9 Essential Weight-Training Exercises for Runners

Two top running coaches share weight training moves that will improve your speed, efficiency, and prevent injuries.

Weight training can seem counterintuitive to runners: The more muscle you have, the heavier you are, thus the more weight you have to carry around when running. While that’s true, it doesn’t mean you should swear off weight training all together. Adding it to your routine, even one or two times per week, can actually be very beneficial to your training—it can help prevent injuries and help to build up speed.

In fact, runners need weight training even more than you may realise. “Strength work accomplishes three big goals for runners,” says Jason Fitzgerald, USATF-certified running coach, founder of Strength Running in Denver, Colorado. “It prevents injuries by strengthening muscles and connective tissues; it helps you run faster by improving neuromuscular coordination and power; and it improves running economy by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency.”

That all sounds ideal, but it doesn’t make the weight room any less scary. To ease your fears, try changing your view on why you’re weight training and what it can do for you. As a runner, you’re training for strength, not to bulk up with massive muscle gains. And because of the amount of miles you’re putting in weekly, the chances that you’d achieve a large increase in muscle mass are pretty low.

“The stimulus to put on muscle that won’t be beneficial for running is much higher than people realise, and unless you’re either lifting relatively heavy and frequently and/or eating a hyper caloric diet, you’re unlikely to put on muscle,” says Joe Holder, USATF-certified running coach, Nike+ Run Club coach in New York City. “Just think about strength training one to two times a week, focusing on compound movement patterns, such as a lunge or squat, and shoring up the areas that could lead to increased injury if they are weak, like the hips.”

And not all weight training is created equally. “Some strength workouts—like CrossFit WODs or circuit-based fitness classes—include too much of a metabolic or cardio component to be effective at prioritising the main goals for runners, which are strength and power,” Fitzgerald says. Runners get enough cardio, so Fitzgerald recommends focusing on relatively heavy weight for a moderate number of repetitions with full recovery. And don’t forget that your own body serves as weight. So if picking up a barbell or dumbbells is a big stretch for you, ditching the weights and instead adding in bodyweight exercises can still help build strength.

How to use this workout: Below are nine weight training exercises that are the most beneficial for runners according to Holder and Fitzgerald. To build your own workout, you can focus on one area (upper body, lower body, or core) and create a circuit of three moves. Or you can choose one to three moves from each area (upper body, lower body, core) for a total-body routine. Each move is demonstrated by Christi Marraccini, Head GO Coach at NEO U in New York City.

For a quick cheat sheet of moves, scroll to the bottom of this article and pin, share, or screenshot the workout.

Upper Body

1. Push-Up

Works: chest and core muscles

Start in high plank, wrists under shoulders, core engaged so body forms a straight line from head to toes. Bend at elbows to lower chest to floor then press back up to return to starting position. Keep core tight throughout, don’t let hips dip or lift. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps.
Beginner: use your own body weight
Advanced: add a weighted plate (7.5 – 15 kg) on back

2. Bent Over Row

Works: back and core muscles

Start standing, micro-bend in knees, with two dumbbells in hands, palms facing in. Hinge forward at the hips so arms hang perpendicular to floor. Bend elbows to pull weights up to ribs, drawing shoulder blades back and down. Return to starting position then repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.
Beginners: use your own body weight
Advanced: use 5 – 10 kg dumbbells

3. Reverse Fly

Works: mid-back, posterior shoulder, and rhomboid muscles

Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells in hand. Hinge at the hips so that back is nearly parallel to floor and micro-bend knees. Let the dumbbells hang straight down, palms facing each other. Keeping back flat and torso still, engage back muscles to lift arms straight out to sides until they’re in line with shoulders. Your upper body will form a “T.” Return to starting position then repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.
Beginners: use 2kg dumbbells
Advanced: use 5 – 7.5 kg dumbbells


4. Plank

Works: core musclesPlace hands directly under shoulders. Engage core and squeeze glutes to stabilise body. Keep neck and spine neutral. Head should be in line with back; don’t let hips dip or lift. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat for 3 sets.
Beginners: use body weight
Advanced: add a weighted plate (5- 10 kg) on your back

5. Leg Raise

Works: lower abdominal muscles

Start lying faceup on a mat with hands next to hips for support. Lift legs straight up so body forms an “L.” Engage core and lower legs until feet hover just above mat. Slowly raise legs back to starting position and repeat for 3 sets of 10 reps.
Beginners: use body weight
Advanced: add a 5- to 10kg medicine ball between ankles

6. Single Side Weighted Sit-Up

Works: core muscles including obliques

Lie faceup on mat with feet flat on floor and a dumbbell in right hand extended straight up so that wrist is directly over shoulder. Engage core to lift chest and dumbbell up toward ceiling. Keeping arm straight, slowly lower back down to starting position with control. Repeat for 12 reps then switch to other side. That’s one set. Complete 3 sets.
Beginners: use 2 kg dumbbell
Advanced: use 7.5 kg+ dumbbell

Lower Body

7. Deadlift

Works: hamstrings, glutes, back, and core muscles

Stand with a micro bend in knees and feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Grab dumbbells and hinge at hips so they hang in front of shins, palms facing you. Brace core and lift weights by squeezing glutes, thrusting hips forward, and pulling torso back and up. Focus on just hinging at the hips, not squatting. Repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.

Beginners: use 7.5- to 10- kg weights
Advanced: use 10+ kg weights or a weighted barbell

8. Lunge

Works: leg, quad, and glute muscles

Stand tall holding dumbbells in each hand at sides. Take a big step forward with right leg and lower body until right thigh is parallel to floor and right shin is vertical. Press into right heel to drive back up to starting position. Continue on right leg for 8 to 12 reps then repeat on opposite leg. That’s one set. Complete 3 sets.
Beginners: use 5- 10 kg dumbbells
Advanced: use 10 kg + dumbbells

9. Single-Leg Bridge

Works: hip and glute muscles

Lie faceup on mat with feet flat and knees bent. Extend right leg straight up. Press into left heel to lift hips off mat in line with knee. Slowly lower back down and continue for 15 reps. Repeat on opposite leg. That’s one set. Complete 2 sets.
Beginners: use body weight
Advanced: add a 5kg weighted plate to hips, hold in place with hands

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