Strength training for distance runners is a non-negotiable part of building endurance. Your maximum distance is all determined by your strength and cardio capacity—and running alone doesn’t build sufficient endurance to take you the distance.
Runners are usually resistant to anything that takes them away from getting in the miles, and that includes strength training. We’re here to show you how three of our favorite workouts can actually benefit your running and how easily you can incorporate them into your training plan. From injury prevention to increased speed to building endurance, strength training for distance runners is a worthy practice.
Below, we’ll walk you through the best workouts for long-distance runners and weight training routines you can incorporate into your weekly schedule.
Strength Training for Distance Runners
The following videos will walk you through three short and focused workouts featuring our favorite nine movements. You’ll see a lower-body focus, a dedicated core workout, and a quick full-body workout. Experiment with adding in one workout per week until you’ve gone through all three, then see if you can challenge yourself to add in two per week.
Be sure to save these workouts for your cross-training days, or add them to the end of a shorter run. Preserve your rest days, and avoid adding them on to your weekend long run so you’re not overtraining.
All but one of the nine strength exercises use your bodyweight only, so you can use these strength workouts no matter your fitness level or location. Take them to the park for an extra dose of fresh air or do them in your living room for the ultimate practicality.
Running Strength Training: Lower Body Blast
Workout #1: Squat, Single-Leg Balance, Lunge
This lower-body strength routine will provide great benefits for your running performance. You’ll challenge your mobility and range of motion, your stability, balance, as well as your power output.
A squat is an ideal movement for finding mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles. The demand on those joints as you sink into the bottom position can help undo the impact and tightness that can creep in after putting in the miles. Whether you get in your squats during a quick workout or as a posture reset exercise mid-run, they can improve your leg strength and explosiveness of the hips.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders, with your knees and ankles stacked on top of each other
- As you lower, focus on pressing the knees out, sitting your hips back, and keeping your back straight
- At the bottom of the squat, keep pressing your knees out and try to keep your toes pointing forward
- Your upper body should stay upright, avoiding rounding forward. If this happens, try sitting back onto your heels a bit more, and don’t sink quite as low
- When standing back up, push through the heels to rise back up
This exercise improves hamstring & glute strength, core control and improves the range of motion in your hips. These benefits help you maintain your stride at any level of fatigue, even on a long-distance run. Not to mention the benefits to your stability on the run, especially for trail runners.
- Stand on your right leg with left leg bent and your foot a few inches off the ground
- Focus on keeping your hips in straight alignment, parallel to the ground by engaging the hip and glute your right leg
- The fun part: challenge your proprioception! Take your gaze in various directions–perhaps finishing by closing your eyes and seeing if you can maintain your balance.
- Switch legs and repeat
This reliable exercise works to improve your power output as a runner, especially if you take it to the tougher level by performing jumping lunges. Each rep will recruit power from your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps. Basically, your whole lower body will feel the demand.
- Start by standing tall with shoulders over hips, hips over knees, knees over ankles.
- Take a big step back with one leg, foot up on the toes, and lightly bend the front leg
- Lower your back knee toward the ground, then press through the front heel to return to standing
- Switch legs
- After a few reps of this, replace the step back to two feet with an explosive jump (press through the heel of your front lunge leg). If you’re not ready for the jumping variation yet, stick with stepping back
- Use the jump to switch from one lunge to the other. Find your balance in the new lunge position before jumping again to switch sides
Complete each movement for 30 seconds, resting for 15 seconds between movements (because they’re tough!) Perform five rounds of the circuit.
- 30 seconds squats
- 15 seconds rest
- 30 seconds per leg in single-leg balance
- 15 seconds rest
- 30 seconds lunges or jumping lunges, alternating legs
- 15 seconds rest
Best Workout for Long-Distance Runners
Workout #2: Core Workout: Reverse Plank, Single Arm Plank, Side Plank
No matter the distance you like to run, developing stability in the core will not only help support your upper body and a tall posture on the run, but will also help keep your hips stable with optimal posture and positioning. A core that stays engaged during a run will also help avoid lower back pain, which is a common complaint among distance runners.
This version of a plank will challenge your shoulder mobility, wrist flexibility, and your glute and hamstring engagement as you lift yourself up. Your hip flexors will also get a good stretch as you bridge up.
- Start seated with your legs extended and hands flat on the ground by your hips
- Your fingers should face forward, toward your feet
- Push your hips up to the air, flexing your quads and your toes to stay strong in position
- Lower your hips to rest, then lift again for the next rep
By taking this plank to a single-arm, you’ll feel extra challenge in your core and hips to not shift side to side. By resisting the rotation you’ll feel your core and obliques firing strongly.
If this variation is too challenging, no problem. Stick with a regular plank and slowly work up to lifting one hand off the floor one inch, two inches, and so on until you can bring your hand up fully.
- The starting position should look like a push-up, with your arms directly under your shoulders, back straight, and toes propped on the ground
- Positioning your feet farther apart will add stability while bringing them closer together will add difficulty
- Once you feel secure, slowly lift your right arm off the ground, avoiding rotating through the shoulders or hips
- Bring the arm around to your lower back
- Lower your arm and switch to the left side
Challenge your obliques and hips in this variation. Pay attention to your positioning and avoid tipping forward or backward. Squeeze the glute of your lower leg to stay strong and avoid your hips dropping to the ground.
- Start off seated with your upper body propped up on your arm
- Extend your legs out so your body forms a straight line
- With your hand on the ground directly under your shoulder, lift your hips off the ground so your body forms a 45-degree angle to the ground
- Lower your hips back to the ground to switch sides
Complete each movement for 30 seconds, performing three to five rounds of the circuit. Give yourself about 10 seconds to transition between moves if you’re setting a timer for yourself.
- 30 seconds reverse plank
- 15 seconds per arm in single-arm plank (30 seconds total)
- 30 seconds per side planks
- 30 seconds rest
Running Strength Training: Full-Body Strength Workout
Workout #3: Kettlebell Swing, Lunge, Push Up
Last up are some of our favorite moves for a quick full-body workout. You’ll see a dynamic full-body movement as well as an exercise for each of the lower and upper body.
The posterior chain—the back, glutes, and hamstrings—will be the focus of the kettlebell swing. You’ll also practice some power production with the explosive nature of this movement.
- With a light to medium weight kettlebell (18-26 pounds), set up with the kettlebell on the ground a foot or two in front of you, feet shoulder-width apart
- Hinge at the hips to bend over and grab the kettlebell handle
- Hike the kettlebell back so it swings between your legs
- As the kettlebell swings back to the front, snap your hips forward to help bring up the bell
- With your shoulders back and core tight, allow the kettlebell to “float” up to about eye level
- Control the descent of the bell as it swings back down, repeating the sequence of hinging back and snapping the kettlebell back up
Just as we saw in the lower body workout, the lunge is a fantastic movement to build strength, challenge stability, and engage the glutes. Here we won’t be using jumping lunges, but you can up the challenge by adding weight to the movement if you’re ready.
- Start by standing nice and tall, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, knees over ankles.
- Take a big step forward with one leg, lightly bend the front leg
- Lower your body toward the ground, keeping your front shin vertical
- Press through the front heel to bring your legs back
- Switch legs and repeat
Perhaps the most classic exercise, the push-up is a must-do for any strength training program, including one for runners. By keeping your elbows close to the body during the movement, you’ll be mimicking your running arm swing. You’ll also be strengthening your shoulders and upper back, as well as getting in an extra dose of core training.
- Start from a plank position, shoulders directly over wrists, butt squeezed, hips parallel to the ground
- Remember to keep your head and neck in line with your spine
- With your elbows tucked close to your sides, slowly lower your body to the ground
- Push back up through the hands to raise your body back to the starting position
- If the line of your body “breaks” by your hips dropping, scale back by keeping your knees on the ground to rise back up, then lower from your toes on the next rep
Perform each movement consecutively for 20 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Complete five rounds of the circuit, adding on or scaling back depending on your fitness level. Remember we’re going for quality, not quantity!
- 20 seconds of kettlebell swings
- 20 seconds of lunges
- 20 seconds of pushups
- 20 seconds of rest
Start Strength Training, Regardless of the Distance
Strength training for distance runners is a critical component of training, but it’s also important for other distances, too. Track athletes need sufficient lower body and core strength to propel them at faster speeds.
Just look at Usain Bolt, and I’ll let you answer the question: Does he do strength training?
For even more strength training and ready-to-go workouts, be sure to download The Run Experience app!