Weight Training to Improve Running Speed

There’s no doubt that practice makes perfect when it comes to running – the more you do, the better you’ll get. That said, this is only part of the picture if you’re truly committing to a running training programme – you’ll benefit from adding in some other kinds of workouts too.

Weight training for runners is an essential part of improving your overall fitness and can also contribute to improving your speed. Runners certainly won’t want to start ‘bulking up’, as too much extra muscle adds weight which can slow you down. Nonetheless, by becoming stronger overall, your running should improve.

Let’s look at the benefits of strength training for runners, before exploring some of the most popular exercises you can build into your routine.

Why weight training for runners is important There are many reasons that runners should build in some strength training into their programme. Benefits of strength training include:

  • Improved coordination and power
  • Reduced risk of injury, thanks to increased strength
  • More power when pushing off
  • Increases your VO2 max
  • Makes your muscles work more efficiently

Essentially, performing at your full potential requires more than just running – you’ll benefit enormously from incorporating other kinds of exercise which will increase your strength, flexibility and balance, making you a more well-rounded runner.

How to start weight training if you’re not experienced It can feel intimidating walking into the weight lifting section of a gym – especially if you’re completely new to using the machines and weights. By and large, most runners needn’t focus on ‘bulking’ in any case, and there are plenty of other areas in most gym, or even at home or outdoors, where you can build strength.

Here’s how to start weight training if you’re not so comfortable diving in on your own:

  • Join classes: Most gyms will offer classes that include low-level weight training among other exercises. The good thing is that these classes will help you build up strength with the help of instructors.
  • Download apps: There are countless strength training apps available which you can download to your phone and follow at the gym.
  • Do it at home or outdoors: Once you know a handful of strength-training exercises, you can often find good-quality, low-cost weights, kettlebells and other gear to help build your strength. And, of course, many strength exercises for runners can be done just using your body weight, without any additional equipment at all.

When should runners do strength training?

Generally speaking, weight training for runners should be done year-round – at least once or twice per week. The aim is to maintain a good level of strength. However, when it comes to racing season, you’ll want to ease off the weightlifting. Many running training plans include at least one weight session every 10 days or so – stick to your training plan in these cases.

5 strength exercises for runners

Try and build some of the following strength-training exercises into your routine at least once or twice per week. If you’re completely new to strength training, choose lighter weights (you need to feel some ‘burn’ but without risking any damage from over-exertion) and gradually build up as you get stronger. Most strength-training programmes focus on doing ‘sets’ of ‘reps’ (repetitions). For example, a beginner might do three sets, each with five reps, of an exercise.

1. Weighted lunge

  • Hold kettlebells or dumbbells of equal weight in each hand and stand up straight, facing forward
  • Step one leg to the front, and bend both knees, so the front knee is upright, and the back knee is facing the ground
  • Push back up with your front leg to standing
  • Change feet and repeat

How it benefits you: Builds propulsive force in your legs

2. Box jumps

  • Face an exercise box or aerobic step
  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart
  • Hinging forward, squat down, and then jump onto the box with both feet
  • Step back and repeat

How it benefits you: These kinds of forceful jumps train your leg muscles to engage faster when racing

3. Dead lifts

  • Stand with a slight bend in your knees, and feet spread just beyond shoulder width
  • Grab onto a dumbbell and hinge down so the dumbbell is just above your ankles
  • Brace yourself and thrust up to standing
  • The movement should come through hinging – not a squat movement

How it benefits you: A stronger, more engaged core is essential for rapid sprinting

4. Reverse fly

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent, with your feet at shoulder width
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them, palms facing one another
  • Hinge your torso forward by about 45 degrees, keeping your torso and back flat
  • Lift your arms out to the sides, so they are in line with your shoulders

How it benefits you: Increases strength in torso and arms, which adds power when running fast

5. Push ups

  • Get into plank position
  • Bend your arms at the elbows while engaging your core
  • Slowly lower yourself so your chin is almost touching the floor
  • Push back up again and repeat

How it benefits you: Strengthens core and chest muscles, which adds power when running fast

By building some strength training for runners into your routine, you’ll increase your all-round fitness and should notice an improvement in your speed too.