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Strength training for runners: 5 moves to get you to the finish line

Running is arguably the most evolved form of movement we do as human beings. As you pound the pavement and synch with the rhythm of your breath, your body and mind are put to the test. Hardcore runners are notoriously hard to treat. They run with accumulated injuries and often view the best fix as a reduction in mileage. “Oh, I have a bone sticking out of my leg? I’ll just run fifteen miles today instead of twenty.” But that’s kind of like trying to change a flat tire while still driving your car! Doesn’t go well in our experience.

At Urban Wellness Clinic, we find that targeted strength training helps balance out all the linear movement involved in running. It’s not intuitive, but the fact is, strength is at the heart of a runner’s endurance.

strength training for runners

The Benefits Of Strength Versus Power

Most runners we’ve worked with are unwilling to put on tons of muscle. We get it. Who wants to cart around more weight as you race to the finish line? However, the real benefit of strength training for runners lies in reclaiming lost movement patterns and creating balance to stop overworking muscles from pounding the pavement. This is important even even for recreational runners. All of our elite runners work on strength, including Olympic Trails runners Sarah Cummings and Kyle Merber.


Warm Up: Breathe

Runners have a hard time finding expansion with their breath through the back of their ribs. An ideal breath creates movement in all directions, through the chest and belly. We swear by PRI (Postural Restoration Institute)-style balloon breathing on all fours as an effective quick fix to get that needed flow through the back of your ribs. And exhaling into a balloon helps activate your transverse abdominus and internal obliques. Both help stabilize your deep core before you take on these 5 bigger strength moves:


A plain ol’ nothing-to-write-home-about squat, to activate the full range of hip, knee, and ankle function and create a wider shock-absorbent cushion for the spine. This is also a great strength training exercise for a common condition called runners knee.

Deadlift AKA The Perfect Hinge

Runners who have wicked tight hamstrings have left the power of their glutes back on the road. This powerful exercise gets the integration of your glutes and hamstrings back on track and helps reset the forward-rounding of the distance runner’s spine. Try a single leg version as part of a warm-up drill. During running season, a kettlebell swing enhances power production and benefits the booty in propulsion, while reducing the compressive forces that come naturally with dead-lifting.

Push (Plank)

Take advantage of your lengthened posture post squat and dead-lift to hold the extended back position of a push-up in place. This horizontal exercise activates and stabilizes your shoulder blades. While holding, think, “rounded no more.”


A lateral lunge trains a fresh plane of movement that you don’t usually fall into while running. This helps wake up the inner thigh length, lateral hip mobility, and hip extension in an anti rotational set-up.


We love an exercise that requires you to be face-up, like the deadbug: take advantage of your ready abs after the breathing exercise and reduce the extension of your lower back. Or the Paloff Press to enhance anti-rotational ability. These help create stability in rotation throughout your stride.

For all moves in this strength training runners’ plan, try 3 sets of 5 reps, at a minimum of 2x/week. Start small, always give yourself time to recover, and always warm up. When it comes to weights, less is more, especially if you’re just getting started.

Best in health,

Dr. Emily Kiberd