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Runner's Strength Training

Updated on December 8, 2015

weights and resistance training for runners

As an immediate level runner, I always incorporate some degree of strength training into my cross training regimen. I find that in most of my races, body strength makes a significant difference in finishing strong vs mediocre.

The Running Myth:

There are many distance runners among us that believe strength training builds too much muscle bulk, reduces muscle fiber stretch needed for a solid efficient gait and ultimately results in slower running. Some believe it causes muscles to fatigue more quickly resulting in injuries.

Here is my take:

I do not lift weights to build bulk. I exercise with weights to build strength, endurance, improve speed and maintain a healthy body weight. At 66 yrs old, I weigh in at 156 lbs in a 5'9'' frame. My schedule calls for light weight training, 3 times a week, with each specific exercise comprising 3 sets of 12-20 repetitions.

Do not grunt and groan trying to pump yourself up. On stationery weight equipment, my seated presses are between 70-80 lbs. Pull downs at the same weight.

On the leg machines, I do the seated front press at 140-150 lbs using two legs and 80-90 lbs for alternating legs. On the face down bench, I do hamstrings at about 20-30 lbs. I do not use the leg lift machine for knees, having read that this can injure the quad and knee joint. Please research this for yourself.

I enjoy using a variety of dumbbell (free weights) exercises. These help build chest, shoulder, core, back and arm strength. The weights average between 15 and 30 lbs. just enough to strengthen the muscles and give you some definition.

My weight sessions range from 30- 45 minutes. I also include 3 sets of 50 bent knee sit-ups to build the core mid-section.


I have to confess that the week before a race, I do cut back on the weights. I will fit in a lighter session on the Wednesday before a Saturday race. Why? Because there is not much more to gain by lifting this close to a race, and I believe it is important for your muscles to be relaxed before the strenuous pace of a race. Weight training will tighten your muscles, at least they do mine. So warm up properly before your run on days after lifting weights.

If you have to run and lift on the same day due to scheduling issues, I believe you should run first, then lift.


You need to be strong to be an efficient and competitive runner. Resistance training, particularly with weights, is a regimen you need to add to your cross training program. You will not bulk up; as a runner you burn too many calories to do so. With weights you will improve body definition, endurance, speed and confidence.


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