Strength Training for Runners

K. Ryan Petersen, DPT, CSCS

Strength Training for Runners

By K. Ryan Petersen, DPT, CSCS

It has been a long-held belief that lifting weights will “bulk up” runners with unwanted muscle mass that will hinder their running abilities.  Or that it will negatively impact their cardiovascular endurance.

This is just not true.

In fact, a targeted weight training program can produce a host of beneficial adaptations for runners’ bodies.  A growing collection of research supports the use of weight/strength training as a means to improve running performance and reduce risk of injury.  Lifting weights can result in higher bone density, increased tendon health/capacity, increased muscle size/capacity, improved running economy, and decreased injury risk.  All of these combine to improve a runner’s overall performance. 

Lower body strengthening exercises like calf-raises, squats, deadlifts, and lunges can all be used to strengthen muscles that are vital to running performance (calves, quadriceps, glutes, etc.).  It is important to use relatively heavy weights 

during these exercises to match the demands placed on your body during running.  For example, when your foot hits the ground during running, the force through your Achilles tendon is equivalent to over 6x your body weight!

Running can place a high amount of cumulative stress on lower body tissues due to the repetitive impacts with the ground, and these can result in overuse injuries.  If a runner is recovering from an overuse injury (or any other injury) that prevents them from running, weight training can be a great alternative to maintain tissue capacity and even aerobic endurance.

Things to consider:

Weight training for runners will look very different than weight training for body builders.  That is why it is important for runners to consult with a knowledgeable physical therapist, strength coach, or running coach with a background of prescribing weight training exercise programs for runners.  There are several factors that impact how a weight training program should be used.  An athlete’s “Training Age” (how much experience/exposure an athlete has to weightlifting), the event/distance that a runner is training for, and what point in their training schedule a runner is in, should all be considered when constructing a safe productive strength training plan.

Running is an awesome way to improve your quality of life, and strength training is an awesome way to improve your quality of running!  Come see the team at CPR to find out how strength training can make you a better runner. 

You can’t go wrong when you’re getting strong! 


What the research says:

Recreational runners who completed a six week resistance training program reduced their 5K time by 3.62%. (Karsten et al. 2016)

Strength training reduced overuse injuries by almost 50% and reduced traumatic injuries by 38%. (Lauersen et al. 2014)

Heavy/explosive strength training resulted in: improved exercise economy, improved anaerobic capacity, improved lactate threshold, delayed time to fatigue, improved maximal strength, and improved endurance performance.  There was no observed increase in body mass or compromised VO2max. (Ronnestad, Mujika et al. 2014)

For female runners a 1 cm reduction of calf muscle circumference results in a 4x greater risk of stress fracture. (Bennell et al. 1997)




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