Strength Training: How & Why for Endurance Runners

For a lot of runners, the idea of weight lifting or strength training doesn’t come immediately to mind as part of their training regimen. To most, it’s the run that is essential. Everything else? Take it or leave it. I can just stretch and run and that’s enough.

Not so.

For serious endurance runners, strength training is absolutely essential. There are two big reasons that strength training matters for runners:

  1. Strength training prevents injuries.
  2. Strength training makes you faster.

It’s so valuable that runners supplement their running routine with some time at the gym lifting. It makes you faster, stronger, and more resilient. If you find yourself getting injured often or hitting a wall with your run times, it could be especially valuable for you to hit the gym.

Even better is that for those of us who are specifically endurance runners, building muscle is particularly helpful for the “endurance” part. It allows us to build our anaerobic power so that we can maintain higher intensities for longer—perfect for beating those coveted Ironman Triathlons! Increased muscle strength also means we expend less energy when running: so kiss those worries about giving out during the last leg goodbye. You’re building endurance on top of being able to sustain higher intensities. 

So that said, what are the best strength-training tips for endurance runners?


5 Strength Training Guidelines for Endurance Runners

1) Lift all year, but prioritize running during race season.

For your strength training to be effective, you’ve got to make it a regular part of your routine. That means hitting the gym at least twice a week to really focus on lifting and building your strength. What you want to do is build up your muscle strength off-season so that when races roll around, you can let strength-training take a backseat to running. You don’t eliminate it, but you do cut back in order to focus on your times and running intensity.

2) Focus on form.

The absolute and most important thing about strength training of any kind—whether you’re on a machine, doing free weights or any other kind of lifting, even if it’s just your own body weight—is form. If you’re not practicing the right forms, you will inevitably injure yourself. If you’re not breathing correctly, you won’t get the most effective workout either. 

The best thing you can do when just starting out is to consult with a professional. Speak with a trainer and develop a routine to start with. Go through the correct forms together to ensure that you won’t injure yourself and ease into your training. There is no need to rush or start lifting more than you can handle.

3) Lift with the whole leg in mind.

Obviously, a runner isn’t going to be focusing on bicep curls. You’re going to want to be working those legs! But when we think about our musculature, our legs are more than hamstrings and quads. Because muscles are interconnected, our workout should include hips, glutes, core, lower back, and upper back at the very least. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges are going to offer a lot more to improve your running than other more isolated exercises. 

4) Practice plyometrics. 

Plyometrics are explosive training exercises that rely on your body weight. Also called “jump training,” they include just that: jumping, skipping, and leaping. They help with muscle extension and elasticity, particularly in the lower body. For runners, this is particularly helpful when it comes to pushing off of the pavement and handling the impact of the foot on the ground.

5) Challenge yourself.

When it comes to strength training, we all have to start slow and grow into it. However, it’s also vital that we challenge ourselves. We’re not going to get better at lifting, running, or any physical activity if we don’t push ourselves to the next level. That means increasing the physical weight that we’re lifting when it’s appropriate, doing the right number of reps for any given exercise, and challenging ourselves. It’s devoting time to it.

For endurance runners, we have to place value on strength training not as a garnish, but as part of the main course. It’s valuable. It’s vital. If we want to be the very best runners we can be, it’s something that has to take priority.