Strength Training for Runners

April 8, 2015

Nate Vandervest, a running expert at Bellin Fitness, offers the following strength training advice for those preparing for the Bellin Run:

As a runner and a strength coach, I have the advantage of two different perspectives.

What I see is that not a lot of runners put much time into strength training. Runners tend to be very good at incorporating core work like planks and bridges, but never really “hit the weight room.” They give many reasons, including “I don’t want to bulk up,” “I don’t have time,” “I don’t know what to do” and “I don’t want to be sore for my run tomorrow”. 

Here’s why you need to incorporate a well-balanced strength program: Strength training increases speed and endurance while helping to minimize your risk of injury. What runner wouldn’t love that?

Here’s how you can get started:

Step 1:  Consult a professional 

Yes, you could go to the gym and lift on your own — but are you doing the right exercises, and more importantly, are you doing them correctly? It will be well worth your time to take a class or work with a personal trainer to ensure you are on the right track. 

A good program will include proper activation exercises, core exercises and a balanced strength exercise routine. The Bellin Fitness Center offers a strength class for runners and has many personal trainers who can help you get started.

Step 2: Get lifting

There are a few misconceptions that runners can’t seem to shake.

The first is that strength training will make them bulky. This is unlikely, however, if you are running a lot — and if your program is designed correctly.

On average, each member of my high school track class would gain 2.5 lbs. in an 8-week session of training — but their strength, power, and most importantly, speed, improved considerably. The goal of a running program is to maximize power-to-weight ratio. This simply means you can run faster, jump higher, and run longer with less effort than before. 

The second misconception is that there is no need to work the legs because they do all the work when running. In actuality, a majority of your strength program should be catered to your legs and hips.

The stronger your legs, the faster you will become. And you’ll minimize your chance of an overuse injury.

The third misconception is that strength training will make you sore. This will be true initially as your body adapts to doing something new — but by following certain phases and progressions of training, you will have little to no soreness as you see gains in strength and power. 

Many runners think they should do more reps with less weight, but this is an old and unproven form of training. Research out of UW-La Crosse and many other schools shows that lifting 4-6 reps of heavy weights yields better strength results, less soreness and faster race times.

So how will strength training help my endurance?

Strength training helps endurance by utilizing more muscle fibers. If you don’t work certain muscle fibers, they tend to go dormant.

Think of strength training as a way of waking up those unused muscle fibers and making them work. This is why most people can have significant strength gains without gaining any muscle mass: they simple started using more of what they already had. 

Let’s say it takes only 75 percent of your muscle fibers to run your race pace at the start of a race. We all know we get tired as the race goes on, so at the end of the race you might need 90 percent of your muscle fibers working to maintain your pace. If those fibers have never needed to be used, or were never trained, it is unlikely they will help. The result is that your pace slows. But the person who has trained those muscle fibers is able to maintain his or her pace — and in most cases, make that final kick at the end.

So get to the gym, seek out a professional, start lifting — and watch those race times get better and better.

Posted in: Bellin Health Sports MedicineTraining  |  1 Comments


  • Nate, thanks for the great article. Comprehensive, informational and right to the point. This definitely helped me out!

    Seth Boyte    April 8, 2015 at 11:47 am

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