Strength Training for Runners

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marathonThe single most neglected part of an endurance athlete’s training routine is functional strength training. Running up hills, stairs, bleachers, etc. are no brainers. When I prescribe it as a workout it is typically one of my least missed workouts. Athletes love to push and hurt. Endorphins and pain. Go figure.
For performance purposes, hill repeats and the like are great at building the engine and the horsepower. The problem is that you still deal with impact and often more recovery. Functional strength training will allow you to train more often, with faster recovery and more impressive performance results. Functional strength training, in the traditional definition, is the practice of motion against resistance, with an objective of improving a participant’s ability to perform a specific athletic activity. Essentially working on strength based on the movements you hope to perform. 400 lb deep knee squats will give you strength but will it help your run as much as a lunge? Bench flys are great at building your pecs, but how will that help your swim?
Many of us that come from an athletic background have spent time in the gym with old school coaches that want basic strength training that was used in the 50’s. They have never heard of the stability ball, Bosu ball or planks. This isn’t necessarily bad, but there is often better out there. There is no need to do strength training essential for football, for example, to enhance your swim.
For the run, exercises should center around the following: Hamstrings, Glutes, Pelvic Girdle and general core strength. We shouldn’t neglect shoulders as well, since they are involved with the swing, but it isn’t the “priority” of the others.
One of the best tools that every endurance athlete should own is the yoga ball or stability ball. This training tool is the most versatile and most effective piece for functional strength training as it relates to bang for the buck. Here is a great site (
to see many of the movements available for the stability ball. The exercises look easy, but you will be surprised how hard they actually are. Always start with a lower number of repetitions to do the movement correctly. The more you do the “right way” the better it is for you. 10 perfect reps beats 30 poorly executed reps.
So what about gym pieces? Spend more of your time doing squats with body weight or light dumbbells. To add to the stability side of your training, you can introduce a Bosu ball, one legged squats and lunges. Look to do lunges at different angles. Forward, backward, side and at a 45 degree angle. Always keep your chest up, head and eyes facing forward and your toes pointing forward parallel to one another. This will also help you strengthen your muscles in the correct position from a technique standpoint.
If you don’t have a gym, how about basic hip exercises. This video ( is one of my favorites, and I send it to many of my clients that struggle with poor posture at the end of a race, or have hip imbalances. They don’t look cool but they do work.
During the off season, if you have never done strength training, start with 2 times a week, 30 minutes. Do each movement 30 seconds and rest. As you feel more comfortable add a third time a week and increase the time. Mix up the routine through a different combination of movements, but make sure that you address hips, hamstrings, glutes, calves and core in each workout. Make sure to always warm up the muscles with 10-15 minutes of light cardio and always stretch or “roll” out afterward. As you get better, you will be able to do the reps more continuously (not necessarily faster) with less rest in between. You will see your training quality, speed and endurance increase dramatically in a short time with this added to your routine.

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