It can be difficult for runners who like to get out there and rack up the miles to set aside days of the week for strength training. However, including them in your training plan can make a huge difference in running performance and help reduce potential injuries. Do yourself a favor and add these strength training exercises to your workout plan starting today.

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How beneficial is strength work for runners?

Strength work improves your power and endurance, not just your strength. For women going through menopause, it can also help improve their bone density as it naturally decreases. Runners need to improve their basic ABCs: agility, balance and coordination and there’s no doubt that strength training will do that, helping to make you a more well-rounded athlete and giving you more efficient running technique.

It’s important not to just focus on the obvious – strengthening your leg muscles. A strong core and upper body are just as important. In races or longer runs, when exhaustion sets in, it can lead to the familiar running shot where you lean forward as your shoulders collapse inward, putting immense pressure on your spine and your skeleton. Strength work will improve your leg power and allow you to maintain your desired pace until you reach your finish line.

Strength training for runners: focus on form

Whenever you’re doing strength work, it’s essential to focus on the quality of each movement, rather than trying to hit numbers in one rep. For example, if you’re doing calf raises on the bottom step of a stair, try to make sure your weight is evenly distributed on the ball of your foot and you push all the way to the top of the big toe, while keeping your pelvis stable and your core engaged.

Imagine that there is a Union Jack of different muscles on the front of your torso and you are pulling them all. Be present in the moment during every movement to ensure you are engaging your core and performing the exercise correctly.

If you’re not used to strength training, you tend to think you can’t incorporate it into your other workouts. Beginners can start with very small sets of no more than 10 exercises to allow the body to get used to the work. Look at your workout plan for the week and see where you can fit in one, two or three 10 minute blocks where you try to do one or two moves. Build slowly as your strength improves and your body adapts.

Break down strength work so that you do exercises for different parts of the body on different days, or every other day, for example you can do legs on Monday, core on Wednesday and upper body on Friday. If you can, set aside an extra 10 minutes after a run to focus on strength work before deep stretching. The more routine it becomes, the more you really start to appreciate feeling present in your body, being in touch with your muscles, and how wonderful just lying down can be.

I always tell my athletes to try to find two times in your day to do these exercises. When the kettle boils, you can do squats in the kitchen, or whenever you go up a flight of stairs, whether at home or at work, stop on the bottom step and do calf raises. When you clean your teeth, you have another five-minute window where you can do squats, side lunges, or reverse lunges.

Athletic women in a plank position in a park while listening to music

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best bodybuilding exercise for runners

In depth : how to make planks

A core strength move that can bring massive fitness gains is the plank and all of its variations. This exercise may seem difficult at first, yet you can work on improving it almost every day by adding 10 seconds each time you do it.

Come into your basic plank making sure your lower back is neutral and not arched, your hands are under your shoulders and hold the push-up position. Check that your ankles, knees, hips and up to your neck are aligned, you have a neutral back. You want to aim to engage your abs by pulling your belly button towards your spine and seeing how long you can hold the position.

Create a board to track your progress and get other members of your household involved in the boards. Once your body is used to holding the plank and you feel strong, you can introduce variations such as plank spins, bringing your knees to your elbows (spider plank), side plank, or reverse plank . The beauty of this simple exercise is that it engages many different muscles in the body and is easy to improve.

Don’t ignore your upper body

In your runners’ weight training session, always include upper body and arm exercises.

During runs and longer runs, when the body tires out your strong rear elbow push and the speed of that push, fuels your leg rolling. Feeling strong in your upper body can make the difference, especially on the trails over hilly terrain, when you drive on the elbow it helps you maintain momentum and power.

Upper body strength allows you to keep your shoulders relaxed and high and your core engaged rather than slumping forward. Make your strength training easier by doing bodyweight exercises that require no equipment and can be done almost anytime, anywhere, in small spaces.

Break up your workday by stepping away from the screen regularly and doing five minutes of one or two of the nine essential runner strength exercises below:

Best strength training exercises for runners

1. Front lunge

Make sure your pelvis is tucked in by pulling your pubic bone upwards. When you land on your front heel, drop your hips down. Push your front heel to return to vertical. Keep your chest and shoulders high. Aim for 90 degree angles in both knees.

2. Split Squat

Make sure your pelvis is tucked in by pulling your pubic bone upwards. Keep your chest and shoulders high. Aim for 90 degree angles in both knees. Your back knee should go straight up and down.

3. Reverse Lunge

Stand up straight and do a back lunge aiming for 90 degree angles in both knees. Your front knee should not go past your toes. Keep your chest open and your torso straight. Press forward heel to return to vertical

4. Side lunge

Keep your chest high and look ahead. Step to the side and pull your weight back into a squat (hinging your hips). Keep your toes forward. Try not to lean forward or look down.

5. Hip abduction

Isolate your hips so that only your leg moves as you step out and slightly behind you.

6. Calves

You can use a wall or a chair for more stability. Shoulders back. Make sure your pelvis is tucked in by pulling your pubic bone up and standing up straight. Can do 10 on each leg, or 10 with both legs together.

7. Squat Jumps

Feet a little wider than shoulder width with toes pointing forward. Explode. Imagine pushing your knees outward as you descend into each squat (so they don’t collapse inward).

8. Plank

Make sure you have a neutral spine, with your hips, shoulders, and head aligned (your butt not sticking up or your lower back not arching). Aim to hold for 30 seconds to start, then build up the time.

9. Hip bridge

Lie on the floor, place your hands on your hips to help tilt your pelvis downward (imagine pulling your belly button down). Then slowly lift your buttocks off the floor, one vertebra at a time, until you’re comfortably lying down.