Male Runner Athlete In The Gym Doing Strength Training With A Hex Bar Deadlift

Strength Training Tips for Runners

BY Rachel Tomajczyk

Not sure what exercises to do? Struggling to find motivation? Don't know why you need to be lifting weights in the first place? This one is for you.

“I’m a runner, why would I need to strength train?” is a thought that probably crosses every runner’s mind at some point. We love running freely outside with the wind whisking through our hair, not being trapped in a musty gym lifting weights.

I get it. It’s hard to find the motivation to go to the gym when you’re tired from putting in the miles, but the reality is that strength training will make you stronger, faster, and significantly more resilient. It increases your power (which means more speed on the track, power on uphills, and a stronger kick at the finish of any race), increases bone density (goodbye stress fractures!), and strengthens small ancillary muscles (improving your balance, form, and stride).

Basically, strength training allows you to do more of what you love (running!) better, faster, stronger, and without as much risk of injury. So what’s holding you back? For many runners, it’s finding the time and motivation, and not knowing what exercises to do. If this sounds at all like you, keep reading!

When Should You Strength Train?

Finding the time is a common barrier for runners when it comes to strength training. But just two to three 30-minute sessions a week is enough to see the benefits. I like to structure strength training on workout days (speed days and long run days). That way, hard training days are hard, and recovery days can stay easy to give your body the rest it needs. 

For example, if you have a speed workout on Tuesday and a hard, long run on Saturday, the best time to lift would be Tuesday and Saturday after your run. You could either lift right after you run (as long as you have a snack with carbs and protein in it right when you finish your run), or you could wait a few hours, refuel, and hit the gym later in the afternoon or evening.

Important Note: Adding more volume (whether it’s mileage or in the gym) to your training means you also need to add more fuel. To make sure you’re fueling adequately, check out this blog: How to Fuel Your Strength Workouts: Triathlon Edition. Although it’s targeted at triathletes, it applies to all endurance athletes.

Learn to Love the Gym

If strength training isn’t fun for you, chances are you’re less likely to do it. Here are a few tips to make it more fun and hold yourself accountable.

Strength (Literally) in Numbers

Team up with a friend and hit the gym together! This gives you a sense of community and accountability in training. Joining a class at your local gym is also a great way to pair community and fun with strength training. These classes may not be specifically targeted at runners, but if a class gets you to the gym and gives you a full-body strength training experience, it will still benefit your running. 

Music is Your Friend

Make a 30-minute playlist with some of your favorite songs and jam out while you train. Or, you could find a podcast that comes out once a week and promise yourself that you’ll only listen to it while you strength train. 

Set Up a Reward System

Bribing is a great tool to use for training pets, and turns out it works great on humans, too. Look up a recipe or find somewhere with a great protein smoothie that you only drink after you strength train. Use this tasty reward as something to look forward to after you hit the gym. 

Gamify Your Goals

Make gym goals for yourself just like you do with running, and celebrate hitting big benchmarks. Whether your goal is to just make it to the gym a couple of times a week or hit a specific number on an exercise, setting goals is a great way to see progress and stay motivated.

Great Strength Exercises for Runners

Now that I’ve (hopefully) convinced you to hit the weights, you’re probably wondering where to start. Here are a few of my favorite strength exercises specifically for runners. I typically do 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps for 6-8 exercises per session. If the reps are higher, I use lighter weights. If I decrease reps, I’ll increase weight. I typically finish a set feeling like I could do three to four more reps. 

Remember, good form is much more important than the amount of weight you’re lifting. I’m still pushing myself, and I may be sore 1-2 days after, but this allows me to get stronger while also leaving enough energy for recovery, mileage, and running workouts. If you’re really unsure of where to start, connecting with a coach is in your best interest. 


This exercise targets the glute medius. Add in a band for a challenge, or include this exercise in your warm-up to “turn on” your glutes before you start. 


Squats are great for your glutes and abs, two giant muscle groups that keep you balanced and running efficiently. Runners are notorious for not using their glutes when they run, which causes gait inefficiencies. Your glutes are the most powerful muscles in your lower body, so using them instead of your quads/hamstrings can decrease quad/hamstring-related injuries and increase your running economy.  

Squats also encourage your body/brain connection to turn on the glutes and “remember” that connection when you run. If you don’t have access to a squat machine or smith machine, don’t fret! Using a kettlebell for goblet squats or using free weights are great ways to get more core engagement.

For a list of squat variations that don’t require a barbell, check out the moves in this article: 5 Squat Alternatives That Don’t Use a Barbell

Hex Bar Deadlifts 

This lift is especially beneficial for runners because it translates directly to speed and power. It also distributes the weight evenly around you, so there’s less of a chance for lower back injuries. This exercise is similar to squats in that it engages your glutes and core, too.

Calf Raises

Many lower leg/foot injuries can be attributed to weak calves, so strengthening these muscles can keep injuries like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and peroneal tendonitis at bay. To hit different muscles in your calves, switch between a normal straight-leg calf raise (targeting the gastrocnemius calf muscle), a bent knee calf raise (targeting the soleus muscle), and a calf raise with your foot turned in toward your body or out away from your body (targeting the lateral and medial muscles in your lower legs).

Lunges (and Side Lunges)

Similar to squats and deadlifts, lunges strengthen and “turn on” your glutes. This is a good exercise to notice any imbalances, too. If you’re more balanced on one side than the other, you’ll be able to address the issue before it causes an injury.

RDLs/Single Leg RDLs

This exercise targets the hamstrings, and the single-leg version is a great way to practice balance. If you’ve suffered from hamstring injuries, heavy RDLs help prevent injuries like hamstring tendonitis from popping up.

If this isn’t enough to convince you to do RDLs, give this article a read: Why Sport-Specific Athletes Should Train RDLs

Quad Extension Machine

If you’re a trail runner or you’re doing a hilly marathon like Boston or New York, strong quads are essential. Make sure you hit this exercise every week (or wall sits and front squats, which target the quads as well). Having strong quads also prevents knee injuries like patellar tendonitis and runner’s knee, so this is a good one if you struggle with these types of injuries.

Nordic Hamstring Curls

This is an eccentric hamstring exercise that I’ve personally found to decrease the likelihood of hamstring injuries. You need a partner or something holding your legs down for this exercise.  If you don’t have a partner or equipment, you can do this on the hamstring machine and lower the weight slowly to a count of eight.

You can find a more in-depth guide as well as some variations in this article: Nordic Hamstring Curls for Dummies

Pull Ups, Push Ups, Military Press, and Rows 

Runners tend to neglect their upper bodies despite running being a full-body movement. Imbalances in the upper body can translate to lower body imbalances over time. If you’re strong up top, your body can work more efficiently overall.

You’re all ready to hit the gym! I hope these strength training tips make you stronger, faster, less injured, and able to achieve all your running goals. Keep dreaming big for yourself!

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Run Free Coach Rachel Tomajczyk
About Rachel Tomajczyk

Rachel Tomajczyk is a professional runner and Run Free coach. She started coaching after receiving her Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Baylor University. She now has six years of coaching experience with athletes ranging from high school cross country and track, to NCAA D1 athletes, to marathon and ultra runners. In her own running career, she is a six-time NCAA D1 All-American and an Olympic Trials Qualifier. She now races on the trails and has represented Team USA at the World Trail and Mountain Running Championship in 2022 and 2023, where she helped Team USA to a team gold and team bronze medal. Follow her on Instagram @rachrunsworld.

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