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Strength Training For Runners | 5 Essential Exercises

Here’s a saying that describes why strength training is key for runners:

“You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.”

What does that have to do with ditching your running shoes and heading to the nearest gym? Bear with me.

Cannons are powerful and heavy and canoes are characteristically unsteady. The effectiveness of the cannon becomes irrelevant if it’s being fired from something with such unstable foundations as a canoe. Firing a cannon from a canoe would be incredibly ineffective and would cause damage to the boat, without being strong, stable and reinforced.

Our bodies are the same. When we run we are subjected to a vertical force approximately 2–3 times our body weight, so just like the canoe, it’s important to be strong and stable.

Why strength Training Is crucial for runners?

A major part of developing a strong, stable base is building a core that will enable you to maintain a strong posture, which translates into improving running efficiency.

Runners who incorporate strength training into their regime tend to be stronger and consistently get quicker and therefore more successful. But it’s not just performance that will be impacted, it will also significantly reduce the risk of injury.

When you consider a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which reported the prevalence of injuries in recreational or competitive long distance runners was as high as 92% per year, strength training is of upmost importance.

Increasing strength addresses structural weaknesses in the body including muscles, joints and connective tissue and as a result will develop a resilience to deal with the prolonged cyclical nature of running.

The beauty of incorporating strength exercises into your training regime is that it can be as beneficial as actually going for a run and you can start by using simple bodyweight drills.

As you master good form with these movements progress to increasing the weight and then explosive variations of these movements such as jumping, hopping and bounding.

There are so many great exercises for runners to develop strength, but below are a few key ones that are an ideal starting point and will lay the perfect foundation to progress on to more advanced variations and new movements.

(Photos by personal trainer Lucy Young)

Strength exercise for runners 1: Plank

Plank for runners

How to do this?

  • In the prone position on the floor, supporting your body weight on your toes and your forearms. Your arms are bent and directly below the shoulder.
  • Maintain a position where your body is parallel to flow, with your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles are all in a straight line.


Overhead lunge for runners

How to do this?

  • Hold your arms above your head, with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and take a step forward into a deep lunge position.
  • Ensure your forward knee remains over your forward foot (not in front of it). Drive your forward heel in to the ground and return to the starting position.
  • Maintain good posture throughout the movement, with your head level, eyes looking forward, chest held high and your back flat.
  • Avoid bending your elbows or let your front heel lift off of the ground.


Bodyweight squat for runners

How to do this?

  • Stand with your head facing forward and your chest held up and out, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Sit back and down as if you’re sitting into an imaginary chair. Keep looking forward as your upper body bends slightly forward. Allow your lower back to arch slightly as you go down, but not to round.
  • Lower down so your thighs are parallel to the floor, with your knees over your ankles. Press your weight back into your heels. Push through your heels to bring yourself back to the starting position.

STRENGTH EXERCISE FOR RUNNERS 4: Single-leg or Pistol Squat

Single-leg or pistol squat for runners

How to do this?

  • From a standing position, raise one foot off the floor. Look directly forward, with your chest up, knees and hips slightly bent, and your back straight.
  • Descend into a squat and extend the leg that is off the floor forward. Descend slowly, paying close attention to balance, only going as far as your flexibility allows.
  • Hold the bottom position briefly and then return to the start by extending through the hips and knee, driving through the heel of your working foot.


Single-leg deadlifts for runners


  • Stand on one leg. Keeping that knee slightly bent, perform a stiff-legged deadlift by bending at the hip, extending your free leg behind you for balance. Continue lowering until you are parallel to the ground, and then return to the upright position.

So, what are you waiting for? Start to incorporate these exercises into your weekly routine and watch your running performance take off.

Did you find this story useful? Share it with your friends and help them out. Remember, friends don’t let friends skip single-leg deadlift day.

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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