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Ultra Efficient Strength Training For Runners

  • By Matt Fitzgerald
  • Published January 3, 2012
  • Updated December 24, 2013 at 12:20 am

Most runners shy away from doing specific strength exercises, but there are efficient ways to build your run strength in less than 20 minutes.


It’s a conundrum. Research has clearly proven that strength training enhances running performance, even when running volume is reduced to make time for pumping iron. But most runners hate lifting weights. What to do?

The best way to have your cake and eat it too here is to do very time-efficient strength workouts that give you meaningful benefits without keeping you in the gym so long you go nuts. Fortunately, that is possible. The following strength workout comprises just four exercises and can be done in less than 20 minutes. It works because the exercises were selected to provide precisely the benefits runners need most, and in the highest degree.

Split-Stance Dumbbell Deadlift
This exercise strengthens the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and hips in a very running-specific way. It’s a better choice than regular deadlifts because it emphasizes the single-leg strength runners need and strengthens the hip stabilizing muscles that are weak and cause injuries in so many runners.

Stand with your left foot half a step behind your right foot and with your right foot flat on the floor beneath your hip and only the toes of your left foot touching the floor. Begin with dumbbells positioned on the floor to either side of your right foot. Bend at the hips and knees as you reach down with fully extended arms and grab the dumbbells. Press your right foot into the floor and stand fully upright. Concentrate on contracting your right glutes to achieve this lift. Pause briefly in the “upright and locked” position and then lower the dumbbells back toward the floor, stopping just before they touch the ground. Complete 10 repetitions of this movement and then work the left glutes.

Warm up by performing the One-Arm Dumbbell Snatch exercise with very light weight. Then go through all four exercises in the order presented. One set of each is enough. You’ll get a little more benefit by doing the whole circuit twice through. Rest one minute after each exercise. Do the workout two to three times per week.

Supine Abs March
Strong abs enhance running performance by improving the transfer of forces between the legs and the upper body. They also reduce injury risk by enhancing the stability of the lower spine, pelvis, and hips during running. This is the best abs exercise for runners I know. Its strengthens the deep abdominal muscles runners need most in a way that simulates the running stride.

Lie face up with both knees fully bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press your low back flat against the floor and concentrate on keeping it flush to the floor throughout the exercise. Lift your right leg until your right foot comes even with your left knee, then lower the foot back to the floor. As soon as it touches, do the same with the left leg. Concentrate on keeping your low back pressed against the floor. Complete 12-20 “steps” with each leg. If this is easy, you are not keeping your back flat to the floor!

One-Arm Dumbbell Snatch
This is the single best upper body exercise for runners, in part because it isn’t just an upper-body exercise. It involves the legs working in coordination with the upper body, just as running does. Like running, it also entails moving upward against gravity. It strengthens the hamstrings, glutes, low back, upper back, and shoulders.

Stand in a wide stance with a single dumbbell placed on the floor between your feet. Bend your knees, tilt forward from the hips, and grasp the dumbbell with your left hand using an overhand grip (knuckles facing forward). Begin with your left arm fully extended. The object of this exercise is to lift the dumbbell in a straight line from the floor to a point directly overhead. To do this, begin by contracting your gluteals, hamstrings and low back so that the dumbbell rises to thigh height as you assume an upright standing position. From this point, keep the dumbbell moving in a straight line close to your body by bending your elbow and pulling from the shoulder. As the dumbbell approaches head level rotate your shoulder and extend your arm until it is pointing toward the ceiling. Pause briefly, then reverse the movement, allowing the dumbbell to come to rest again on the floor briefly before initiating the next lift. Complete a full set, then switch to the right arm.

Single-Leg Jump
Jumping exercises, or plyometrics, are proven to enhance running economy. Running is a form of jumping, after all. Plyometrics exercises simply isolate and intensify the jumping element in running. The single-leg jump couldn’t be simpler, or more effective for runners.

Stand on your right foot with your left leg slightly bent. Squat slightly and then jump as high as you can off your right foot, landing on your right foot only. Jump as high as you can 20 times, then rest for 30 seconds and jump 20 times on the left foot.

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