Female Runner Running Along Trail In The Summer With Trees In The Background

Why Runners Need to Strength Train

BY Fred Ormerod

As a runner, training means improving your speed and stamina over greater distances. But what would you be capable of if you had stronger legs or thicker glutes?

Strength training hasn’t always had the best reputation in the running and endurance sports world. But as we learn more about the physical requirements required to run, it’s apparent that strength training offers runners major benefits when it comes to both performance and injury prevention. 

In this article, we take a deep dive into the muscles used in runners, the specific benefits of strength training for runners, which exercises you should focus on, and how to start incorporating strength work into your weekly running program.

Anatomy Refresher

While running is primarily lower-body dominant, it’s important to remember that running is still a full-body movement. It engages your entire posterior chain and core and requires a good amount of balance and coordination. Here’s a quick look at some of those muscles in more detail.

The muscles in your quads — including the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris — are involved in extending your knee and flexing your leg at the hip.

Your hamstring muscles – the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus – flex your knee and support it throughout the entire running motion.

All of the muscles in your glutes — the gluteus maximus, minimus, medius, and — piriformis support your hips and assist in applying force to the ground, propelling you forward.

Your calf muscles — the gastrocnemius, soleus, and tibialis anterior — are responsible for flexing and extending your foot at the ankle.

Of course, we can’t forget the core muscles. Your diaphragm, spinal erectors, obliques, rectus abdominis, and transverse abdominis are all heavily involved when running. They help you breathe, stay upright, and stabilize your trunk.

Why Runners Need Strength Work

More Force = Longer, Faster Strides

Using slow-motion video, scientists have seen that the speed at which “normal” and “athletic” people take a step while running is roughly similar. Where faster runners excel — apart from having the necessary aerobic capacity to complete their race — is in the force they can apply to the ground during each step. 

With each step, an Olympic sprinter applies roughly 450kg of force to the ground. Mere mortals apply just 180-280kg of force when running. Since the force applied is greater, the stronger athlete’s stride is longer but takes roughly the same time. Hence, they run faster.

Improved Technique

Running technique is often overlooked in conventional training settings. A good runner leans forward, keeping their ankles, knees, hips and torso in line. Their muscles apply force to the ground to propel them forward. 

Mitigating imbalances is important for improving running technique. If a runner’s knees cave in, they might fix it by strengthening their abductors and adductors for better stability. The extent of these improvements doesn’t need to be massive to see benefits.

Injury Prevention

There is no doubt that running can be taxing on the body. Up to 50% of runners experience knee pain, while up to 32% of runners experience lower leg pain, and 38% deal with upper leg pain. Common injuries include runner’s knee (patella femoral syndrome), shin splints, hamstring pulls, and Achilles tendonitis.

When the stress level applied to your tendons exceeds the tensile strength of your tendon, you are at risk of injury. Strength training helps mitigate this issue and allows you to gradually increase the intensity of your runs. 

Check out this article for more information on how strength training can bulletproof your tendons and ligaments: How to Strengthen Tendons and Ligaments With Strength Training

Strength Exercises All Runners Should Do

If you’re convinced that strength training will benefit your running, but you’re not sure where to start, here is a list of exercises that will improve your running power and bulletproof your knees and hips.


The ultimate lower body builder, weighted squats can reduce your risk of injury and boost your sprinting power by strengthening your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. They also help develop upper trunk and core strength with efficient bracing and shoulder tension.


These are a MUST to include in any running program. High-volume lunges build muscular endurance, while heavy loads build unilateral strength. Work on those imbalances and get your glutes strong with weighted lunges. 


Again, calf raises are useful to help build muscular endurance and avoid injuries. Strong calves are an important muscle group in controlling what is known as the Windlass mechanism, as the foot contracts to propel athletes forward fast.


Exercises that include rotation are important since running induces minor rotations in the body that might lead to injury without proper training. Key areas to consider here are torque at the knees, hips and in the lower trunk. Exercises to target these areas might include leg extensions, hip adduction/abduction and press/cable chops to strengthen the core through rotation movements. Back extensions or deadlifts can also be incorporated to help support the lower back.


These might seem scary at first, but they’re a great exercise to eccentrically load the hamstrings at both ends (knee and hip). Research suggests that incorporating as few as eight effective reps per week might help in supporting healthy hamstrings.


Developing strong glutes helps athletes apply the most force to the floor while propelling themselves forward. That’s exactly what you’re doing when loading your hips during hip thrusts. The fastest Olympic sprinters have well-developed glute muscles.  


Olympic lifts are an awesome way to increase your strength and power. For those starting out in strength training, they may seem a little advanced, but breaking them down into smaller components can be just as effective at increasing your power. Examples include mid-thigh pulls, clean high pulls, and jump shrugs.


Going along with the theme of producing force off the ground, plyometrics (not to be confused with ballistic training, like box jumps or Olympic lifts) incorporate training where contact time (or intended contact time) doesn’t exceed 250 milliseconds. This helps to condition a runner’s tendons for multiple impacts. Be careful with this one, as you need to have a reasonable level of strength to avoid training injuries.

This post originally appeared on TrainHeroic and has been adapted for TrainingPeaks.


Dequine, D. (2022, September 4).The 5 Biomechanical Reasons Runners Have Knee Pain. Retrieved from https://www.freedompttc.com/post/the-5-biomechanical-reasons-runners-have-knee-pain

Payne, C. (2013, April 2).The Windlass Mechanism of the Foot. Retrieved from http://www.runresearchjunkie.com/the-windlass-mechanism-foot/

Walker, J. (2019, December 17).Ground Forces Of Jumping & Running. Retrieved from http://www.aecreatingelite.com/blog/2019/12/17/ground-forces-of-jumping-amp-running

Image Of A Runner Using The Trainingpeaks App To Train

Start Your Free Account

TrainingPeaks App

TrainingPeaks offers the world’s most powerful training app, allowing you to plan, track, and analyze your training all in one place. Connect your free trial account with your favorite apps and devices for real-time workout guidance and watch your fitness progress with powerful data tools.

Fred Ormerod
About Fred Ormerod

Fred Ormerod is a freelance coach, Army Reserve medic, nurse, master’s student, and massage therapist. He has a decade of experience working in healthcare and five years of coaching in one of Edinburgh’s leading training facilities. He sells training plans on the TrainHeroic Marketplace and regularly contributes to the Training Lab Blog.

Visit Fred Ormerod's Coach Profile

Related Articles