Weight Training for Runners: The Ultimate Guide for 2021

Weight training is not just for gym-goers, competitive weightlifters and those looking to sculpt their physiques. Introducing weight training into your regime can bring dramatic performance gains for all sorts of sportspeople, and that includes runners.

In this guide, we'll explain why running and weight training can produce excellent performance gains and serve up some of the best weight training tips and techniques for runners.

Why is weight training so beneficial to runners?

Weight training for runners can seem counterintuitive. After all, the more muscle you build, the heavier you are and the more weight you have to carry around with you when you run. While that's true, there is a sweet point where weight training and running meet.

Adding an occasional weight training session to your routine, perhaps once or twice a week, will build strength that can help you run faster, improve your running economy and avoid injuries. Weight training programmes for runners are not about aesthetics or increasing your one rep max, they're focused on developing muscle for explosive power and endurance. The muscle gained helps to propel you forward, improves your balance and increases your stride efficiency without weighing you down.

When it comes to weight training for runners, there are three main goals:

  • Injury prevention - Strengthen the muscles and toughen the connective tissues to improve injury resilience.
  • Muscular power - Improve your ability to produce force quickly so you can run faster, maintain your form and finish strongly.
  • Neuromuscular condition - Reinforce the communication pathways between the brain and muscles for better running economy and efficiency.

These gains are backed up by science. One study found that weight training for runners strengthens the muscles and joints to build better form and improve running times. Further research revealed that exercises such as squats and single-leg hops reduce the risk of injury and increase performance.

The amount of miles you'll be putting in every week means that you're very unlikely to see a large increase in muscle mass. Instead, you'll be strengthening and toning what you do have and focusing on areas that could lead to injuries if they are weak.

A basic weight training programme for runners

When it comes to the best gym workouts for runners, the focus should be on compound movement patterns, such as squats, lunges and pull-ups, which work multiple muscle groups. Runners get enough cardio as it is, so opt for relatively heavy weights with a moderate number of repetitions.

And remember, the body serves as a weight itself, so if heading into the weights room feels a bit daunting, focus on bodyweight exercises, such as chin-ups and planks, which are also very effective at building strength.

Here's an example of a basic, full body gym workout for runners:

  • Pull-ups or lat pulldown- 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps
  • Barbell back squats - 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps
  • Overhead dumbbell press - 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps
  • Romanian deadlifts - 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps
  • Front plank - 4 x 1 minute plank with a 30 second rest
  • Side planks - 4 x 1 minute plank with a 30 second rest (both sides)

Weight training tips and techniques for runners

  1. Train your entire body
  2. If improving at running is the main fitness goal you don't need to spend 2 hours in the gym everyday or work on individual body parts. Instead, focus on full body routines that feature compound movements with accessory exercises to compliment your end goal, running.

  3. Avoid doing more cardio
  4. As a runner, it's easy to get drawn into doing more cardiovascular workouts, as that's what you're likely to enjoy the most. However, circuit-based and CrossFit classes that feature strength training could include too much of a metabolic or cardio component for you to achieve your goals. Gym workouts for runners should be more focused on power and strength.

  5. Find the right weight
  6. Remember, you're a runner using weight training to improve your running performance and not a weightlifter who goes for the occasional run. That's why it's important not to get drawn into going too hard and too heavy in the weights room, as that will increase the risk of an injury.

    That being said, you also don't want to go too light. It's best to pick a weight that you can just about lift for 12 reps without going to failure. That's the secret to getting weight training for runners just right.

  7. Use the right equipment
  8. If you're going to be doing regular gym workouts for running performance, then investing in a pair of gym training shoes can be a real game-changer. They provide more of the dependable stability that you'll need when lifting weights and moving from side to side and jumping and landing on the side of your feet.

Take a look at our guide to the differences between running and training shoes and browse the ASICS range of training and gym shoes.