.

The Bodyweight Routine – The Beginner

Research has shown that bodyweight training can be just as effective as weightlifting in improving strength and power as long as you progressively increase the difficulty of the exercises.

According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges can improve muscle strength and endurance in both novice and advanced athletes.

When it comes to bodyweight training, the possibilities are almost endless. You can start with basic exercises such as glute bridges, planks, and bodyweight squats and progress to more challenging movements such as pistol squats and one-arm push-ups. You can also use tools like TRX bands, medicine balls, and resistance bands to add variety and challenge to your workouts.

But remember, consistency is key. Stick to a few basic exercises that feel comfortable and natural to you, and gradually increase the reps, sets, and intensity. To get you started, here are three exemplary workouts that target different areas of the body.

Workout A is the upper body routine, which includes exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and dips to strengthen your chest, back, and arms.

Workout B is the lower body routine, which includes exercises such as lunges, squats, and calf raises to build strong and stable legs.

Finally, Workout C is the full-body routine, which combines upper and lower body exercises into a high-intensity circuit.

Remember, the key to success is consistency and progression. As you get stronger and more comfortable with the exercises, increase the reps, sets, or difficulty level to keep challenging your body.

Workout A: The Upper Body Routine

Perform as many reps as possible with good form of the following exercises

  • Push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Planks
  • Dips
  • Set-ups

Repeat three to five times

Workout B: The Lower Body Routine

Perform as many reps as possible with good form of the following exercises

Repeat three to five times

Workout C: The Full Body Routine

Perform as many reps as possible with good form of the following exercises

  • Military push-ups
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Hindu Pushups
  • Burpees
  • Plyo Lunges

Repeat three to five times.

Additional resource – ITBS guide

The Intermediate Running and Strength Training Weekly Schedule

Are you ready to take your running and strength training to the next level? Then let’s dive into the intermediate weekly schedule. Designed for runners with 3 to 12 months of strength training experience, this routine will take your fitness game to new heights.

But don’t worry, and you won’t need to spend hours at the gym to see significant gains. Just aim for three 30 to 45-minute sessions each week, focusing on full-body exercises that hit every major muscle group.

Think of full-body exercises as the bread and butter of strength training. They’re functional, efficient, and perfect for busy runners. Deadlifts, squats, bench presses, and more will help you get more done in less time. And research has shown that these multi-joint exercises lead to greater muscle activation and overall strength gains compared to isolation exercises.

Workout A—The Upper Body Workout

So, what will you be doing in each workout? In the upper body workout, you’ll perform 8 to 12 reps of the following exercises:

  • Shoulder presses
  • Standing dumbbell curls
  • Push-ups
  • Bench presses
  • Pull-ups

Complete three sets.

Workout B—The Lower Body Workout

Perform 8 to 12 reps of the following exercises:

  • Weighted Squats
  • Dumbbell swings
  • Leg presses
  • Weighted Calf Raises
  • Weighted Lunges

Complete three sets.

Workout C: The Full Body Workout

Perform 8 to 12 reps of the following exercises:

  • Deadlifts
  • Triceps Dips
  • Turkish get-ups
  • Plyo box jumps
  • Floor presses

Complete three sets.

The Gym/Equipment Option – Advanced Program

What if you’ve been strength training for a year or more and want to diversify your routine? Then it’s time to hit the gym and take on the advanced program. With free weights, kettlebells, and machines at your disposal, you’ll be able to create a diverse range of strength training exercises to challenge your body.

Whether you choose the 3-day or 4-day workout routine, aim for two to three sets of 8 to 10 reps of each exercise with 60 to 90 seconds of rest in between. You’ll train different muscle groups each day, focusing on the triceps, shoulders, chest, core, legs, back, and biceps.

The 3-Day Workout Routine

Workout I

Train your triceps, shoulders, and chest

Workout II

Train your core and legs

Workout III

Train your biceps and back.

The 4-Day Workout Routine

After at least 6 to 9 months of strength training, and if you want to really push your strength training, here is a four-day strength workout routine to follow.

Workout I

Back and biceps

Workout II

Chest and Triceps

Workout III

Legs and core

Workout IV


How To Progress

Once you’ve built some strength, make your workouts more challenging in order to make progress. Here are a few ways:

  • Increase weight: As you get stronger, you’ll need to increase the weight you’re lifting to continue challenging your muscles. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a 5-10% increase in weight every 1-2 weeks is a safe and effective way to progress your program.
  • Increase reps or sets: Another way to progress your strength training is to increase the number of reps or sets you’re performing. For example, you might start with three sets of 10 reps for an exercise and gradually work up to four sets of 12 reps.
  • Try new exercises: Introducing new exercises into your routine can help challenge your muscles in different ways and prevent boredom. Be sure to choose exercises that target the same muscle groups you’ve been working on.
  • Change the tempo: Altering the tempo at which you perform an exercise can also make it more challenging. For example, slowing down the eccentric (lowering) portion of a lift can make it more difficult.

All that being said, keep in mind that progressing your strength training program should be a gradual process. It’s key to listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard too quickly, as this can increase the risk of injury. By gradually increasing the difficulty of your workouts over time, you can continue to make progress and improve your strength as a runner.

Don’t Forget to Rest 

Resistance training, as well as other forms of exercise, breaks muscle tissue, causing tears in the fibers. These tears serve a purpose, but only if you grant them time to heal properly. This is one of the main reasons behind post-workout soreness.

As a matter of fact, it’s during the off period that your muscles will get stronger as the tears knit up. In order to reach full recovery, you’ll need 24 to 48 hours of rest to fully recover between sessions.

Plan one day of rest following a total-body strength session, and rest the specific muscle group for up to 48 hours before you hit the same muscle group again.

For example, if you target your chest hard on Tuesday, you should not exercise the chest again until Thursday at the earliest.

I’d recommend that you break up your strength training routine by focusing on your upper body one day and your lower body the next.

And if you don’t want to rest during your non-resistance training days, try doing some form of active recovery, like going for a light jog or taking a yoga class. That way, you keep your body moving without taxing your muscles.

Weight Lifting For Runners – The Conclusion

Ultimately, building strength and muscle is a journey, not a destination. It takes time, dedication, and a willingness to adapt and evolve your routine as you go. But with consistency and patience, you’ll soon be calling yourself a true strength training aficionado.

And the best part? You’ll have the results to show for it. So lace up those sneakers, grab those dumbbells, and get ready to transform your body and mind through the power of resistance training.

Thank you for dropping by.

David D.

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