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Do Runners Really Need Strength Training Beyond Core Workouts?

By Jason Fitzgerald | For

The last several years have seen an explosion of interest in core workouts for runners.

And for good reason: Runner-specific core workouts are helpful for improving your general strength, helping you maintain good running form (especially late in a workout or race when you're tired), and preventing injuries.

Injury prevention is the top reason that runners should regularly do runner-specific core workouts. With a focus on strengthening the glutes, hips, hamstrings and lower abdominals, core workouts outfit runners with the armor they need to withstand the rigors of running.

Since beginners and those who don't have a background in strength work are generally weak or have imbalances caused by a largely sedentary life, core workouts are incredibly valuable. They provide the foundation that helps runners stay healthy.

But more traditional strength training—like gym workouts that include heavy lifts like squats or dead lifts—still plays a valuable role in a runner's training program.

Why Lift Weights?

If you're a veteran to the world of core workouts and can do core exercises like these without any problems, you may want to devote time to getting even stronger by lifting weights. But why? If you can improve your running economy, strength and resilience to injuries with simple core exercises, is there really a reason to lift weights in the gym?

Yes, for the simple reason that functional, multi-joint lifts do even more to help you stay healthy and get stronger.

Weighted exercises can also make you faster. Lifting heavy weight recruits lots of muscle fibers; this comes in handy when you want to sprint at the end of a race—your body can use more of your muscles to run more powerfully.

Additionally, upper body exercises help you resist fatigue and maintain an upright, erect posture. This is particularly important for marathoners who experience an incredibly high level of fatigue during the final 10K of the race.

Strength Workouts for Runners

The best exercises to complete in the gym are basic lifts that train movements, not muscles:

  • Squats
  • Dead lifts
  • Lunges
  • Pull-ups
  • Chin-ups
  • Bench Press
  • Military Press
  • Bent-over Rows

These eight exercises comprise a full body workout that runners can do 1 to 2 times per week in addition to regular core workouts. By focusing on both general strength and core exercises, plus weight lifting, you focus on large muscle groups but also the smaller supporting muscles that are so important for runners.

When lifting in the gym, it's best to lift heavy. Use enough weight so that it's very challenging to complete the final set of the lift. Ideally, runners should do 3 sets of 4 to 8 repetitions based on the exercise and your fitness level.

This type of workout is different than the "lift for endurance" strategy that many runners use, and for good reason. When you run, you gain endurance. But when you lift, you won't gain nearly as much endurance. The focus of any gym session is strength, so you should lift to increase strength.

Strength is gained when you lift heavy weight for 4 to 6 repetitions. It's also critical to recover fully in between sets, so take at least 2 to 3 minutes of rest in between exercises. This allows you to recovery properly so you can lift the same weight during the next set. Remember, you're lifting for strength, not endurance.

More advanced runners—or those who are comfortable with most core workouts—can benefit enormously from lifting in the gym.

And if you can't get access to a gym, you can get some of the same benefits by completing a medicine ball workout to boost strength, prevent injuries and run faster.

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