Using resistance to improve speed in running

Have you reached a plateau in your running? Many runners find they can keep going for long distances at a specific speed, but struggle to improve their race times or go beyond their current limits. And, if they do try and up the ante, they find themselves getting injured.

Resistance training for runners is one of the most effective ways to improve your running while also reducing the risk of injury. However, many runners neglect strength training – we’re not body builders after all! However, by building some resistance training into running routines, you’ll get some serious benefits.

Benefits of resistance training for runners

Combining resistance training and running can make you a stronger runner who is less prone to injury. Here’s why:

  • Improves your running economy: Multiple studies have shown that runners who add strength training into their routines have shown significant beneficial effects on running economy – meaning you require less oxygen while running at the same pace.
  • Reduces injury risks: Resistance training also makes your muscles stronger – and that means you are less prone to injury.
  • Can correct form problems: Correct running form can be hampered by weak muscles. A weak core, for instance, may mean you struggle to maintain a straight torso with your chest thrust forward – strength training can help.

What are the most effective kinds of resistance training in running?

Many runners will benefit from all-round strength training, targeting all of the different muscle groups. Visiting your gym’s weights and resistance machines and working through a light, full-body workout will pay dividends for your running.

That said, you might want to target the muscles you use most when running – i.e., your quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, glutes and hip flexors. To work these muscles there are various exercises which target the legs in particular. Adding resistance in the form of kettlebells, dumbbells or resistance bands will help with strengthening your legs.

Resistance training for runners: 5 easy workouts

If you want to build some resistance and strength training into your running routine, the following workouts will give you a strong base.

  1. Squats
  2. How squats benefit your running: Squats target your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes.

    How to do squats:

    • Stand with your feet at hip width, with your hands at your sides
    • Gradually bend your knees as if you were sitting, until your thighs are nearly horizontal, and bring your arms up to point straight forward, parallel with your thighs
    • Powerfully push up to stand straight, swinging your arms back to propel you
    • Repeat

    Complete three sets of 10

    How to add resistance: Once you’re comfortable with squats, you can add further resistance by holding a kettlebell to your chest or by holding two small dumbbells above your shoulders.

  3. Kettlebell deadlifts
  4. How kettlebell deadlifts benefit your running: These focus on your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and calves, as well as lower back and core.

    How to do kettlebell deadlifts:

    • Place a kettlebell on the floor between your feet (start with the lightest weight to gauge your strength and avoid injury)
    • With your knees slightly bent, hinge forward at the hips around 45 degrees
    • Grab the kettlebell and grip
    • Ensuring your back is flat and chin tucked in, push into the ground through your feet, hinging your body upwards
    • Repeat

    Complete three sets of 5

    How to add resistance: Gradually increase the weight of the kettlebell. You may also want to try this move with a barbell.

  5. Weighted lunge
  6. How weighted lunges benefit your running: They strengthen glutes and stretch almost all running muscles. How to do a weighted lunge:
    • Hold a dumbbell in each hand (start with the lowest weights to gauge your strength and avoid injury)
    • Step your right foot forward, and bend both knees, so the back knee is facing the ground and the front knee faces forward
    • Push back up with your front leg and repeat, alternating legs each time

    Complete three sets of 10 lunges

    How to add resistance: Gradually increase the weight of the hand weights. You can also use a resistance band.

  7. Long jumps
  8. How long jumps benefit your running: Explosive jumping engages your fast-twitch muscle fibres, helping you add bursts of speed to your running.

    How to do long jumps:

    • Stand with your feet at shoulder width
    • Bend your knees, then burst forward into a jump, swinging your arms to propel you
    • Land on both feet – aim to jump forward at least 1.5 metres

    Complete three sets of 10

    How to add resistance: Use gravity – try jumping upwards onto a plyometric box or a stable step.

  9. Plank
  10. How planks benefit your running:They strengthen your core.

    How to do planks:

    • Place an exercise mat on the floor and get into plank position
    • Bend your arms at the elbow, place them on the ground and extend your feet behind you, holding yourself up on the tips of your feet
    • Engage your leg and core muscles to avoid sagging
    • With your chin parallel to the ground, hold the position for 45 seconds

How to add resistance: Simply increase the amount of time you hold the position.

The great thing about resistance-training running exercises is that you can fit them into your more general running routine. A simple set of strength-training exercises needn’t take more than 20 minutes, which means you can fit them in before or after other running sessions, at home, or at the gym.