Two top running coaches share weight training moves that will improve your speed, efficiency, and prevent injuries.
Weight training can seem counterintuitive to runners: The more muscle you have, the heavier you are, thus the more weight you have to carry around when running. While that’s true, it doesn’t mean you should swear off weight training all together. Adding it to your routine, even one or two times per week, can actually be very beneficial to your training—it can help prevent injuries and help to build up speed.
In fact, runners need weight training even more than you may realise. “Strength work accomplishes three big goals for runners,” says Jason Fitzgerald, USATF-certified running coach, founder of Strength Running in Denver, Colorado. “It prevents injuries by strengthening muscles and connective tissues; it helps you run faster by improving neuromuscular coordination and power; and it improves running economy by encouraging coordination and stride efficiency.”
That all sounds ideal, but it doesn’t make the weight room any less scary. To ease your fears, try changing your view on why you’re weight training and what it can do for you. As a runner, you’re training for strength, not to bulk up with massive muscle gains. And because of the amount of miles you’re putting in weekly, the chances that you’d achieve a large increase in muscle mass are pretty low.
“The stimulus to put on muscle that won’t be beneficial for running is much higher than people realise, and unless you’re either lifting relatively heavy and frequently and/or eating a hyper caloric diet, you’re unlikely to put on muscle,” says Joe Holder, USATF-certified running coach, Nike+ Run Club coach in New York City. “Just think about strength training one to two times a week, focusing on compound movement patterns, such as a lunge or squat, and shoring up the areas that could lead to increased injury if they are weak, like the hips.”
And not all weight training is created equally. “Some strength workouts—like CrossFit WODs or circuit-based fitness classes—include too much of a metabolic or cardio component to be effective at prioritising the main goals for runners, which are strength and power,” Fitzgerald says. Runners get enough cardio, so Fitzgerald recommends focusing on relatively heavy weight for a moderate number of repetitions with full recovery. And don’t forget that your own body serves as weight. So if picking up a barbell or dumbbells is a big stretch for you, ditching the weights and instead adding in bodyweight exercises can still help build strength.
How to use this workout: Below are nine weight training exercises that are the most beneficial for runners according to Holder and Fitzgerald. To build your own workout, you can focus on one area (upper body, lower body, or core) and create a circuit of three moves. Or you can choose one to three moves from each area (upper body, lower body, core) for a total-body routine. Each move is demonstrated by Christi Marraccini, Head GO Coach at NEO U in New York City.
For a quick cheat sheet of moves, scroll to the bottom of this article and pin, share, or screenshot the workout.
Works: chest and core muscles
Start in high plank, wrists under shoulders, core engaged so body forms a straight line from head to toes. Bend at elbows to lower chest to floor then press back up to return to starting position. Keep core tight throughout, don’t let hips dip or lift. Perform 3 sets of 15 reps.
Beginner: use your own body weight
Advanced: add a weighted plate (7.5 – 15 kg) on back
2. Bent Over Row
Works: back and core muscles
Start standing, micro-bend in knees, with two dumbbells in hands, palms facing in. Hinge forward at the hips so arms hang perpendicular to floor. Bend elbows to pull weights up to ribs, drawing shoulder blades back and down. Return to starting position then repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.
Beginners: use your own body weight
Advanced: use 5 – 10 kg dumbbells
3. Reverse Fly
Works: mid-back, posterior shoulder, and rhomboid muscles
Start standing with feet shoulder-width apart and dumbbells in hand. Hinge at the hips so that back is nearly parallel to floor and micro-bend knees. Let the dumbbells hang straight down, palms facing each other. Keeping back flat and torso still, engage back muscles to lift arms straight out to sides until they’re in line with shoulders. Your upper body will form a “T.” Return to starting position then repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.
Beginners: use 2kg dumbbells
Advanced: use 5 – 7.5 kg dumbbells