Strength Training for Runners: So Many Options!


Fitting in strength training to a training plan can be a balancing act. (Oh, I crack myself up!)
Fitting strength training into a training plan can be a balancing act. (Oh, I crack myself up!)

Week two of Boston Marathon training is going well. My coach is going easy on my "affected" ankle so the schedule only dictates three runs a week, one less than my pre-fracture training cycles. Currently she's swapping in an additional day of rest instead. The other two days of the week--currently Tuesday and Thursday--are dedicated to strength training. (With at least an extra 10-minutes of hip strengtheners mixed in at least once/week, often on the evening of a rest day.)

Only photo I have from The Refinery--and it was to show off the sassy Saucony Bullet Short and AMR run.shine. tee I was sporting!
Only photo I have from The Refinery--and it was to show off the sassy Saucony Bullet Short and AMR run.shine. tee I was sporting!

One morning, I do a barre class at The Refinery here in northeast Portland. I'm devoted to the instructor/owner, Ashleigh, who makes the world's best playlists, and I can perform about 99% of the moves without embarrassing myself too greatly. (Although I'm not going to be mistaken for a ballet dancer, or even a flexible, well-balanced athlete any time soon...)

But, for now, coach has prescribed a body-weight circuit for Thursday workouts, which she nicknamed "Dyna/Functional Strength." At first glance I read it as, "Dysfunctional Strength," which made me howl with laughter when I realized my error. Here's what tomorrow holds in store for my best running friend and me after we warm up by running 15 minutes to the gym:

20 squats
10 lunges per leg
:30 side shuffle (shuffle side to side as 3 shuffles left, 3 shuffles right)
1:00 plank hold
10 side lunges per leg
1:00 squat hold
:45 side plank per side
1:00 glute bridge marching
Repeat series twice.

Rest 1:00 then complete the following three times through:
10 front-to-back hip swings per leg
10 push ups
1:00 plank hold
10 single leg squats per leg

Then run 15 minutes home.

Like so many strength- and balance-building moves at physical therapy, this exercise looks deceptively simple. But it was exercises like these ones that prepped my injured body to handle the load of marathon training.
Like so many strength- and balance-building moves at physical therapy, this exercise looks deceptively simple. But it was exercises like these ones that prepped my injured body to handle the load of marathon training.

Incorporating different types of strength moves--hip series, barre, body-weight exercises--got me wondering about the value of each in a training plan. So our podcast next week is going to be a conversation about strength training for runners.

To help me get a clearer picture of what you gals do--from countless squats, to a plank a day, to free weights, to CrossFit, please stack up your comments like so many weight plates. And if your response is, "Strength training: What's that?!?!" please let me know that, too. All in the Comments section below this post on our site. Many thanks!

If only this was video, you could see my quad shaking from this controlled, single-leg squat performed under the watchful eye of my physical therapist.
If only this was video, you could see my quad shaking from this controlled, single-leg squat performed under the watchful eye of my physical therapist.

53 responses to “Strength Training for Runners: So Many Options!

  1. Cross-fit!! I have always found strength training to be boring (Barbie weights) or intimidating ( gyms) Husband finally talked me into it and I cannot explain how much I love it. It has strengthened my core so well ; I notice that my posture while running has greatly improved. Cross fit 3x a week Running 3x a week

  2. Wow! What a great workout. I tried it today to ward off the boredom of my morning routine. My arms are killing me but I’m chuffed inside. I just have to keep telling myself it’s hard right now but it will get easier. Those last 30!push ups and plank just about did me in! Just about but not. Woohoo!

  3. Over the last 6 months, I have started taking cross training very seriously! I’m not that confident in a gym, so I hired a trainer. I walked in day one with my running training plan in hand, and told her I wanted to be a stronger/ more balanced runner. She was able to compliment my running schedule. I am really surprised at how much she was able to tell me able myself that I didn’t know. For example, how unbalanced my body is from just straight running. I have very strong quads, but weak hamstrings, etc… We focus a lot on balancing exercises (like the ones your doing SBS, and they are harder than they look!), squats and all the variations of squats I had no idea existed, weight lifting of course. We also focus on my pelvic floor. My youngest daughter is 2, so pelvic floor exercises are big on my list. My trainer actually printed this out for me I also purchased PiYo, from beach bodies. I really like it, but I don’t follow the set schedule because my running plan is my main priority. I do recommend the lower body workout segment AFTER a run. It really stretches you out, and my legs feel so refreshed afterwards. I do that segment more than any other off the video. I would love do attend a yoga for runners class! I ran a half marathon in March, with very little to no cross training; and another half marathon in Dec 2015, which I seriously crossed trained. Just changing this one aspect of my training (focusing on cross training), I noticed a big difference in how I run, had less injuries, and how I felt after the run! I’m now sold on the importance of cross training!

  4. I am super fortunate to have a gym at my work. They offer a program called FitRanx (I’d compare it to CrossFit). We have classes three times a day, I usually go on my lunch hour and each day we trigger a different muscle(s) group(s). There are also levels and you test your abilities, I’ve been working on level 6 since August – 60# Shoulder press at 10 reps, I will get there! I also meet with one of the trainers on the side to work on lifting, if I am following a strict running training plan I’ll skip class and lift 2-3 times a week pending the workout schedule. I just started this about a year ago and have seen great results on my running and body (the scale not so much…oh well).

  5. I lift a quick routine before my Wednesday run…and before spinning on Thursday I do push ups, planks, squats, and a few other exercises…

  6. I take a boot camp class at our YMCA 3 times a week ( I’ll cut it to two times a week when I start my half marathon training) and I love it! It’s a mix of cardio and weight lifting and its different every time. I love the group aspect which gets a little competitive at times and have met some great friends. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do any strength training if I didn’t have my class.

  7. I do TRX, yoga (various types), pull up bar and my leg core routine is similar to your Sarah with the addition of single leg (slightly bent) taps to my Nuun water bottles (I can send a pic) tapping my hand to the top of each and back then switching legs. I do clams and legs elevated clams and monster diagonal walks with band. I love mostly body weight exercise but I get bored easily. I like a mix of home workouts and classes (to push you more). I am loving the believe journal to preset my workouts for a week and not think, just do the day of.

  8. My husband and I are the directors of a modern dance performance company. One night a week is conditioning, often strength training. We do a lot of body weight stuff, but we also get creative with the gymnastics equipment (we rehearse at a gymnastics center). Our craziest torture? Frisbees! We watched some gymnastics girls do these exercises and thought it couldn’t be that bad-ha! We put our toes in a Frisbee and then army-crawl across the floor. There are a ton of variations: facing upward, going backward, even little “hops” with your arms! Really gets the whole body from holding the plank, but especially the core! Paper plates can also work, depending on the floor surface.

  9. I have grown to love strength training… I allowed to say that?! I do a boot camp class twice per week that includes everything from conditioning runs, body weight work, and weights. On Sunday’s, I attend a body transformation class that includes circuits of strength and some much needed dynamic stretching. The combo of those classes have made me stronger on my runs and help my pants fit better!

  10. Twice a week I do a strength-focused yoga session that includes holding plank poses of different varieties (some that really work my arms!), lunge and squat style poses and balance poses that really work my ankles and glutes! It only takes 30 mins and it kicks my butt! It also works my flexibility and balance and I work up a sweat even though it’s just a bunch of slow movements and poses!

  11. i already comment once but i have been thinking about this. in the end i think people just need to find something that works for them. i on the other hand seem to have so many options, trx bootcamp, spinning, barre class at the gym, i have a few different options i can do that home, i recently got a free 30 day trial of all the beachbody workouts. i know people love the p90x programs. crossfit is also so popular but too costly for many of us. i can’t wait for the podcast

  12. I take Body Pump classes at the gym 1-2 times per week. I started a few weeks after I got out of my walking boot last year (stress fracture in final weeks of half marathon training!), and I love it! Also, after an easy run once a week, I’ll do 3 quick sets of planks (elbow, each side, back), calf raises, and clam shells. I can definitely tell the difference in my running and I suffer from minor injuries way less than I did before I started strength training.

  13. I actually love strength training. I work with a personal trainer once a week. I can do a regular chin-up now! In fact, I can do a few! I also go to boot camp twice a week. If I had the money, I would work with the trainer twice a week. Lifting is the only thing I’ve found that is even close to as satisfying as running. I am still pretty intimidated to do all this on my own though so that is one of my 2016 goals: more independence in the gym!

  14. I actually love to do strength training! I’m at the gym too early to hit up any strength classes so I do it on my own 3 times a week. I love to change it up. I use kettlebells, free weights, and barbells.

  15. Strength Training?!? What is that? I know I need to incorporate it into my running but haven’t figured out what to do. (I’d prefer to find something that I can do at home.) Have any videos that you would recommend?

  16. I just did my first PiYo class last night, so your post is very timely! My local instructor teaches this once a week so I am going to try to make it as many weeks as possible. I have also recently started doing some of the strength circuits in the AMR videos (13.FUN, etc) on YouTube. I teach REFIT (dance fitness) which incorporates a fair amount of XT (squats, lunges, arms) but is not necessarily strength. In 2016 I’m working on trying to do more strengthening & flexibility exercises! Can’t wait for the podcast!

  17. I started taking a Body Pump class 2-3x a week when I joined a gym several years ago. Didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a group weightlifting class. Started running with the class instructor about two years ago, and we’ve become best running friends and best friends, period. That has been the best part of starting to do strength training, though my arms look pretty bad-assed, too.

  18. HELP! I can’t wait for your podcast! I suffer from “I know too much information and try to fit everything in but don’t have 100 hours in a day and can’t prioritize”. I currently try to do upper body and lower body weight training, balancing, plyometrics, hip/glute exercises, core workouts, HIIT work, yoga, stretching, kettlebells, BOSU, etc…..oh yeah, and I try to fit running in there as well. I don’t know how to prioritize and get the most bang for my buck without driving myself cray cray.

  19. I am totally in need of this. When I get to the gym to work out, I can’t think of any moves that I really should be doing, so I just stick to the machines. I would love to set up a routine that is geared specifically for runners and weak hips (ME!).

  20. Oh how I need this podcast! Strength training is an “aspirational goal” for me. Between running, working, helping kids with homework, doing laundry, making dinner… oh yeah, and spending time with my husband!… there never seems to be enough time to strength train or cross train. I squeeze in the occasional core workout, or weight session, but mostly I’ve had to make peace with the fact that while I can step out the door and run 15 miles, easy, I have abs of jello.

  21. My husband bought a weight bench and weights in interest of him wanting to get in shape so I have been joining him for some bonding time 2-3 times per week. We do a basic all over strength routine. I also take a strength training class once per week. I am currently still in rehab/PT following a labrum repair and osteoplasty in October and am not really running. I am interested to see how my strength training goes when I start running/training again. I would like to think hubby will help keep me motivated!
    I am really looking forward to this podcast and the wealth of tips and hearing what others do.

  22. I had a hard time running while also weight training – but then again I go hard with the weights, lifting very heavy in that room in the gym where all the dudes hang out. I set my half marathon PR after doing 2 months of P90X3 – the body weight and dynamic movement exercises helped build up muscles I didn’t know I had and added a spring to my step, without leaving my body as fatigued as traditional weightlifting. Body Pump classes at the gym are also amazing! I’m pregnant now and not running so I can lift heavy during class, but when I’m running I just use lighter weights in Body Pump and still get great definition in my muscles while not wrecking my body for running. 🙂

  23. I have a hard time fitting in strength training when I’m already running 5 days a week but I do try to do one session a week. I either squeeze it in after a speed workout, or the day after on my XT/ST day. In the past, I’ve done simple series of strength moves (usually from the Train Like a Mother book or some Jillian Micheal’s DVDs). Recently, My hubby and I bought the Runners World Iron Strength workout DVDs and I’m loving it! I feel very balanced and strong. It’s 50 minutes and hard (lots of plyometrics and burpees) but it’s working, my easy run speed is getting faster and I’m hitting tempo paces.

    I feel like I see the most changes in body shape and muscle tone, and increase in speed, when I do more ST. I need to focus on it more and more, but it is always the first thing to go when I’m tired or busy.

  24. Can’t wait for this podcast! Right now, I’m doing yoga the days I run (3x week). Twice a week I do a 30-minute total body strength routine with handweights and a million squats (an old DVD I had), and a 20-minute pilates DVD from Mari Winsor. Am eyeballing the BeachBody PiYo dvd set though, to mix pilates/yoga and replace my cobbled-together-ancient “strength training” DVD workout.

  25. I started lifting for my running in the late 70searly 80s and caught all kinds of crap for it. I also did yoga. Currently I am incorporating medicine ball full squats (15 lbs lifted over my head as I squat) on an inverted bosu ball. Crazy hard. I am also doing the one-legged “pistols” although they look more like a slingshot phase of it. I still do upper body (presses, flys, curls, triceps, and pull ups) as I think they are important for form and longer races (especially triathlon training). Side planks in tree pose or leg away and up are super hard and good for core also!

  26. I am back to doing the Power 90 Sculpt DVD for strength training plus a 20 minute Gaiam balance ball DVD. This is my Tuesday/Thursday workout in the New Year.

  27. For strength, I do an ab workout DVD twice a week and I also lift (only 3 lbs- lol!) twice a week. I actually use the same DVD for everything- Core Fusion Pure Abs and Arms. I love it!

  28. Of course running is my preferred workout but now that I am a 50+ Mother Runner, I recognize that to stay injury free, I need to cross train and rest more than I did even 10 years ago! I typically do a sprint distance triathlon in the summer so that FORCES me to swim and bike in addition to run but I definitely see a difference in my posture and even endurance when I cross train during the year. I do a combination of squats, lunges, light-ish weights (that get heavier with every rep), and TRX body-weight stuff. I don’t look forward to it but I see the benefits afterwards!

  29. One more question: should over-40 female runners approach strength training differently than younger women? I always read “get your runs in, but make sure you’re also cross-training and strength training. Oh, yeah — make sure you get plenty of rest, too!” How am I supposed to fit all of that into a week? 😉

  30. I am often flummoxed by the strength training for runners concept, so I’m looking forward to the podcast. I think I do enough strength training, but I’m not sure it’s the right kind. Lately, I have been lifting heavier weights at the gym — I have a very basic 3x/week routine (squats, lunges, rows, assisted pullups, deadlifts, and so on), but I often only manage two days a week. (As an aside, I’ve found that attending regular gentle yoga classes has enabled me to do more squats and deadlifts, which used to really hurt my back.) I have many questions: is two days per week of strength training the bare minimum? Is three days markedly better? How do you know whether you’re doing the right number — or too many — exercises on a specific set of muscles in a given session? Body weight vs. heavy weight vs. light weights: what’s best for runners?

  31. When I used to run in the evenings, I always ended every run with 1 min plank, squats with the Bring Sally Up song, and 13 tricep dips. When I changed to running in the mornings, I was in a hurry to get ready for work, so I cut all that. Then I got injured! Now I’m working on hip/glute strengthening, with clam shells, lateral leg raise, Myrtl routine, one legged squats. I know strength training is important, but honestly, It’s the first thing I slack off on.

  32. My favorite is a Pilates reformer class once a week but lately haven’t been able to fit it into my schedule. So I’ve been doing a 30 minute Jillian Michaels Yoga Inferno dvd or a 30 min workout on the Nike Training Club app. Since they are only 30 minutes, I usually can’t come up with an excuse not to do them at least once a week.

  33. I work with a CrossFit coach to help me get strong. Twice a year, she takes me through a strength cycle where I lift all the heavy things. Most of what she does focuses on the glutes., but of course everything else gets worked too. For the strength cycle, we do deadlifts, squats, and lunges. The rest of the year is focused on HIIT, plyometrics, and other CrossFit type of stuff to get me in race shape. Since I’ve been doing this (2 years), I’ve had multiple PRs and fewer injuries!

  34. I do Fitness Blender workouts religiously. Upper and lower body strength training circuits with 8 to 15 pound weights, lots of body weight exercises, HIIT, etc. I have become so much stronger using the variety of free videos on the site.

  35. Lots of weight training, all with free weights, and pretty heavy ones. I usually do a circuit-style workout, to make it more efficient, but I hit every muscle group once or twice a week, and do core work two or three times a week (lots of planks and plank variations, and some standing core exercises, too). I’ve recently gotten hooked on yoga, too, and doing that a few times a week is helping strengthen my muscles in a whole different way – I love it! The Myrtle routine has become a staple, also – I’ve been having some hip flexor and piriformis issues, and focusing on hip strength has definitely made a difference.

  36. Barbell squat 5×5 (55#?), barbell deadlift 5×5 (65#), bench press (55#) 5×5, single leg squat w 2(10#) Dumbbells, tricep extension 3×8, assisted pull-up (5?x3), face pull 3×8, cross over pull, bottoms up, seated row or bentover row, (all 3×8), clamshells. That’s pretty typical workout twice a week for me

  37. Yeah, I’m one of those who barely does strength training, primarily because my training is high mileage and I only have so much time. (That and not really loving exercise that doesn’t involve running.) I’m trying to be better this year and mix in weights and various classes to add some core and upper body strength, but I really need to get better about doing it on a regular schedule.

  38. I go to a boot camp style class once a week and a strength class with a trainer once a week where it is specific for running. If I do these classes and run the body holds together!

  39. i loved this! i am always on the hunt for something new

    i love strength training as much as running but always change it up

  40. I go to a 9Round kickboxing gym 2-3 times a week. It’s a 30-minute workout in nine “rounds”. The first round is usually a warmup, like jumping rope, second round often has free weights, then for the third round you put the gloves on and start punching, my favorite part! The excercises for each round change daily. For thirty seconds between the rounds we do an active recovery consisting of many of the things Sarah lists above. I really built up my strength and endurance after about six months, which gave me the idea that I could start running again last year. My membership is up in June but I’m probably going to sign up again, because if I had to do this stuff on my own without a coach I would probably blow it off.

  41. I think the thing to remember is regardless of gym it all depends on the instructor. I’ve tried a bit of everything over the years and enjoyed each. Currently I work with a Personal Trainer that specializes in strength for runners. He listens and puts together your plan, still do some of my favorite crossfit moves, but more leg raises, single deadlifts, single leg curls etc

  42. I lift fairly heavy weights for my upper body, and do heavy glute bridges/hip extensions and dead lifts for my lower body. Squats and lunges don’t love my knees, so I don’t do a lot of them. Most of my lower body exercises are more running-specific; single leg bridges and hip extensions, side-lying straight leg lifts (I also do them standing) with or without a resistance band, clam shells, planks and side planks with top leg raises, band walks, lots of single leg balance work. The best workout dvd I’ve found that incorporates all of those type of exercises is Cathe Freiderich’s To the Mat Glutes and Hips.

  43. I go to Crossfit 2-3 times a week. I have been doing this for 3 years and my times for very race distance have gotten much faster.

  44. A couple months ago I started doing the DVD workout called Iron Strength for Runners by Dr. Jordan Meitzel. I think this is amazing! It’s an all encompassing strength routine for runners in a 50 minute video and there are three 20 minutes videos as well. One for abs, one for glutes, and one abridged version of the longer workout if you are short on time. You can buy it online for about $30.

  45. A short series of planks, side planks, clam shells, bridges, reverse lunges, and squats is how I started last year after not doing any strength (and only doing running) for most of the years since college. My goal this year is to more specifically incorporate it into my routine because, well, aging and weakness are real.

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