Fact: To get better at running, you have to run more. But just because the principle of specificity demands more miles in pursuit of a PR doesn’t mean it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card to skip strength training. And, hiring someone to help you get after those gains can make all the difference.
Running is such a simple, inexpensive sport that the cost of a personal trainer might make you balk. That’s understandable, since 62 percent of trainers charged between $26 and $75 per training session, a 2021 survey by the Personal Trainer Development Center found.
To get the best results, runners should be strength training two to three times per week, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. If you do the math, that works out to $78 to $225 per week or $312 to $900 per month—you could buy at least one fresh pair of Alphaflys with that kind of money.
Shelling out for strength training will actually hold you more accountable to your strength goals, though: People are actually motivated to exercise by the prospect of losing money, a study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found—i.e. if you pay for a session with a trainer, you’re way less likely to flake (and forfeit the cost of that session) than if you just had a date with the dumbbells in your closet. And, there are more than motivational benefits to working with a pro.
The Benefits of Working With a Personal Trainer
Most importantly, a personal trainer can help you strategically slot strength training—and other complementary practices like mobility—into your running regimen strategically.
“The same way a running coach keeps you in a proper progression where you’re getting the right stimulus at the right time, a strength coach—ideally someone who trains and understands runners—is going to cater to your specific sport,” says Matthew Meyer, an RRCA-certified run coach and certified personal trainer at Revo Physiotherapy & Sports Performance in Boulder, Colorado.
That means they’re going to work with your running schedule, program specific exercises that boost running performance, recommend reps and sets that won’t burn you out for your next run, and help you move things around when life comes up.
Besides, balancing 20, 30, 50 miles per week and your real life can be overwhelming—and for a lot of runners, trying to DIY strength training makes it the first thing to fall by the wayside.
“A trainer really takes the burden off your shoulders,” says Chelsea Chicantek, an exercise physiologist, six-time marathoner, and performance coach with personal training app Future. “It’s their full-time job to make sure that these sessions are tailored to you and that you get them done.”
Not only does that help with improving your PR and strengthening your running, it helps with injury prevention—a huge benefit, considering 46 percent of runners who logged an average of just over nine miles a week reported some kind of injury over the course of a year in a 2021 study conducted by the University of Gothenburg.
For starters, a trainer is trained to spot issues that could lead to injury (in the moment or long-term).
“The small, exaggerated motions you do during strength training are very indicative of what we look like later in endurance activities, especially as fatigue sets in,” says Meyer. “In a controlled setting, a trainer can pinpoint any red flags that could cause issues on a run.”
On the flip side, a trainer is also able to spot any imbalances caused by running that could be course-corrected with strategic strength training (think: a hip flexor imbalance that prevents you from tapping into glute strength on one side).
Plus, “sometimes the way we think we feel isn’t necessarily the way we actually look,” says Chicantek—i.e. you might think you’re getting deep enough in your squat, but you’re actually allowing for posterior tilt of the pelvis at bottom of the squat that causes the lumbar spine to round, which could cause sacroiliac joint or lower back pain. “A trainer is like having a second set of eyes.”
What that second set of eyes can teach you is how to better self-analyze, so when you’re working out without your trainer, you can use their education and their observations to better assess yourself.
More Affordable Ways to Work With a Personal Trainer
Hiring a strength training coach doesn’t necessarily look like it used to (i.e. a one-on-one, face-to-face workout in a gym). While traditional personal training sessions might cost an average of $50 a pop, the fast-moving evolution of virtual training has made it more affordable and accessible than ever.
Future, for example, connects you to a remote coach who will develop a comprehensive training plan and personalized sessions for you based on your schedule and your goals—working around your runs. For $150 a month, each workout is guided, with video demos for every move. During the session, you can record your form and send clips to the trainer, who will weigh in on your technique or answer any questions typically within a few hours, says Chicantek.
New exercise equipment also offers that same kind of personalized feedback. Fitness mirrors like the MIRROR ($995, mirror.co), Forme Studio ($2,495, formelife.com), and Echelon Reflect ($1,499.99, echelonfit.com) have built-in cameras that allow users to interact with coaches who can offer feedback in real-time.
Even without a camera, you can get smart coaching: Tempo ($2,495, tempo.fit) uses a motion sensor camera to capture your movement and A.I. technology to general personalized technique tips; Tonal ($2,745, tonal.com) can also analyze your movement patterns and identify opportunities to course correct, plus it uses A.I. to progressively increase weights as you get stronger; and Peloton just announced Peloton Guide ($495, peloton.com), an AI-enabled device with smart camera technology that allow users to compare their form to the instructor’s and adjust in real-time.
If you still crave in-person interaction but don’t want to pay for one-on-one attention, small group classes can be an option.
“In small group classes of two to eight people, I’m programming for a certain prototype of athlete—runners, cyclists, skiers,” says Meyer. “It’s slightly less specialized than a solo session, but those attendees are getting almost the same level of attention at a fraction of the cost.” (One caveat: If you’re coming off an injury, you’d be better served by starting with personal sessions.)
Strength training may be supplemental to your running, but it’s a crucial part of the puzzle. And it’s never been easier to get hands-on attention, whether that’s literally and virtually. An investment in a personal trainer no longer breaks the bank—and the payoff when it comes to your running might just be priceless.