Weightlifting For Runners: Is It A Good Idea?

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Many runners avoid weightlifting for fear that it will cause them to gain too much muscle mass and become bulky and slow. It is a total misconception that runners should not be lifting weights.

On the contrary, incorporating weightlifting into your training is a great way to improve your running. 

Weightlifting is great for runners as it strengthens the muscles and connective tissues. Runners should do strength training weekly, as it will help them run further and faster and avoid running injuries. Weightlifting improves neuromuscular coordination, which benefits running economy. 

Runners should make weight training a part of their weekly training schedule, but there are some mistakes to avoid. If done incorrectly, it can affect their running performance negatively.

Here, we discuss the many benefits of weightlifting for runners and explain how strength training should fit into your training schedule. 

Benefits Of Weightlifting For Runners

Is weightlifting for runners a good idea?

No matter where you are in your running journey – training for a marathon or your first 5K – regular strength training will boost your performance.

Weightlifting is a form of strength training that is highly beneficial for runners. There are many advantages of incorporating weightlifting into a running training schedule:

  • It allows you to run at a faster pace for longer,
  • Improves your aerobic capacity,
  • Strengthens your muscles and connective tissues,
  • Makes your running stride more powerful,
  • Improves your neuromuscular coordination,
  • Trains your body to run more efficiently, using less energy and oxygen, and
  • Helps to prevent injuries. 

A common concern is that adding weight will make you run slower – but it’s much better to add muscle than fat!

How Does Weightlifting Help Runners?

Weightlifting trains your muscles and connective tissues to adapt to heavier loads over time. As you progressively overload your muscles, they become stronger and more resilient. 

When you run, your muscles will be more used to performing under heavy loads and high forces, making running easier. This is why runners who lift weights can run at faster paces with less effort.

Weightlifting also develops muscular endurance. The muscles in your legs will take longer to become fatigued, so you can run further without getting tired and feeling that burning sensation in your legs.

The quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles are also strengthened by lifting weights. These muscle groups are the primary ones you use when running. Developing them enables you to take more powerful strides as you run, so you run faster.

Some of the most common running injuries relate to the hips and glutes. Weightlifting is an excellent way to strengthen your glutes and hip flexors to prevent running injuries. 

Weightlifting exercises that strengthen the muscles of your core help to improve your running form and posture. This enables you to run more efficiently.

Weightlifting develops your neuromuscular coordination, in other words, your muscle memory. It helps train your central nervous system to control your muscles more efficiently. For running, this means your body uses less energy and oxygen for every stride. 

How Often Should Runners Lift Weights?

Weightlifting is not something you have to do for hours and hours every week to benefit from it. In fact, if you are running a lot during the week, you should only do one or two weekly weightlifting workouts.

If you do strength training too frequently, it will fatigue your muscles too much, and this will negatively affect your running performance. Do not overdo the weightlifting – no more than three sessions a week!

If you run four or five days a week, one or two weightlifting sessions are ample to get the strength and conditioning you need. Try to spend about two hours lifting weights each week. 

Should Runners Lift Light Or Heavy Weights?

You may have heard that lifting light weights is better for runners because it helps to develop endurance. Research shows that this is not the case. You are unlikely to see any real improvement in your running performance if you only lift light loads. 

Running itself already improves your endurance. What you want from weightlifting is to increase your strength and power output. This can only be done by lifting heavy. 

Studies have found that lifting heavy loads (about 75% of your maximum) for low numbers of repetitions is optimal. For example, if your maximum deadlift is 220 pounds, you would perform three sets of ten reps each at 165 pounds. 

Do not be afraid that lifting heavy weights will make your muscles grow too big! Running, by its very nature, is a catabolic exercise that restricts muscle growth. 

To gain significant muscle mass, you would need to radically change your diet (eat a lot more protein), do weightlifting workouts almost every day, and cut back on running. 

Therefore, do not worry about heavy weightlifting making you bulky and slowing you down. This is the opposite of what has been scientifically proven. 

If you are nervous about starting to lift weights, you can always start with a smith machine and then move on once you’re more confident.

How To Add Weightlifting To a Running Training Plan

By now, you have probably been convinced that it is a good idea to incorporate some weightlifting into your weekly running training schedule. So, how should one go about it?

A well-balanced training plan for someone aiming to run three to six miles can look like this:

  • Monday – light run (or rest day)
  • Tuesday – weightlifting
  • Wednesday – medium run
  • Thursday – weightlifting
  • Friday – medium run
  • Saturday  – light run 
  • Sunday – long run 

Take note that in this schedule, weightlifting always comes after running. Your body needs two days of recovery after Thursday’s strength training before the big run on Sunday. Lifting heavy before a hard running workout is not a good idea.

There is no one correct training plan.

If you are unsure about what training schedule is right for you, speak to a running coach.

Best Weight Training Exercises For Runners

Runners who are new to strength training should not start lifting heavy weights right off the bat. This is a recipe for getting injured! 

Start by strengthening your muscles with bodyweight movements. The best bodyweight exercises for runners are ones that target the core and lower body:

  • Planks
  • Push-ups
  • Glute bridges
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Single-leg deadlifts

Before picking up any weight, you should be proficient in these movements and be able to perform them with perfect form. Each exercise has many variations, so you can scale the difficulty as you build strength. 

Weightlifting workouts require gym equipment like dumbells, kettlebells, barbells, weight plates, medicine balls, and resistance bands. 

The best weightlifting exercises that target the muscles used for running are:

  • Front rack squats
  • Back squats
  • Calf raises
  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead presses
  • Power cleans
  • Squat cleans
  • Power snatches
  • Squat snatches
  • Clean and jerks

These weightlifting movements can be done with whatever gym equipment you have access to. Each movement has a range of variations, so you will not easily get bored! 

Beginner weightlifters should focus on the three fundamental Olympic lifts: the power clean, front squat, and power snatch. These exercises train explosive strength, so they are excellent for improving your speed and power. 

The Olympic lifts also give you the conditioning and muscle memory to perform more advanced lifts.

Common Weightlifting Mistakes That Runners Make

Weight training for a runner

To get the most out of weightlifting as a runner, avoid making these common mistakes:

  • Wearing incorrect footwear. Running shoes are very different from weightlifting shoes. Running shoes have more of a rise, whereas weightlifting shoes are flatter. Wearing the right footwear is important for providing balance while you lift.
  • Lifting with bad form. Lifting weights with incorrect posture and form is dangerous. To avoid injuries, be relentless in the pursuit of perfect form – as you would with your running technique! 
  • Lifting too light. If you can do more than 12 reps, you need to increase the weight. You should not be able to do more than 10 reps in a set. 
  • Lifting too heavy. Do not let your ego creep in when you are weightlifting. Do not compare yourself to others in the gym. Going too heavy before you have developed the strength is a surefire way to get injured. It is far more beneficial to lift lighter with proper form than heavier with poor form. 
  • Not training the upper body. The muscles in your lower body are the main ones used for running, but this does not mean you should neglect your core and upper body! Developing the core, back, shoulders, and arms helps runners keep good form while running, especially when they start getting fatigued. 
  • Neglecting the calves. Distance runners rely on the strength of their calf muscles. Do not skip movements like calf raises just because they are not as “glamorous” as cleans and snatches. 

Our Verdict on Lifting Weights For Runners

If you are a runner and want to improve your endurance, speed, and form, and avoid injuries, you should incorporate strength training into your weekly training schedule.

Weightlifting is an excellent way to improve your running performance. 

Try to do one or two (no more than three) weightlifting workouts per week, and do them after runs, not before. Focus on exercises that target your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors.

Start with bodyweight movements if you are completely new to strength training. 

Author Profile

Alex Randall

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Alex is the editor at Revel Sports. It was his idea to take our post-club-run chats and build a website out of them. He is responsible for dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s when any of us have something to post. (Basically: it’s all his fault). A ferocious 5K powerhouse on his day, Alex is known for not understanding the meaning of the term ‘negative split‘.
Alex Randall

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