The Ultimate Strength Training Plan For Runners: 7 Dynamite Exercises

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Including strength training in your weekly routine is important to be a well-rounded, strong athlete and runner, help you remain injury-free, and perform at your best in your training sessions and races.

In this guide, we have created a strength training program for runners designed to help support your needs as an athlete to improve performance and decrease the risk of injury. 

We will share some of the best exercises for you to include in your strength training plan for runners and provide step-by-step instructions and videos so that you can perform each one properly:

Let’s dive in! 

Suspended rows, a strength training exercise for runners.

The Ultimate Strength Training Plan For Runners

This strength training for runners plan can be modified, either regressed for beginners or progressed for more advanced athletes, according to your fitness level and individual needs.

#1: Push-Ups

Although runners often focus on lower-body exercises in their strength training routines, it is also important to include upper-body exercises. 

Having a powerful arm swing, as well as excellent muscular endurance in your arms, will help improve your cadence and prevent the breakdown of your running form on long workouts. 

Here is how to do a basic push-up:

  1. Get into the standard push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes on the floor. Your body should be in a straight line from your head to your heels. Make sure that your butt is not up in the air or that your back is swayed with your hips too low down.
  2. Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor.
  3. Pause briefly and then press through your palms to lift your body back up to the starting position. Make sure to keep your core and glutes engaged.
  4. Complete 10 to 25 reps.

Beginners can modify this exercise by performing to push up against a wall or elevated surface such as a desk or table. You can also drop your knees to the floor instead of your feet.

As you get stronger, progress the basic bodyweight push-up by slowing down the eccentric (lowering portion) and adding a pause or hold at the bottom position for 5 to 20 seconds.

Gradually increase the length of time for each isometric hold as well as the number of reps you do.

#2: Step-Ups With Overhead Presses

Step-ups are an excellent exercise to include in a strength training plan for runners because the unilateral movement replicates the muscular demands of uphill running and helps build functional strength and power. 

Adding the overhead press component makes this a multi-joint, compound exercise that works many of the major muscles in the body while better activating the core.

Use a heavy enough weight to be challenging but manageable for 8 to 10 reps per side.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Stand facing a bench, box, or step that is roughly knee height or slightly lower. Relax your left arm at your side, and hold a dumbbell in your right hand at shoulder height.
  2. Inhale, engaging your core and glutes as you step up onto the box with your right foot, pressing the dumbbell straight up over your head as you step up.
  3. Bring your left leg up so that you are standing on top of the box.
  4. Continue to face forward as you step your right foot back down behind you onto the floor, and then your left foot, and then return the weight back down to shoulder height.
  5. Continue leading with the right foot for 8-10 reps, and then switch sides.

#3: Suspended Rows

Rows are a staple exercise in strength training workouts for runners because the movement targets your back, upper body, and core. 

Although many basic strength training workouts for runners just incorporate bent-over rows with dumbbells, doing suspended bodyweight rows is an excellent substitution because it increases the demand on your abs and biceps.

If you have suspension straps available, use those, but if not, you can use the bar on a squat rack. 

The lower that you position the bar, or the handles of the suspension straps, the more difficult the exercise will be. In other words, the more upright your body remains, the less challenging the movement will be, and as you drop down into more of a horizontal position, the exercise will become increasingly more difficult.

  1. Grab the handles of the suspension straps in each hand or place your hands on the barbell with your palms facing away from your body and your hands spaced shoulder-width apart.
  2. Tighten your whole body so that you are as stiff as a board or plank.
  3. Lean back from your heels and walk your heels forward until your body is at a 10-45 degree angle relative to the ground. Again, the further forward your feet, and the more parallel you are to the floor, the harder the exercise will be.
  4. Your entire body should be in a straight line with your heels on the floor, your toes pointing towards the ceiling, and your gaze looking upwards. Make sure that your core is engaged and your glutes are tightened.
  5. Straighten your arms to drop your body down so that you are essentially in the reverse of the starting position of a push-up, and then bend your elbows and pull your body upward toward the bar or handle until your chest taps them, much like the lowered position of a push-up in reverse.
  6. Lower your body back down to the starting position by straightening your arms out. Remember to keep your body stiff as a board the entire time.
  7. Perform 12 to 15 reps.

#4: Medicine Ball Forward Lunges with Rotation

This is a good exercise to include in a strength training plan for runners because it mimics the unilateral demand of running while activating the core and incorporating challenging elements of balance, hip stability, and glute activation.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the medicine ball or dumbbell between your two hands out away from your body with your arms fully extended straight in front of your body.
  2. Step your right foot forward and drop down into a lunge, bending each knee 90° until your back knee nearly touches the floor while simultaneously rotating your trunk and arms to the right by engaging your obliques. Keep your arms straight as you rotate.
  3. Step back into an upright position while rotating the weight back to the starting position.
  4. Switch legs.
  5. Alternate legs, completing 12 reps per leg.

#5: Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

One of the best exercises to include in strength workouts for runners is the single-leg Romanian deadlift. It strengthens all of the muscles of the posterior chain, especially the glutes and hamstrings, which are crucial for runners. 

Because it is a unilateral exercise, it also activates the core and requires a tremendous amount of balance, ankle and hip stability, and core control, all of which replicate the biomechanical and muscular demands of running.

Single-leg Romanian deadlifts have also been demonstrated to be one of the top three most effective hamstring exercises, according to a research study conducted by ACE Fitness.

  1. Stand with good posture, placing your feet shoulder-width apart with a slight bend in your knee, arms at your side, and a dumbbell in your right hand.
  2. Engage your core and bring your left arm out to the side of your body for balance.
  3. Lift your right leg off of the ground as you bend your left knee (the one on your standing/support leg) about 20 degrees to activate your hamstrings and glutes.
  4. Hinge at your hips to bring your torso towards the floor, engaging your glutes and keeping your gaze on the floor to prevent hyperextending your neck. 
  5. Extend your right leg behind you as a counterbalance while you reach the dumbbell in your right hand down towards your left foot.
  6. Engage your core and glutes to return your body to the upright position, extending your hips until they are fully locked out. Try to keep your right foot elevated so that it does not touch back down on the ground, as this will help improve the muscular endurance of the stabilizing muscles in your hips and ankles. However, beginners can touch the leg back down when they stand upright to help them regain their balance.
  7. Complete 10-12 reps and then switch sides.

#6: Single-Leg Pallof Presses

This is a great anti-rotation core exercise that improves hip and ankle stability.

Here are the steps:

  1. Attach a resistance band with a handle to a stationary object or use a cable pulley machine with the handle at chest height.
  2. Position your body at a 90-degree angle from the anchor point of the band so that it is at the right or left side of your body. Hold the handle of the band in at your sternum. You should be far enough away from the anchor point from the band so that there is significant tension on the band in the starting position. Use a thicker band as you get stronger.
  3. Stand on one leg and press the band straight out in front of you. Engage your glutes, abs, and shoulders so that your arms are not pulled inward toward the anchor point of the band.
  4. Complete 15 slow reps and then switch sides.

#7: Bulgarian Split Squat

Split squats are great for strengthening your lower body, core, and spinal extensor muscles and should definitely be a part of your strength workouts for runners.

The Bulgarian split squat elevates your rear leg, which increases the activation of your hamstrings, making this an excellent strength training exercise for runners.

  1. Stand about three feet in front of a weight bench or chair facing away, with the laces part of your rear foot up on the bench behind you. Beginners can begin with just their body weight, but once you have mastered the technique, hold a dumbbell in each hand to increase the intensity of this strength training exercise.
  2. Your front foot should be far enough in front of your body that when you drop down into a lunge, your front knee does not extend forward beyond your toes.
  3. Keeping your shoulders back and core tight, bend your front knee to drop down into a split squat or static lunge position.
  4. Drop down until the thigh of your front leg is parallel to the ground and your knee is bent 90°. Then, press through your heel on the foot in front to return to the standing position.
  5. Complete 8 to 10 reps and then switch sides.
Paloff press.

You should be using a weight that is heavy enough that you cannot do more than ten repetitions. Once you can easily complete ten repetitions, increase the weight that you are holding.

In this strength training for runners plan, begin with two sets of each of the exercises. Progress to three sets as you get stronger. 

Beginners should start by doing this strength training program for runners twice a week. Work up to 3 to 4 times per week if you have the interest and time in your overall training plan.

Make sure to take at least one full day of rest in between each time you do this runner’s workout.

For a complete guide on strength training for runners and even more runner’s workouts ideas, click here!

Bulgarian split squat.
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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