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How do I Lift like a Runner: Strength Training for Runners Q &A

If your head is ever spinning with questions when it comes to:

How do I strength train as a runner?

Where do I start?

What all do I need?

How do I do strength AND run and not end up with dead legs?


Just know: you're not alone.


I've gotten questions from my amazing runners in RACE READY, my 16 week strength program for runners looking for effective, fast, and challenging strength workouts periodized to their marathon planning.

And I wanted to share these with YOU!

Because some of these runners have marathon vets…

And some are marathon newbies.

And it just goes to show: you will ALWAYS have questions about strength training as a runner…

And that's ok.

(because I do too ;) )


Let's answer their (and maybe your) Top 4 questions on strength training for runners including:

  • I know I have to lift heavy, but am I ALWAYS lifting heavy?

  • How do I balance strength during my offseason with running? I'm worried I'll lose my running fitness.

  • Is it ok to ever change or modify a strength exercise? How do I know I need to?

  • How do I make my strength workouts specific to running without feeling overwhelmed by 50+ exercises? I can't physically fit all of these into my schedule.

Let's go.


4 HOW& WHEN FAQ's: STRENGTH TRAINING FOR RUNNERS


Do I ever STOP lifting heavy or am I ALWAYS lifting heavier and heavier?

SHORT ANSWER: YES and NO.


LONG ANSWER:

YES, there are appropriate times to STOP lifting as heavy or to modify HOW heavy you're lifting.
That's the exact reason why I made RACE READY.
In it, I guide you through that process of learning what heavy is, how to go heavier, then how to go lighter in preparation for your race day.

But let me give you examples you can act on RIGHT NOW:

OFF SEASON:

  • where you're running fewer miles at a lower intensity.

  • Typically this where most runners deliberately lift their heaviest because it's easy to shift focus from miles to overall poundage.

  • And it's extra-ok if you have heavy, lead legs because you don’t have races on the calender where you have to be at peak performance

BASE BUILDING:

  • where the emphasis on running to strength is *roughly* 60% : 40%. This is a great time to continue to lift heavy (maybe not setting weight PRs if you don’t want, but you can) while still building mileage base.

  • Emphasis on building mileage base; this is not the time where you say you're base building but secretly you're doing speed work.

  • You chase all the rabbits, you go home hungry. Find the PURPOSE of your training block and stick with it.

RACE READY SEASON:

Where you are well and truly in a race training phase.

There are a couple ways to lift + run in this era.

  • Maintenance lifting:

    • this is where you follow your running training plan and continue to lift 2-3x a week with heavy weight, to MAINTAIN the gains you made in the off-season where you went hard and made some lifting PRs.

    • You keep lifting heavy to keep the strength you built, but you're not necessarily sore from your lifts because you're not providing new stimuli to your muscles; you're keeping what you've already built.

  • Periodized strength training:

    • this is RACE READY :)

    • Did you know there's a way to lift heavy during your actual marathon training that won't completely exhaust you and will actually help you train and stronger, faster, better, longer? This is possible by adapting your lifting intensity, reps, and sets in a way that complements the specific training period you're in.

For example:

  • PEAK WEEK: everyone knows peak week.

    • But what most runners don't know, is it's actually a peak MONTH.

    • And your strength training is actually HEAVY HEAVY during that period too, but the reps and sets are WAAAAAY LOWER than you'd anticipate.

  • TAPER: then comes taper time.

    • Most runners don't know that you actually keep strength training during your taper, but in a VERY Different way with way less weight to help you keep the strength you've built, but help you continue to recover…and also give you an outlet for the taper crazies ;)



I'm supposed to lift more, run less during the off season, but won't I lose running fitness if I focus on strength?

Welcome to the FEAR of most runners: BUT I'LL lose all my running fitness!

( you won't; I promise. Read that linked blog post)


SHORT ANSWER:

  • it takes a 4 weeks to actually begin to de-train or genuinely "lose" your running fitness. And during you're off season, you're still running and lifting. So no, you won't lose all your running fitness

LONG ANSWER:

  • Hard Truth: you SHOULD NOT be in peak RACE PERFORMANCE all. Year. Round.

  • This is bad.

  • This is where injuries happen.

It is massively beneficial to build other forms of fitness during your off season, especially STRENGTH!

Yes, you may "lose" running fitness in the sense of now you run 10mi instead of 20 as your long run, but you can fitness in the form of setting a 200# squat PR.

This is an overall net WIN that will result in better times, longer distances, and stronger runs once you start your race training season.


Please, don't be afraid of dialing your running fitness back and building a new form of fitness in strength in the off season.

  • What you're actually doing is a building a spring board, a hugely successful foundation that will propel you into an even stronger season where you'll run faster AND not get injured as easily.

Weigh the outcomes for yourself:
  • keep running long and hard in your season and get skimpy on the lifting risking more injuries during your training cycle

  • OR

  • Dial back the running, bump up the strength training, embrace the new and uncomfortable to propel you into an injury-resistant, better, stronger season?

Choice is yours ;)


When is it ok to modify a strength exercise and how do I know I should?


SHORT ANSWER:

  • YES! It is ALWAYS ok to modify a strength exercise.

  • Never feel you have to do a strength exercise that genuinely makes you uncomfortable to the point of asking "will I hurt myself?"

  • There is no shame in making changes to adapt to your body!

LONG ANSWER:

HOW you know you should modify an exercise:
  • It leaves you questioning whether it's safe and/or will you hurt yourself

  • It feels 3 steps ahead of your skill level (psst! There are ways to regress or take that exercise back a few baby steps to make it possible for you)

  • It hurts your body in some way, shape, or form (example: step ups hurt your knees? You may need to work up to these by focus on other quad strengthening exercises first)

  • You just feel clunky and super unsure of the exercise regardless of how much you practice (psst! This is another example of when you can take it back a few baby steps to make it possible for you)

  • You're feeling shamed into "I should be able to do this…" This is a huge NO. Always respect where your body is. There are ways to challenge and strengthen your body without shaming it or you ;)


As a runner, how do I make my strength workouts specific to running without feeling overwhelmed? There's just so much stuff and I don't know how to incorporate it all...


SHORT ANSWER:

  • you follow a strength train plan written specifically for runners that incorporates exercises designed to strengthen you like a runner.


It's OK to not write your own strength program; it's OK to NOT know all the strength things.

I'm a practicing doctor of physical therapy and I'm still learning new and better ways to strength train like a runner.


And honestly, if you grab any of mine: FANTASTIC!

(I'm biased, I love the plans I've written)

  • But if there's another coach or PT where their strength circuits just make your soul light up and help you get things done: I WANT you to go get their program.

  • Because at the end of the day, I want YOU to be a successful strong, injury-resistant runner. (my ego be damned.)


LONG ANSWER:

  • If you really want to begin to understand what all needs to be in your strength program as a runner: You study strength programs made for runners.


I'll leave BOTH of my (2) FULL, FREE STRENGTH TRAINING PROGRAMS for RUNNERS linked down below:


You become a student of movement.

You start to see with running with a new perspective noting that for a strength exercise to help your running, it has to look like running (or at least complement the movement of running).

Exercises need to incorporate in some way:

  • Single leg strength

  • Single leg balance

  • Rotational core stability and strength

  • Ideally reciprocal arm strength/movement (one arm forward, one arm back)

  • Push vs pull upper body strength (think of a push as a push up and pull as a row)

And these can be in any position:

  • Lying on your back

  • Lying on your stomach

  • Hands and knees

  • Kneeling

  • Standing

  • Jumping

It's a lot like learning a new language.

So give yourself time and just practice.

Practice my strength circuits and exercises.

Start noticing how the position looks and feeling like your running.

You'll catch on over time ;)


WRAPPING UP

Look at everything you just learned!


LET ME BE HONEST:

you now know a lot more than I did even 3 years ago. (I promise.)


Starting to combine strength and running is very overwhelming and I tried smooshing random things together for YEARS before I finally found a plan and a rhythm.

And give yourself grace as this rhythm will change even in just a year with different periods of training and life.


Know that:

  • consistency matters most.

  • If in doubt, just start by lifting heavy 2-3x a week

  • It's ok to being with exercises or machines you feel comfortable with

Getting started is the hardest part.


If you're looking for all those resources I mentioned throughout the blog (plus an extra) here you go:

Beginner LEVEL HERE (FREE beginner strength program for runners)

ADVANCED BEGINNER/INTERMEDIATE LEVEL HERE (intermediate/late beginner strength program for runners)


And as always running fit fam,


Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit


P.S. No really, at least grab the FREE STRENGTH GUIDE for runners :)

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