top of page

For Beginners: Running STRENGTH Workout. Your Questions Answered!

Runner meets STRENGTH work out.

*choas ensues*

Is this YOU?

*stares at rack of weights* "I HAVE NO IDEA what I'm doing".

"I'm literally paralyzed and scared of the gym, but I really want a something to get me started."

"If I have a plan, I would feel insanely more confident because I just want to be a stronger runner!"

"I would LOVE to have the option of doing this at home or at the gym! Because then if I'm traveling, I can still train!"

If you've ever thought ONE of these (or something) similar: you're not alone.

Maybe you're still not convinced (or convicted enough) to jump in and try strength work.

Because you STILL have so many unanswered questions.

Let's answer some of YOUR strength questions, submitted by runners just like you.

Let's dive in!

How Long Do I Need to Lift For?


a runner can get a sufficient strength workout in 20mins minimum


But this answer depends on what all you're doing.

  • Ex: 20mins of distracted bicep curls while you're watching your latest netflix binge

  • Or 20mins of targeted, appropriately loaded, running specific lifting.

Your choice.

It's also ok if the same strength session takes different runners different amounts of time.

A strength workout is definitely NOT a race.

But it also doesn't have to take you an hour.

In fact, you might be RESTING longer than you're lifting.

Welcome to a fancy phrase:

"intra complex rest intervals"

  • the lifting equivalent of the a walk break between intervals or repeats.

  • Think about it: can you run a really good mile repeat over and over again if you DON'T rest in between?

  • NO! because it amounts to you trying to sprint 5, 7, 8, whatever miles straight!

So why try sprinting through weight lifting?

(that being said….I'm not too proud to admit I've done this. And I'm actually very bad at resting between sets. So please, learn from my mistakes.)

What this will look like:

  • 3 sets of 8 goblet squats, using a heavy weight.

  • Between each set: you REST for 90 to 120 secs.

  • Then you do another set.

  • Repeat.


  • by doing this, you allow your body to recover NOT because you're weak

  • But because you want QUALITY results!

  • You're putting aside the time and putting in the effort to lift, so make it count!

(Pssst! Don't be afraid to do this on your running workouts too!)

I Can Do 20mins! But WHAT Should I be Doing?

Probably not a billion banded exercises, sorry not sorry.

I'll be the first to say, banded exercises CAN be helpful to maintain strength for short period of time!

But bands won't replace heavy weights.

Want the most bang for your lifting buck?

Get ready to get uncomfortable.

You need the free weights:

  • dumb bells,

  • kettlebells,

  • barbells (my personal fav ;) )

Machines can be the entry-way to lifting, but they won't provide the control or the resistance like a free weight can.


Let's re-visit one of my favorite running + strength quotes:

"training variable that have the greatest impact on running economy include the prescription of

  • Multi joint free weight exercises as compared to machine and single-joint exercises

  • Exercises with progressive and sufficient overload,

  • Exercises specific to the task of running,

  • And increased frequency of resistance training sessions."

So what is your question really asking? Maybe its…

"What Should my Exercises Look like if I Want Them Running-Specific? What Should My "Strength for Running" Routine Look Like?"


It should look like running (or a variation of running).


There's a million and one ways to answer this…

The simplest:

Your exercise can range from super basic to more advanced and complex.

And they're not wrong.

You might find as you gain experience and confidence:

  • slowly progressing complexity of your lifts

  • Consistently increasing weight

  • And adding plyometrics (and even progressing them)

ALL this above…is what your strength exercises for running can look like.

What they SHOULD look like can be summed up by our short answer above and guided by these principles no matter what your training age is (aka how confident you are lifting heavy things).

At any experience level, your running-specific strength exercises should include:

  • Single strength and balance

  • Upper body involvement

  • Overhead strength and stability that involves your core and arms

  • Rotational core strength

  • Plyometrics as appropriate based on level-explosive and reactive strength development


"I thought you said this would only take 20-ish minutes and I get to rest for 2 mins!"

Hold up, and put the panic aside.

All of those bullet points DON'T need to be separate exercises.

If you Dare to Train Differently and work smarter, not harder…you can combine a couple of those guiding principles into 1 exercise.

Call it double dipping if you want.

I call it smart running performance.

Because unless you're an elite and you're literally paid to workout…we don't have that kind of time.

But that doesn't mean you can't build running-specific strength and results.

Think of a specifically planned circuit designed around runners as a one-stop-shop for running performance.

  • Your strength workout becomes multi-purpose.

  • You not only build strength in a hypertrophy way (building larger muscles).

  • With the right exercises, you also build explosive strength and reactive strength.

Which in turn, makes you a:




Talk about getting a lot more bang for your buck without taking 2 hours.

No, I Meant I NEED an Example...

For Beginners/"Low training age":

Circuit for (hypertrophy) Strength:

4-6 sets x 6-10 reps @70-80% 1 RM, 2 min rest intervals between EACH set

  • Goblet squat

  • Split squat

  • HS Curl (sliders or exercise ball)

Circuit for explosive strength/power

4-6 sets x 6-10 reps @70-80% 1 RM, 2 min rest intervals between EACH set

  • KB swings

Plyos meant to develop explosive strength AND reactive strength: (these help with running FAST!) total of 60-100 contacts

  • Counter movement jump

  • Hurdle hop (there's so many kinds)


Circuit for STRENGTH:

"Goal of maximum strength development ranged between 2 and 6 sets of 3-10reps per exercise at loads greater than 70% 1RM"

Circuit for PLYOS:

"common plyometric training prescription consisted of 1-6 exercises performed over 1-6 sets of 4-10reps, averaging 30-228 foot contacts per session"

These wide,"vague-ish" spans are like this for a reason!

The range demonstrates opportunity for the newbie lifter+runner and room for progression and advancement for the experienced lifter + runner.

It is completely correct to do 4 sets of 6. (wasn't that easy?)

The only tricky part might be the 1 RM which stands for ….

1 Rep Max.

  • A test used to find the heaviest weight you can lift in only one rep.

    • Example: you can squat the bareball (45#) easy peasy all day long.

    • But can you squat #400?

    • You might! But only once. Hence, 1 RM.

    • And 70% of 400 is #280.

    • So you would backsquat +#280 for 4 sets of 6.

See, not that bad.

What are foot contacts per session?

  • A way to count plyometrics.

    • "A jump and land on two feet equals two contacts. A jump and land on one foot equals one contact. Jumping and landing on two feet for 10 reps equals 20 contacts"

  • Count accordingly to land within that range.

  • You can definitely count them as single reps and sets.

  • But because plyos are harder, more challenging exercises that require more load and work out of your body, it's good to have a measure how much work your body is doing/experiencing.

How Many Days a Week do I Need to Lift?

Good news: not as many as you think


It can change depending on where you're at in your training cycle.

  • During base building: 2-3x a week

  • During the maintenance part of a training plan: 2x a week

  • During a taper: 1-2x a week with a drop in intensity of roughly 50%

  • During the off season: the research and I both highly recommend maintaining that 2x a week and increasing it to 3x a week if possible

If you're JUST getting started with all of this or maybe you're not rigorously following a strength plan at the moment, aim for 2x a week.


Feeling a tad more confident?

Maybe even happy you recognized *most* of the exercises listed?

You can't go wrong with basics.

So don't feel bad about starting here and mastering them!

But if you start to get a little bored, that's ok too. ;)

Because that’s when you can challenge yourself with new lifts, new weights, an potentially unlock a stronger, faster, more resilient you

Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //

P.S. Looking for more running specific exercises? check out my FREE Running guide!



Barrie, B. (2020). Concurrent resistance training enhances performance in competitive distance runners: A review and programming implementation. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 42(1), 97-106.

William J. Gowtage, et al. Complex Training with Minimal Recovery Intervals and their Effect on CMJ Performance in Professional Male Rugby Union Players. ARC Journal of Research in Sports Medicine.5(1): 1-8.

363 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page