6 Important Strength Exercises for Runners

One of the most frequent questions from the athletes I’m coaching is, should I be strength training? And if so, what exercises are the most important for runners?

There are mixed opinions on the benefits of strength training for runners.  The general consensus is yes, you should be doing some body weight exercises to balance your muscles but not so much that you are slowed down by your muscle mass (I have a feeling that isn’t an issue for most of us!)

The average runner is not doing enough strength training, in my opinion.  Even adding 10 minutes of body weight exercises after a run 2-3 times a week can help to make you a stronger athlete and less prone to injury.

Here are the top 6 exercises for runners that you can do at home:


Photo: empowerednutrition.com

Why? Strengthen your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes and help to prevent knee injuries and make you a stronger runner

How? Sit back with your butt behind you, and knees directly over your feet.  Do 10-20 slow reps, coming completely up in between each.  Repeat 2-3 times.


Photo: 5BestExercises

Why? For functional strength, to build quadriceps and glutes, and keep the hip flexors flexible

How? Lunge forward with one leg and sink the bank knee toward the floor.  Keep your front knee in line with your foot.  Take a step forward with the opposite foot and sink down into the lunge.  Continue taking steps for 10-20 walking lunges.  Rest or switch exercises and repeat. (Can be done with or without hand weights).


Photo: ibodz.com

Why? Strengthens the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles (strengthens your ankles, can help prevent shin splints)

How? On a step, drop your heels down and then lift the heels all the way up to work the calf muscles.  You can do both legs together or one at a time. Repeat 20 times, or as many as you can.


Photo: roadstorome.com

Why? Strengthen your chest, triceps, shoulders and core for stability (read more about how push ups can benefit your running)

How? On your knees or toes, complete 10-20 push ups.  Rest and repeat 2-3 times.  Work your way up to toe push ups.


Photo: Sportsmedicine.com

Why? Hip and glute strengthening is essential for those prone to knee injuries.

How? Lie on your back, and press up through your hips to create a straight line from shoulders to knees.  Dip down and repeat 20 times, or hold as long as you can. (More detailed instructions can be found here.)


Photo: Fitbehavior.com

Why? Upper body and core strength and stabilization.  (However, if you are prone to shin injuries, rest your feet on a stool or chair to take pressure off your shin!)  Pete Pfitzinger shares 10 exercises for complete core conditioning for runners, including plank variations safer for the lower back.

How? Balance your body from toes to arms, either in straight arm plank or on your forearms, keeping your body perpendicular to the ground.  Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute, rest 1 minute and repeat, or hold as long as you can.

A combination of these exercises can be done after a run, so that you maximize your recovery time before the next run.

Which strength exercises do you incorporate on a regular basis?



99 thoughts on “6 Important Strength Exercises for Runners

  1. I do all of these as well. Our running group goes to a very simple strength training gym after our Monday & Wednesday night runs for small group strength training. We do many of these exercises & more with our upper body and core. We have been doing it for a year and a half now and we all love it. It is keeping us from injury and I really notice a difference with my stamina on long runs due to the increased strength in my legs!

  2. THANKS!! I needed this list!! I’m bookmarking it for later! I started running in January, have run 3 5K’s so far and am HOOKED! Finally, an addiction that’s good for us!! I have found that when I do take the time to stretch appropriately and strength train that I am a much better, stronger and beginning to be an even faster runner. As a mother of 3, I enjoy reading your blog 🙂
    Patti Smith recently posted..Pilates…Yoga…Run…RestMy Profile

  3. I love doing weight training and I try to work it in 3 times a week! I do these along with TRX exercises. I find though that I should push myself more with lower body weights because I know I would benefit from it…I just get nervous I won’t be able to run the next day!!
    Fancy Nancy recently posted..Monday MotivationMy Profile

  4. I definitely think strength training is needed for runners (and everyone!). Strong quads, hamstrings, glutes, core and upper body power help power you through the tough miles and will keep you (hopefully) injury free.
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..Life After 26.2 MilesMy Profile

  5. great post! when i was running i always had trouble fitting in strength training with my running schedule. but like you said 2-3 times a week for just 10 – 15 minutes probably could have made a big difference and that seems totally manageable!
    Linz @ Itz Linz recently posted..Sisters in ColumbusMy Profile

  6. I do alternating lunges, squats, calf raises. I also try to add in exercises for my glutes and hamstrings. I struggle with that balance of lower body workouts and running b/c you don’t want to be so sore for a run. But I do believe that weight lifting is ideal for runners. Maybe I say that b/c I struggle with imbalances and feel like it helps me at least. I’m of course not racing and am less concerned about too much mass.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..Fun For Friday – Theme-lessMy Profile

  7. I have become obsessed with cross training lately. One of my goals after my marathon was to throw myself into crossfit. I think I have been successful at that! I went 3 days the first week and then last week I went 4 days. This week I will probably only go 3 days since I will be in Portland for the weekend. I think that cross training is so important for runners. I am always shocked at how many people neglect it!
    Tasha @ Healthy Diva recently posted..Cross training obsessedMy Profile

  8. Thanks so much for these Laura! We just joined a gym yesterday and I’ll be taking Wyatt to the childcare later. I know he won’t last long, so I’ll only get a short workout in. These exercises are perfect!
    Jen recently posted..10 yearsMy Profile

  9. I do all of these except the calf raises! I also try to incorporate a lot of upper body circuits too on days that I am running shorter distances. I’m a big fan of chest press on the stability ball, triceps dips, biceps curls, and shoulder press. When I focus too much on running, I can tell the difference in my lack of strength, so now I really try to incorporate strength training on a regular basis.
    She Rocks Fitness recently posted..Running through Virginia Wine CountryMy Profile

  10. Thanks for the recommendations, Laura. I agree with all of the moves on your list and do make sure to do them.

  11. Thanks for posting the exercises. It seems as if Body Pump do incorporate all of them!
    Question – how do you like the Jillian workout series? Any particular favorites?

    I am following your footsteps and taking June easy on running but heavy on cross training! 🙂

    • I think your body will thank you for a step back from running! I have two of Jillian’s older dvds (No More Trouble Zones and 30 Day Shred) so I still incorporate them from time to time. NMTZ is longer and more of a strictly strength workout, but 30 Day Shred is 20 minute high intensity circuits (with more jumping moves that my shin doesn’t appreciate!)
      Laura recently posted..6 Important Strength Exercises for RunnersMy Profile

  12. I love all of the exercises you listed, though I really don’t do calf raises on a regular basis (though my calf development would give most body builders a case of the envies 🙂 ).

    I also try to incorporate some combo strength/plyo moves like squat jumps, box jumps and split squat jumps. Plus, since I teach strength classes I do a variety of different exercises. It’s all good!
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted..KindRunner is Open for Business!My Profile

  13. Excellent choices! I do them all. Huge advocate of strength training for runners here. I can feel the difference when I’m not doing enough strengthening. It’s easy to neglect but so important.
    Marcia recently posted..North Shore Half Race ReportMy Profile

  14. I do lots of strength training every week and I know that I’m a much stronger/faster runner now than when I competed in college (and never did strength work)!!! I’m a huge advocate for strength training for runners, swimmers or any other athletes!!
    Great info, Laura!!!
    Kim recently posted..Early MorningsMy Profile

  15. I *know* I don’t do enough strength training but I have been trying to be better! One exercise that has actually helped my running a lot has been pull-ups which sounds weird but it’s helped my posture a lot (I tend to lean running up hill) and being more upright has kept me from curling my toes which mean.. I get to keep my toenails!!! 🙂
    Rachel B @ Busy Mama Fitness recently posted..So You Want to Run a Half MarathonMy Profile

  16. I nodded my head throughout this entire post. Fantastic list!! Strength training is so ridiculously important, I’ve been shocked by the gains I’ve made. I would add side planks, or pulsing leg side planks for glute and hamstring strength, they’ve worked wonders after my physical therapist clued me int to them!
    MegG recently posted..New Goals, New Training CycleMy Profile

  17. This is a fantastic place to start for strength training! Even if we only did this 10 minute workout 4 times a week, it would probably keep many injuries from occurring. If I were to add any others in, it would be specific to the runner- and some chair dips and supermans. Thanks for sharing!!
    Raina recently posted..A Few Favorites and FREE Running SocksMy Profile

  18. These are great Laura! I do all of these but have been focusing more on my glutes and hips since instability here seems to be the main culprit for my injuries. I also do lateral walks with a band, clamshells, single leg deadlifts and split squats/bulgarian squats.
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..A Life Off the MatMy Profile

  19. Great post on strength training! I usually do a pretty good job of doing strength workouts when I am training for a race but I slack off during the in between stage. I’m starting up my training plan again and I’ve been adding in the strength too. The bridge wasn’t in my routine but I’m adding it after reading your post!
    Angie @ A Mother’s Pace recently posted..May 2013 in ReviewMy Profile

  20. I’m the opposite, I prefer strenght training over cardio! Lately my workouts are just down to 3 days a week with working that is all I can fit. So I incorporate cardio with my weight training – circuit style workout with functional exercises. Great round up of exercises!
    Lisa recently posted..Plateau Busting Power WorkoutMy Profile

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  23. I was loving this list until I saw push-up. Ugh. LOL No really, I think it’s a great list! I’m going to save it and share it with my running group.
    jan recently posted..Big Mulch!My Profile

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  26. I love all of these exercises! Okay, I don’t really love lunges but I do them anyway. I’ve even made clients do them the length of the local soccer field. They are good for you! I’m also slacking on the calf raises but only because I have naturally muscular and very sensitive calves.

    Great post! Happy Saturday Sharefest!
    Carli recently posted..Five Ways My Motorola Razr HD Helps Me Run My Fitness BusinessMy Profile

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  30. Love this! I’m incorporating them all for the next month. My plan is to do them at night on the mornings i run.

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  33. I had the same problem, my shin splints flair from like a dull sensation to like a ten when ever I ran, I received physio for it but the best way is to know what actually causes your pain in shins. I started to look for a solution and after some years I decided to collect all what I learned in that years of pain and from the people I helped (I’m a personal trainer). I have started a blog where I write articles about shin splints and other common runner’s injuries, feel free to check it out!
    Gary recently posted..How To Get Rid Of Shin Splints PermanentlyMy Profile

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