What Is Resistance Training? A Complete Explainer + 7 Tips To Start

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When it comes to workouts for runners, there are countless terms for beginners to learn. From tempos and fartlek workouts to intervals and progression runs, a well-rounded training program for running includes quite a few different types of runs.

There are also supplemental workouts that are important for runners. These workouts involve doing exercises other than running in order to become a faster and stronger runner, and reduce the risk of injuries

For example, cross-training workouts involve performing other types of cardio exercise, which enables you to get in an aerobic workout while using different muscles and motions and reducing the impact on the body.

Another key component in a training program is resistance training.

Resistance training is one of the most effective ways to build strength in your legs, arms, and core to become a more efficient and powerful runner.

But, what is resistance training exactly and what are the best resistance training exercises for runners? How can you incorporate resistance training into your training program to optimize your fitness and performance?

In this article, we will answer the question: what is resistance training, and how to best incorporate resistance training into your workout routine.

We will cover: 

  • What Is Resistance Training?
  • 8 Benefits of Resistance Training for Runners
  • Best Resistance Training Exercises for Runners
  • How to Incorporate Resistance Training Into Your Workout Routine
  • 7 Tips for Resistance Training for Beginners

Let’s jump in.

A person resistance training with a medicine ball.

What Is Resistance Training?

Resistance training, which is also referred to as strength training, weight training, or even weight lifting, involves performing specific exercises and movements under some type of load or resistance with the goal of increasing the strength, endurance, or size of your muscles. 

The load or resistance used can come from any number of implements, such as dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, resistance bands, weight machines, or just your own body weight.

By using a load or “resistance,” resistance training overloads the muscles beyond their normal loads. This stimulates your muscles and connective tissues to adapt to the heavy loads and become stronger and more resilient. 

Examples of resistance exercises include squats, lunges, deadlifts, push-ups, and step-ups.

People doing push ups outside.

8 Benefits of Resistance Training for Runners

There are many benefits of resistance training for runners and non-runners alike.

As you build strength, activities like running require less effort and become easier because your muscles are accustomed to heavier loads and higher forces. 

#1: Resistance Training Helps Prevent Overuse Injuries In Runners

One of the primary benefits of resistance training is that it makes your muscles, bones, and connective tissues stronger. 

A stronger body is better able to tolerate the forces and impact of running.

The body is subjected to forces approximately 2-3 times your bodyweight when you run and research indicates runners take approximately 1,400 steps per mile at an 8-min per mile pace. 

Multiplying that out for even just a single run can illustrate the tremendous amount of pounding your body withstands during a week of training. 

By building the size and strength of your muscles and connective tissues with resistance training, you increase the ability of the muscles and connective tissues to handle higher loads themselves, which, in turn, offsets the stress that has to be absorbed by cartilage, joints, and bones.

Resistance training also reduces the risk of injury by helping prevent or correct muscle imbalances, particularly if you perform unilateral exercises.

A gym class of people doing pull aparts with resistance bands.

#2: Resistance Training Can Improve Your Running Form

Resistance training can improve your running form by correcting any muscle imbalances or weaknesses and building core strength.

A strong core enables good, upright running posture, preventing you from hunching over or leaning back when you run.

Strong arms will improve your arm swing and help you drive your legs forward. 

#3: Resistance Training Improves Running Economy and Efficiency

Resistance training causes neuromuscular adaptations such that your brain gets better at activating the muscle fibers you already have. 

This means that the nerve impulse that travels from your brain to your muscle signals a greater percentage of muscle fibers to contract. 

This results in stronger, more powerful movements, which can lead to a better running economy

When your running economy improves, it takes less energy to maintain a pace or workload that was previously more taxing. Therefore, you can run faster and further before fatiguing.

Resistance exercises also make you stronger, which makes you a more powerful runner.

For example, performing lower-body resistance training exercises like step-ups and squats can improve your ability to activate your glutes, which can improve your hip drive and leg extension.

A person doing a unilateral shoulder press.

#4: Resistance Training Can Increase Aerobic Capacity

We tend to think of strength and cardio as two separate things, so it might be surprising to learn that studies show resistance training workouts can improve aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and submaximal endurance performance in endurance athletes 

This is thought to be mostly due to the neuromuscular adaptations.

#5: Resistance Training Can Improve Your Overall Health

Research has found resistance training can induce various general health benefits like reducing blood pressure, improving blood sugar control, and reducing triglycerides and cholesterol.

#6: Resistance Training Increases Bone Density 

Research shows that resistance training increases bone density, which is important for all runners because running places a lot of stress on the bones upon impact. 

There are two different ways in which resistance training signals the bones to adapt and increase their mineralization and cellular content.

Being under the load or resistance itself stimulates the bones as does the fact that as your muscles get stronger as a result of resistance training. They are able to pull more forcefully on the bones when they contract. 

This increased stress also signals your body to deposit more minerals to strengthen the structure of your bones.

People holding kettlebells in a gym class.

#7: Resistance Training Increases Your Metabolic Rate

Resistance training workouts geared towards hypertrophy (muscle growth) increase your metabolic rate.

Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat, so building muscle can improve your body composition and help you burn more calories throughout the day.

#8: Resistance Training Can Boost Your Confidence

We all want to feel good in our bodies and confident in our athletic ability, whether or not we run. Many people find resistance training to be a great way to boost self-esteem and confidence.

Best Resistance Training Exercises for Runners 

Resistance training for runners should include unilateral exercises to prevent muscle imbalances and mimic the demands of running, as well as compound, multi-joint exercises, which build strength.

It would be short-sighted to claim that there’s a definitive list of the best resistance training exercises for runners, but here are some of our favorites:

  • Lower body: Squats, Jump squats, Step-ups, Lunges, Lateral lunges, Deadlifts, Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts, Bulgarian Split Squats, Glute bridges, Clam shells, Side-leg raises, Banded side steps, Hamstring curls, Farmer’s carries, Burpees, Calf raises
  • Back: Pull-ups, Rows, Superman, Reverse fly
  • Chest: Push-ups, Chest press, Chest fly 
  • Arms: Curls, Tricep Dips, Tricep extensions 
  • Core: Planks, Pallof press, Russian twist, Bird-dog, Dead bug, V-ups, Chops
A person doing a push up on an exercise ball.

How to Incorporate Resistance Training Into Your Workout Routine

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines for exercise and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults perform 2-3 total-body resistance training workouts per week.

Alternatively, you can do body parts split routines, wherein you do lower-body exercises one day, chest/back another day, and core and arms on another day (or various other combinations).

However, then you would need to do your resistance training workouts 6-7 days per week, as you want to train every major muscle group 2-3 times per week:

In terms of when you should do your resistance training workouts, most coaches recommend scheduling your resistance training workouts on your easy run days rather than when you have a long run or hard workout scheduled, so that you don’t overdo it on your body.

If you’re a runner or other athlete with a primary sport other than lifting weights, do your run or cardio workout first and then your resistance training.

This will help ensure your legs aren’t already exhausted from your gym workout before you go running.

If you want your resistance training workout to be your primary goal or sport activity, lift first and then do any cardio you may want to do.

A trainer watching a cliente exercise at the gym teaching her what resistance training is.

7 Tips for Resistance Training: Tips for Beginners

When you’re just starting out, resistance training can seem really overwhelming and daunting, especially if everyone in your gym is wielding heavy weights.

Here are some helpful strength training tips for beginners:

#1: Schedule a Session With a Trainer

Most gyms offer a complimentary session with a personal trainer who can show you how to properly perform basic exercises like squats and lunges and how to use various resistance equipment. 

Even if you don’t have the means to work with a trainer long term, an introductory workout and orientation to the equipment can get you on the right track to do your resistance training workouts safely and effectively on your own. 

#2: Follow a Training Program

Following a resistance training workout will give you direction and make sure you are hitting all the exercises you should be doing for your goals.

You can use a workout app, like Peloton Digital or Open Fit, or stream a free strength workout for runners video on YouTube.

A variety of kettlebells.

#3: Choose the Right Weight

When you’re new to resistance training, you want to start with light weights. However, many runners continue to work with loads that are too light. 

If you want to get stronger, you need to work with weights that are heavy enough that you can only lift them with proper form for 12 reps at most.

A good rule of thumb is to use a weight that you lift with good form for 8-12 reps. If you can get to 15 reps, it’s time to jump up to a higher weight.

If you want to build muscle, go even higher with your resistance, such that you’re totally fatigued by 8 reps.

#4: Pay Attention to Your Form

Using proper form prevents injuries and ensures the exercise is actually effective. 

If you find you are unable to maintain the correct form for all the reps in a set, swap to a lighter weight or stop the set early. 

Use mirrors to watch your form, or lift weights with a buddy who has experience and can give you feedback and form cues.

A person doing a chest press.

#5: Go Slow

Don’t cheat and use momentum or gravity. You have to use your muscles to reap the benefits of resistance training.

Lift slowly and deliberately through each movement.

#6: Don’t Get Stuck In Your Routine

Keeping resistance training workouts fresh by using different forms of resistance (bands, weights, medicine balls, etc.), different loads, different exercises, and different numbers of reps and sets not only prevents boredom, but it also keeps your muscles constantly challenged, which prevents plateaus.

#7: Make It Convenient

We are all busy these days, and chances are that if you’re a runner or do some other form of exercise already, resistance training might not be your first choice of activity.

First of all, be proud of yourself for getting your workouts in, but also make it easier on yourself by removing as many barriers as possible. 

See if you can buy a few adjustable dumbbells or resistance bands for at-home workouts or find some other way to make your workouts convenient.

We have tons of ideas right here at Marathon Handbook to get you started: Squats for Runners, Lunges for Runners, Upper Body Workout for Runners, Glute activation exercises for runners.

A display shelf of dumbbells.
Photo of author
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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