Running is one of the most basic but effective cardio exercises that you can include in your routine. It’s simple and straightforward, burns a ton of calories, and you can adjust the intensity as you go so that you never feel like your workout is too much or too little.
That said, if you want to start running regularly or you have specific goals that you want to achieve through running, the best thing you can do is strength training to support your cardio efforts! Your muscles are in constant movement while you run, and making sure that they’re strong enough to get through your run with good form will help you reap the cardio benefits much faster.
In this article, we’ll show you the best strength training exercises for runners as well as a few tips on how to incorporate weight lifting and running together into your weekly routine so you can build your muscular strength, power, and endurance to maximize your fitness results!
Strength training exercises for runners
While having a well-rounded strength training routine is ideal for any fitness goal, there are a few specific exercises that will truly take your running form to the next level. Here are our favorites:
Step-ups with knee raise
Starting strong, step-ups are known for being an effective lower-body exercise that will make your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves much more powerful for running. Plus, they help improve knee flexibility, balance, and coordination.
How to do it:
- Find a stool, a bench, or a plyo box that isn’t too high to step on it. Ideally, it should be below knee height. Then stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of the platform with your hands on your hips.
- Begin the movement by placing your right foot on the platform, extending your right knee, and bringing your left foot up.
- Instead of placing your left foot on the platform, continue driving your knee up until your left thigh is parallel to the floor and your right leg is completely extended.
- Without losing your balance, reverse the movement and go back to the starting position with both feet on the floor. Place your left foot on the platform and repeat with the opposite side, alternating each rep.
Squats are the king of lower-body strength-training exercises, and strong legs are definitely something that you need for running. Pistol squats, in particular, add a unilateral element that truly challenges your functional strength, balance, and flexibility.
How to do it:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and lift your left leg, extending it in front of you so that your right leg is the one supporting your body weight.
- Extend your arms in front of you parallel to your left leg and the floor, and begin the movement by lowering yourself into a deep squat position. Make sure you don’t let your left leg drop, it should be extended in front of you at all times.
- Keeping your core engaged, squeeze your muscles in this bottom position, then slowly stand back up without losing your balance while on a single leg and repeat.
- Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.
Dumbbell walking lunges
Walking lunges mimic the forward movement of a regular walk, adding an extra challenge by lowering yourself each time you take a step. The addition of the dumbbells will help you build strength in your lower body and improve your running coordination.
How to do it:
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand, either down to your sides or up and in front of your shoulders.
- Begin the movement by stepping forward with your left leg as you lower yourself, flexing both knees until they’re both bent at 90 degrees. Your left thigh should be parallel to the floor and your right knee almost touching it.
- Keeping your back straight, push through your left heel to stand back up and drive your right leg forward this time, taking another step.
- Lower yourself to the bottom position again, repeating this lunging movement and alternating both legs for the desired amount of reps.
Toe raises and heel drops
This movement isn’t only one of the best for strengthening your calves, but it also helps you increase foot and ankle flexibility and mobility, both necessary to run smoothly without risking an injury in that area.
How to do it:
- Find a small stool or a stair step and stand on the edge of it with both feet. Only the balls of your feet should be on the platform, with your heels hanging off the edge.
- Place your hands on your hips or a nearby wall for support. You can also grab a dumbbell in each hand for increased resistance.
- Begin the movement by standing on your toes, lifting your heels as much as your can. Then, lower your heels as far down as possible without slipping from the step.
- Keeping your balance, lift your heels again and repeat the movement by going up and down for the desired reps.
Your legs aren’t the only area of your body that need to be strong for a more effective running session – your core needs some love too! And V-sits are perfect for this, deeply challenging your core strength and helping you develop your overall balance.
How to do it:
- Lie on the floor, preferably on a mat, with your legs together and your arms close to your sides.
- Engage your core and lift your upper body and lower body sightly off the mat. This will be your starting position.
- Begin the movement by bringing your legs and your torso up, and extending your arms so that they’re parallel to the floor. Aim to make a V shape with your body, bending at the hips as much as you can without rounding your back or flexing your knees.
- Squeeze your muscles in this position, then go back to the starting position (without completely resting on the mat) and repeat.
Running requires explosiveness, and this is exactly what burpees help you improve! This full-body movement combines squats, push-ups, and jumps into a single exercise that will help you maximize your running power and general strength.
How to do it:
- Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart and your hands to your sides, keeping your chin up.
- Begin by going down into a squat position, then quickly place your hands on the ground in front of you and jump your feet back into a push-up position with your legs completely extended.
- Push yourself back up to the standing position and jump with both arms extended up in the air.
- Quickly go back to the squat position and repeat the whole movement as many times as desired.
Another explosive exercise, this time challenging your lateral coordination, balance, and strength. It targets all your major lower-body muscle groups and improves your cardiorespiratory endurance.
How to do it:
- First, you need to get into a curtsy lunge. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and drive your right foot back and to the left, lowering yourself until both knees are bent at 90 degrees.
- Begin the movement by pushing through your left heel and bringing your right foot to the right in a side jump.
- Land on your right foot and drive your left foot back and to the right, lowering yourself so that it mirrors your starting position (curtsy lunge).
- Keep alternating sides until you’ve completed your reps, making sure that you’re jumping far enough so that your legs are constantly extending and bending.
This is another core exercise that will also challenge your back for better running posture, which is essential if you’re working on your endurance. The extended plank is a natural progression to the standard plank, so make sure you master that one first!
How to do it:
- Get down on the floor into a high plank position by placing your hands and your feet on the floor, forming a straight line with your body.
- Instead of leaving your hands directly below your shoulders, walk them forward until they’re below your face so that your core, back, and shoulders are more engaged.
- Keep your balance by tightening your core and hold for the desired count. You can walk your hands further forward if you need more of a challenge, but be careful not to let your hips drop during the exercise.
How to incorporate strength training with running
Now that you know the best exercises to support your running routine, you’re probably thinking of trying some of them next time. So, here are a few tips on how to do it effectively so that your strength training doesn’t interfere with your running:
Don’t overdo it
A combination of strength training and running needs to be balanced, and if you’re focusing on your running endurance and technique, it’s better to keep your strength training limited.
Aim to train your strength around 2-3 times a week with a 30-minute or less full-body routine and light to medium weights. This is enough to keep your muscles active and strong without overworking them so you can give everything you’ve got when running!
Spread your workouts evenly
Running takes up a lot of energy, and strength training does too, even if it’s a light workout. You don’t want to schedule two tough workouts on the same day, or else you’ll likely be too exhausted to continue at some point.
If you do want or need to schedule both on the same day, make sure to keep them light, and go on your run first. Then, with the remaining energy, go through your strength training routine. Or, even better, train on separate days! This way you can focus all your energy on a single activity, and rest enough to get through your workout the next day.
Add some variation
If you want to avoid getting bored of strength training, consider doing different exercises each time you train to keep things fresh!
Keeping your routine varied will not only keep you from wanting to quit, but it’ll also help you hit different muscles that you might have missed in your previous strength training session. Remember, a well-rounded routine is key!
Don’t work through the pain
The idea behind any fitness goal is to push yourself to the limit so you can improve and develop greater strength and abilities, but if you find yourself getting too exhausted or feeling pain while combining strength training with running, take a step back!
Strength training is there to support your running goals, not to hinder your progress, so if you realize you’re working through the pain and discomfort to be able to do both, reconsider your routine and find a balance that works. You can go even lighter on the weights, or reduce your strength workout to 1 or 2 times a week – your choice.
Get closer to your running goals by strengthening your muscles
There’s nothing better than a good, long run that makes you feel accomplished, and having strong muscles will help you achieve that more frequently! Try some of our favorite exercises for strength training, remember our tips, and you’ll be on your way to a better and more efficient fitness journey – both for cardio and strength training.And if you’re looking for more exercises or need help planning your routine, the Fit With Iulia app has all you need! The app features weekly goal-focused workouts with the appropriate training splits so you can get closer to your fitness goals in no time. Try your first workout for free by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, choosing a goal, and trying the first workout of any goal – no subscription required!