Guest Post: 4 Essential Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Hello, friends!

Matt and I are currently on our way to Puerto Rico for spring break! I’ll be blogging all week so you guys can share in the fun, but for now I have a guest post about leg strength training for runners!


I thought this topic was very timely considering a lot of us are currently training for spring race season, and strength training is a very important part of any running training plan. Enjoy!

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Guest Post: Strength Training for Runners

by: Mike, the author of Bright ‘N Fit

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Weight training has several benefits for long distance runners. By strengthening the muscles of your legs, you will improve your muscular endurance and decrease your running times. With each stride you take, you will be able to cover more ground while using less energy, enabling you to run faster for longer distances. In addition to making you a more efficient runner, strength training is also a great form of cross-training; it provides you with the variety you may need and be looking for.


The Major Muscles Of Your Legs

Without getting too scientific, the four major muscles in your legs are the quadriceps (or quads), hamstrings (or hammies), gluteus maximus (or butt), and calves.

  • The primary function of the quads is to extend (or straighten) the knees.
  • The primary functions of the hamstrings are to bring the heels to the butt and extend (or straighten) the hips.
  • The primary function of the gluteus maximus is to extend the hips.
  • The primary function of the calves is to raise the heels.

It is important to create and maintain a strength balance between all four major muscles to decrease your risk of injury and make you as fast as possible.


Four Essential Strength Training Exercises For Runners

The following leg workout routine includes four very effective and basic exercises that will strengthen all of the muscles in your legs without making you "bulky," your legs feel heavy, your legs too big, etc.

A. Dumbbell Goblet Squat:

  • Hold one dumbbell firmly against your upper chest with your hands supporting the bottom of one end of it (like you are drinking out of a goblet) for the entire movement. Look straight ahead.
  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, your toes pointed out about 30 degrees, and your knees slightly bent.
  • Take a big breath, raise your chest, and squat down and back between your legs by forcing your knees out to the sides with your elbows and keeping your torso as vertical as possible. Squat down to the point where your upper thighs are slightly below your knees.
  • Drive your heels into the floor and continue to force your knees out the sides as you squat back up to the starting position.

      Perform 3 sets of 12 reps (3×12). (Image source)

B. Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift:

  • Hold two dumbbells against the front of your thighs with your arms straight. Look straight ahead.
  • Stand with your feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart, your toes pointed straight ahead, and your knees slightly bent.
  • Take a big breath, raise your chest, and slowly push your hips and butt back behind you as far as possible without rounding your back by arching your lower back. As you do this, lower the dumbbells against your legs until they reach about mid-shin level. (You should feel a major stretch in your hamstrings).
  • Squeeze your butt and drive your hips forward to the starting position. As you do this, raise the dumbbells against your legs back to the starting position.

      Perform 3 sets of 12 reps (3×12). (Image source)

C. Dumbbell Forward Lunges:

  • Hold two dumbbells against your sides with your arms straight. Look straight ahead.
  • Stand with your feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart, your toes pointed straight ahead, and your knees slightly bent.
  • Take a giant step forward with your right or left leg and land on the heel of your right or left foot. Keep your torso as vertical as possible and keep your knee in line with your toe.
  • Powerfully push off the heel of your right or left foot (whichever foot you stepped forward with) to propel your body back to the starting position.
  • Repeat with the opposite leg. Alternate between lunging with your right and left legs.

      Perform 3 sets of 15 reps for each leg (3×15, each leg). (Image source)

D. Single-leg Glute Bridge:

  • Lie with your back flat on the ground, with one of your legs pointed straight ahead and your other leg bent with your heel pressed into the ground by your butt. Keep your arms at your sides.
  • Raise your butt off the ground as high as possible by driving your heel into the ground and squeezing your butt.

      Perform 3 sets of 15 reps for each leg (3×15, each leg). (Image source)

Incorporate this leg strengthening workout routine into your running program at least once a week. To continue improving the endurance of and strengthening your legs, either increase the amount of weight (by 3-10 total pounds) or increase the number of reps (by 1-5 reps) for each exercise.

Bright ‘N Fit is a website, blog, and online community dedicated to improving the health and fitness of college students. They provide college men and women with free fitness programs, training strategies, exercise descriptions, and nutrition tips.

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Thanks, Mike! I hope you all will find these strength moves helpful, whether you’re a runner or not. Do you guys normally strength train? How frequently? I’ve been trying to strength train at least once or twice a week, especially since I’m training for my half marathon and I know it’s really important to keep up the strength in my legs!

Catch you guys later from Puerto Rico! :)


  1. 1

    I’m definitely going to try and incorporate these moves into my routine! I’ve been wondering what is the best way to go about strength training my legs even though they get a lot of training from runner. Thanks!

  2. 2

    I’m always looking for new strength moves! I usually strength train once and do yoga once or twice a week. My favorite core power yoga is definitely strengthening my legs!

  3. 3

    I’ve found that the most beneficial exercise for me has been leg extensions. I dislocated my patella seven years ago, and I swear that it cuts any exercise discomfort down SO much. My dad is an orthopedic, and has always told me to be really careful about doing too many squats and lunges though- he’s seen many injuries on women especially who overexert their knees while trying to tone their butts (which I have to say is kind of funny)!

  4. 4

    AWESOME guest post! I’m training for a marathon and know that strength is important, but never knew exactly what to do! Thanks!

  5. 5

    Great post! These exercises will definitely help my marathon training!!

  6. 6

    Nice post, I especially appreciated the bit o’anatomy in there!

  7. 7

    Great post! I am going to try these tonight at the gym, thanks!

  8. 8

    Great post! And the important thing to remember is to DO these exercise BEFORE you get a runner’s injury. Take it from someone who didn’t and regrets it. :(

  9. 10

    I noticed a HUGE improvement in my running when I started doing lunges regularly. They give me so much more power when I need it. You should join the 300 lunge club that we are doing right now! 300 lunges a week for 3 months.

    Have a great trip!!

    • 11

      I agree – lunges rock! I would totally join the lunge club, but I jacked up my knee biking (well, falling off my bike) a few years ago and I still have to be careful about not doing too many knee-stressful things like lunges/squats. Boo!

  10. 12

    This was SO informative. I love!

  11. 13

    I used to have such a hard time incorporating strength training into my routine. I thought it was just…well… boring! But then I began to really like it. And THEN I started feeling (and seeing!) results. Strength training is so important and does wonders for building a runner’s strength. :D

    Great post! :D

  12. 14
    Wendy @healthylivingfamilyontherun says

    Great post. Just started running again and the tips are much appreciated. My lower back has been quite sore so I’m going to try a few of these exercises this week and hope to alleviate the back pain. May just be time for new sneakers.

  13. 15

    Good description on the squat, although I’m not sure I’d go that deep. Pushing your knees out is key. When I learned that (from my chiropractor/trainer) it made a HUGE difference in my squats.

  14. 16

    Excellent post — though I’m with Coco on not going quite so deep. Great idea, though, to have the guest post. Most instructive, indeed!

    And come up on the net from your vacation soonest, pls!

  15. 17

    Great post! I think strength training is so important, especially when you are a runner. It helps to strengthen your entire body, not just the muscles you use for running. Overall, I want to be a fit person and that would be difficult to do without strength training.

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