Strength for Runners: Why Strength Matters and How to Get Started
Strength for runners is crucial for becoming stronger and faster, and keeping injuries at bay. Doctor of Physical Therapy and 3:07 marathoner, Holly Richard, provides guidance on how to start strength training and insight as to why it will make you a stronger runner.
Strength for Runners – Meet the Doctor of Physical Therapy
Hello, I’m Holly Richard. I created Stronger Movement, an online strength training program to provide strength workouts for runners of all ages and abilities. It is my mission to help runners make strength training a regular part of their lives!
Strength for Runners – Frequently Asked Questions
What exercises are good for runners?
A runner should perform lower, upper, and core strength training exercises that target the major muscle groups of the body. This can be done through compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups together, like a squat or deadlift. It also can be done with isolated exercises that focus more on a single muscle group, like a single leg squat.
You can follow a variety of training plans depending on your goals and preference. The Stronger Movement program follows a split training program where one workout you focus on lower body exercises and during other workouts you focus on upper body and core exercises.
This training structure allows you to perform the more common exercises for general strength training in addition to running specific exercises, giving your body time to recover in between harder runs.
How many times a week should a runner do strength training?
It depends on your running and strength training goals. However, the general guideline is to strength train 2-3x a week.
If you are just starting strength training, you can start with 1-2 days a week, depending on how many miles you are running and the type of runs you are doing. You want to gradually introduce strength training, similar to when starting running.
You can consider strength training 3-5 days if you are not training for a specific event and you are focusing on building strength and power to translate into becoming a stronger and faster runner.
The number of days that you strength train needs to be considered with many factors such as:
- How long you strength train (30 minutes vs 60 minutes)
- How heavy you lift (more bodyweight/resistance bands or more dumbbells/barbells)
- What exercises you do (large vs small muscle groups)
- How long you rest between sets (30 seconds vs 90 seconds)
- How many sets and reps you complete (3 sets of 12 reps vs 2 sets of 8 reps)
Feel free to adjust how many days you strength train based on how you are feeling each week, as long as strength training is always a part of the equation of reaching your running goals.
Strength for Runners – Should I Run Before or After Strength Training?
Strength training is part of the equation to make you a stronger, faster, fitter, and more resilient runner. You can run farther and faster with less injuries with the right combination of a structured running and strength training program.
When you have a run and strength workout scheduled on the same day, you may have asked yourself: “Should I run before or after strength training?”. The answer depends on many factors.
Your age and genetic makeup, health and injury history, running and strength training workouts, biomechanics and running economy, nutrition, sleep and other lifestyle factors all play into how you respond when you combine running and strength training on the same day.
Although this question cannot be answered with a simple “XYZ approach”, you don’t have to feel frustrated by not having a definitive answer. Let’s go over the general guidelines you can use to determine whether to run before or after strength training.
Identify Your Priority
The majority of research on aerobic exercise (in this case running) with resistance exercise concludes that your first workout should be the one with the results that you are prioritizing.
If running is the priority, run before strength training. On the other hand, if strength training is the priority, run after strength training.
Although running and strength training are both important for a runner, if you had to pick one, what would it be?
Regardless of what workout you “prioritize”, remember it is only in terms of what workout to do first. It does not mean that you don’t put effort into the second workout. It is simply what workout to do before the other.
You might have a period of time where running is the focus and then you shift back to prioritizing strength training. This is your reminder that you do not have to follow rigid rules for a specific amount of time. You can change the order of run and strength workouts based on your evolving running goals.
If Running is Your Priority
As a runner, you might think that running is always your #1 priority. However, go through this short checklist to clarify your running goals. If you answer yes to the following questions, you probably should run before your strength training workout.
- Are you training for a specific running event (5K to marathon)?
- Are you following a specific running plan?
- Do you usually run 3-6 times a week?
- Do you run 30+ minutes for most runs?
- Are you doing speed, tempo, interval, and long runs?
- Do you want to run faster and farther?
- Do you want to strength train 1-3x a week?
You can continue to push yourself and progress with your strength training even if running is your priority. Don’t neglect challenging yourself to lift “heavier” just because it is your second workout of the day (unless you are fatigued and cannot maintain good technique).
Avoid strength training, particularly lower body workouts, the day before a tempo run or harder run session. You want to have fresh legs for your harder runs. Many runners prefer to do a hard strength training workout the day of their hard runs with the mentality of “keeping hard days hard”.
If Strength Training is Your Priority
You can become a stronger and faster runner if you have times during the year when you prioritize strength training over running.
It can be a struggle for some runners to lower their mileage and make strength training the priority. However, as you go through this short checklist, you can switch to prioritizing strength training before your run if you answer yes to these questions.
- Are you NOT training for any running event?
- Are you running for cardio exercise and for the “fun” of it?
- Do you usually run less than 3-4 times a week ?
- Do you run 30-60 minutes for most runs?
- Are you staying at an easy, comfortable pace?
- Is your focus on becoming stronger?
- Do you want to strength train 3-5 days a week?
If strength training is your priority, follow a strength training plan focused on the basic strength exercises (squats, lunges, deadlifts, etc.) while still including running specific exercises (single leg and core exercises) to continue to help you become a stronger runner. If you can reduce the volume and intensity of your runs, you will have greater capacity to lift heavier weights so you can become a stronger and faster runner.
Resistance bands and a booty band are pieces of equipment that you can easily use during your strength training workouts!
Strength for Runners – How Long Should I Wait Between Running and Strength Training?
You may have heard that you should wait 6-9 hours between a run and a strength training workout. Is that true? Probably. This often cited research needs to be interpreted with knowing the studies included: 1. a small sample size, 2. mostly male participants, and 3. a variety of aerobic exercise in some studies, not just running.
Any research must be understood in terms of how the results apply to you. It is reasonable to think that if you run at 6am and do strength training after 12pm, your body has more time to recover, considering the mileage, intensity, terrain, and temperature of your run.
However, if you don’t have the ability to workout in the morning and the evening, do your best with your schedule. If you need to do workouts back to back, you might have to do it with less volume or intensity than if you had a longer break in between.
Stay Flexible and Adjust
Most of us are “recreational” runners with busy lives that require flexibility in our schedules. We are not professional runners with personalized running and strength training plans that are continually modified by coaches based on our response to the workouts.
With this in mind, although it can make a difference, the order in which you run and strength train might be placing more importance on this question than is necessary, depending on your running goals and how your body responds.
Remember, you are unique and you are an experiment of one! While you can follow these general guidelines, stay flexible with how you handle the days when you are running and strength training.
Of course, don’t be afraid to switch the order of what you are doing to see how you feel. It is important to monitor how your body recovers when combining runs on the same day as strength workouts. You can always adjust your run and strength training plans as you learn what works for your body.
Enjoy the process and give yourself a high five for including strength training! You will become a stronger, healthier, and fitter runner!
Interested in Working with Holly?
If you have any questions, please contact me at [email protected] I would love to hear from you!
Learn more from Holly on Instagram and her website, Stronger Movement.
Strength for Runners:
Stronger Movement App – Take the guesswork out of how to strength train by joining Stronger Movement for $22/month and receive monthly strength training workouts.
5 Principles of Becoming a Stronger Runner:
Do you supplement your running with strength training?
If so, how many days a week do you strength train?