Strength training for runners in 2021

I’m going to tag the date on this because our knowledge changes and I’ll probably post an update every once in a while. Hopefully, more than once every 20 years.

I’ve been having discussions with a few runners on strength training recently and I’ve realized that my very old post about strength training, while not entirely invalid, is outdated. Of course, I wrote that somewhere around 20 years ago so what should we expect?

So it’s time for an update. Is strength training good for our running and, if so, what should we do?

The answers are yes and it depends.

Strength training is good

The first thing I will be very clear about is that strength training in some form is most definitely good for runners. I thought I made that clear in my prior post but all the complaints I got suggested either people didn’t read the whole way through or I did a poor job of explaining my position.

So let me be clear: strength training is good. Done properly, it can make you a more efficient runner and lower your injury risk. As for concerns that you’ll put on unnecessary weight, they aren’t completely unfounded but, as a runner, this risk is pretty low.

But what kind of strength training?

This is a much more difficult question to answer. High weight, low reps is getting a lot of praise right now. “Olympic” lifts (think of lifts that require more than one joint to be moving and more than one muscle group to work in tandem) are also getting a lot of attention.

But are you prepared to do these exercises? My starting point when trying to answer what kind of strength training should be done involves two questions.

What are you prepared to do?

Let’s be honest. Many runners aren’t all that strong. Lifting heavy weight can lead to problems. For most runners, this means I prefer to start with just using your body weight as resistance. Learn first how to handle your body weight with good form and then you can add external resistance if you want. Which leads to…

What are you willing to do?

Are you going to consistently keep up your strength training if you’re doing heavy resistance with complex movements? Most runners won’t. They might do it for a few weeks but it will become a pain, probably an inconvenience, and they won’t keep it going.

I’d much rather see you just do body weight exercises but stick to it for months and years than get extravagant and end up quitting on the routine because it’s too difficult, doesn’t feel fulfilling to you, and is inconvenient.

If you will stick to a routine of heavy lifts with complex movements, then by all means do so. However, I’m just trying to be a realist. Most of us won’t stick to that kind of routine.

Sure, professional runners should likely be doing a different routine than I might suggest for most of us but, if you’re reading this, I’m going to guess that you’re not a professional runner. Most of us would be best served with a routine that is convenient, easy to do anywhere, and doesn’t have us straining so hard that we do it with bad posture, which could cause us to hurt ourselves.

Given this, I suggest most runners consider exercises like:
Heel Raises
Push ups
Pull ups (if you have a bar)
Body weight squats
Other body weight exercises that meet your specific needs

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