10 Essential Strength Training Exercises for Runners

Do these moves consistently, and your miles will become faster and stronger.

Many of us love running so much, we tend to generally avoid doing anything other than running. But supplementing running with strength training will not only help you prevent injury, but it will also make you a stronger, faster, and more efficient runner.

That said, strength training for runners is different than it is for your standard gym rat. Instead of pushing weight away from the body with biceps curls, leg extensions, and bench presses, runners should focus on targeting the key muscles that will keep them balanced, moving forward, and injury-free.

That’s why we asked our experts to come up with 10 essential strength training exercises for runners then had Runner’s World+ Coach Jess Movold, certified trainer, demonstrate them for you in the video above. If you’d like to first practice your form, scroll down through the list to get a specific how-to for each move.

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How to use this list: Perform these 10 exercises for the amount of reps listed twice a week. For best results, add them to your easy or cross-training days. Each move below is demonstrated by Hollis Tuttle, certified personal trainer and run coach in New York City, so you can learn the proper form in your own time.

Depending on your skill level, you may want to make some moves harder or easier so modifications and progressions are listed. That way, you can come back to this list over and over as you get stronger.

1. Plank

Works: core, lower back, shoulders

Julia Hembree Smith

Start on all fours. Lower onto your forearms with shoulders directly over elbows. Step feet back into a plank position. Draw your shoulders down and back—not hunched. Engage abdominal muscles tight to keep hips in line with shoulders so your body forms a long, straight line. Squeeze legs and glutes for support. Hold this position for 45 to 60 seconds. Gradually add time as your core gets stronger. Repeat for 3 to 5 reps.

Make it easier:
Drop to your knees.

2. Russian Twist

Works: core, obliques

Start seated with knees bent 90 degrees, heels on floor, and hands clasped in front of chest. Engage abs and rotate upper body to the right as if you’re reaching right elbow to floor. Keep your back tall and rotate from your hips. Return to starting position and repeat on left side. That’s 1 repetition. Complete 10 to 12 reps.

Make it harder: Keep your legs straight, lift heels off floor, or add a dumbbell as shown above.

3. Scorpion

Works: abs, hips, back

Start lying facedown with your arms out to sides to form a T, thumbs pointing up, and chin rested on floor so your neck is not strained. Bend left knee then swing leg to right to try to touch left toes to right shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, then return to starting position. Repeat on opposite side with right leg. That’s 1 repetition. Perform 3 to 5 reps.

Make it easier: Simply reach toe to opposite hip instead of shoulder. As you gain mobility and flexibility, you can progress to reach for shoulder.

4. Back Extension

Works: lower back, glutes, middle back, shoulders

Lie facedown on a stability ball with feet spread wide for balance. Elbows should be bent with hands placed lightly behind ears. Squeeze glutes and lift torso up until your body forms a straight line. Hold for one to two seconds. Release back down to the starting position. That’s one rep. Perform for 10 to 12 reps. No stability ball? You can do the movement on an exercise mat: Raise your thighs and arms off the ground while your torso stays in contact with the ground.

Make it harder: Hold light dumbbells.

5. Squat to Overhead Press

Works: glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, upper back, shoulders

Hold dumbbells with both hands racked at shoulders. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Send hips back and lower into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. As you stand back up, press the dumbbells overhead. Return to the starting position. Complete 10 to 12 reps.

Make it easier: Do the squat without the dumbbells, or just hold one dumbbell at your chest and perform squats without the press.

6. Overhead Forward Lunge

Works: quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, core

Start standing, holding one dumbbell straight above your shoulders, with your arms straight and elbows locked. Step forward with your right leg, and lower down until your right knee is bent to 90 degrees. Press through right heel to return to the starting position, then repeat with left leg. That’s 1 repetition. Perform 6 to 8 reps on each leg.

Make it easier: Perform the forward lunge without a dumbbell or hold it at shoulder level.

7. Stability Ball Pike-Up

Works: shoulders, core

Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists, but instead of placing your feet on the floor, rest your shins on a stability ball. Engage core to pull the stability ball toward your chest and lift hips up as you roll the ball forward to your feet. Return to starting position and repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Make it easier: Pull your knees as close as you can to your chest without lifting your hips into the air, and return to the starting position.

8. Stability Ball Leg Curl

Works: hamstrings, glutes, core

Lie faceup on the floor, with hands at sides on mat and and feet on a stability ball. Keep arms to sides for support and balance. Push your hips up so that your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Without allowing your hips to sag, roll the ball as close as you can to hips by bending knees and pulling heels toward you. Repeat for 6 to 8 reps.

Make it harder: Do the exercise with just one leg, holding the other leg in the air above your hips.

9. Rotational Shoulder Press

Works: shoulders, triceps, core

Stand holding a pair of dumbbells racked at your shoulders, with palms facing each other. Press right dumbbell overhead as you rotate from the hips to your left. Lower the dumbbells as you rotate back to center, then press left dumbbell overhead as you rotate to the right. That’s 1 repetition. Repeat for 6 to 8 reps.

Make it easier: Do half of the repetitions without the rotations.

10. Alternating Row

Works: middle back, biceps, core

Start standing with a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing each other. With a microbend in your knees, send hips back and lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor. Keep arms straight as you bend at hips so the dumbbells hang straight down. Bend left elbow to pull the left dumbbell to left rib. Lower and repeat with right arm. That’s 1 repetition. Repeat for 10 to 12 reps.

Make it easier: Perform the move with both hands at once, which requires less core stability.

Julia Hembree Smith / Zack Kutos

All images by: Julia Hembree Smith; Video: David Monk

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