When runners want to move faster, they often focus on endurance training. While it’s important to make sure your body can give you the energy you need to keep up a good speed for longer distances, strength is equally important. That’s why we’re focusing on strength training for runners in this guide.
Strength training helps runners enhance their endurance, move faster for longer periods of time, and avoid sports injuries. In fact, strength training has been proven to help improve running economy, which is essentially the measurement of your body’s oxygen conversion, cardiovascular performance, and muscular efficiency when you run.
Long story short, the better your running economy, the faster you are. While some runners avoid strength training for fear of too much muscle weighing them down, this isn’t the case. It takes significant dedication to gain and maintain the level of muscle mass that would hinder your running form. Instead, regular strength training will help you tone your body, build a stronger abdominal muscle, and prep your legs for running without any major bulk to worry about.
Both strength and endurance training go hand-in-hand for healthy running, so we’re incorporating both into this guide. Let’s kick things off by looking at 5 must-do workouts that will help you improve both speed and endurance.
5 Must-Do 5k Workouts for Speed and Endurance
Running a 5k is a major achievement, and it takes preparation to go the extra mile (literally!). Your body will need consistent training to make sure it can maintain the right speed and pace for the duration of the 5k. That’s why we suggest training at least two months before your event. If you’re already an experienced runner, then you can start training six to four weeks before the big day.
These five workouts are ideal for anyone that wants to increase their speed and endurance before their 5k.
1. Interval Training
Intervals help you build endurance by using short bursts of extra energy. Over time, they can help you become more capable at pushing through challenges and help you maintain your stride at different paces.
To start interval training, consider this workout:
- Warm-up for 5 minutes
- Jog for 5 minutes, run for 1, walk for 1
- Repeat 3 times
You can jog instead of run as you build endurance; you can also adjust this interval training to be focused on longer running distances, such as running for 6-7 minutes and walking for 2.
Cross-training helps runners improve muscular strength and cardiovascular health while engaging parts of their body they may not focus on as much when running. Flexibility and strength-training exercises are best here, so opt for yoga, stretching, swimming, cycling, or any other physical exercise you enjoy.
We suggest focusing on a two-part cross-training regime that helps both lengthen and strengthen your muscles.
When coming up with a 5k training plan, it’s best to have at least one rest day. You acn cross-train on rest days, but try not to run two days in a row to give your body time to heal and prevent an overuse injury.
3. Strength Training
You can do some strength training without bulky weights and still benefit from them. To prepare for a 5k, you’ll want to focus on leg and abdominal strength so you have plenty of stability, core strength, and balance on the track.
Here is a good beginner strength training workout to try. Feel free to modify as needed to suit your fitness level. Rest for at least 1 minute between sets.
- Do 3-5 minutes of light cardio to lubricate your muscles
- Do at least 3-minutes of warm-up stretches
- Squats: 10 reps, 3 sets
- High Knees: 20 reps, 2 sets
- Plank: 30 seconds
- Russian Twists: 20 reps, 3 sets
- Dumbbell Rows: 10 reps, 3 sets
1. Plyometric Exercises
Plyometric training refers to dynamic movements like kicking and jumping. Plyometric training for runners is great because it can help improve muscle response and improve neuromuscular coordination.
Here are some plyometric exercises that can help you build strength:
- Warm-up for 3-5 minutes with a light jog
- Stretch your major muscle groups for at least 5 minutes.
- Jump squats: 10 reps, 2 sets
- Split square jump: 10 reps, 2 sets
- Alternating knee lunge: 10 reps, 2 sets
- Skater hops: 10 reps, 2 sets
2. Stretching Exercises
How can stretching help you build endurance? Well, stretching increases flexibility, which improves endurance by improving your range of motion and allowing you to move more freely for longer periods of time.
Stretches also help reduce the risk of injury, and the benefits are greatest when you practice stretching daily rather than just right before and after a running workout.
Some stretches you should incorporate into your 5k training plan include:
- Quadriceps Stretch — Stand about shoulder’s width apart, lift one leg so the heel touches the calf, and hold for 20-30 seconds.
- Calf Stretch — Stand with your hands against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart. Step one foot back and press your heel into the ground, bending the other leg slightly at the knee until you feel a stretch in your back leg’s calf. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
- Hamstring Stretch — From a standing position with your feet together, slowly lean forward to place your fingertips on the ground (or as close as you can reach). Move your feet a few steps apart, and hold for 30 seconds. Keep your spine straight and activate your core rather than rounding your back.
- Hip Flexors Stretch (Runner’s Lunge) — Starting on both knees, move your right or left leg forward by placing your foot on the ground. Lean forward slightly until you feel a stretch through your right hip. Hold for 30 seconds, and raise an arm or use a wall to place your hand on for balance.
Read Becoming a Sustainable Runner by Zoë Rom and Tina Muir
One of the best books for runners to read on their journey toward endurance and power is “Becoming a Sustainable Runner.” In this guide, authors Zoë Rom and Tina Muir merge their love of running with a passion to save the planet.
The book helps unify your self-discovery through running with your own values to get even more out of each workout. You’ll learn practical tips that help benefit both your physical and mental health.
Throughout the story, the authors share their own inspiring experiences to help you motivate yourself to push through challenges. While the focus of the book includes topics like environmental conservation, the heart of its message is how to become a runner for the long-term.
Instead of just aiming to reach generic goals, the book encourages you to set your own deeper ambitions and find a passion for running that will help you stay motivated, happy, and healthy throughout your journey.
Listen to Pacing, Structure, and Philosophy of Running Workouts With Elisabeth Scott
Elisabeth Scott is a running coach and the host of the Running Explained podcast. In this episode, she covers what running workouts should look like, the difference between pacing and running, and how to structure workouts in a way that are genuinely beneficial for your goals and health.
Running workouts tend to get the most focus, but there are so many others out there that can benefit you. This episode is great for learning how to train as a runner without solely focusing on jogging and interval training.
You’ll learn about the 80/20 rule, where 80% of your running exercises are done easily and 20% require max effort; there is also a lot of terminology covered to help you better interpret and design your own workouts.
Best of all, the podcast walks you through how to develop your own workouts to reach your goals. You’ll learn how to define your objectives and pick the right type of exercises for what you hope to achieve. All the while, you’ll be able to consider factors like mileage, pace, and strides to get the most out of each training session.
Strength Training for Runners — Your How-To Guide
Strength training is a runner’s best friend. That’s right, you need to tone your muscles to get the most out of them, and running isn’t always enough. Instead, strength training comes from weight lifting or exercises that allow you to use your body weight to strengthen your muscles.
When it comes to runner strength training, focus on controlled, precise movements. You’re probably used to getting a more intense cardio workout, but that isn’t the aim with strength training. Instead, you want to focus on compound exercises that engage multiple muscle groups at once.
These include lunges, squats, and deadlifts. Remember, have fun! You aren’t locked in to any one type of training just because you’re a runner at heart. In reality, any type of strength training works as long as you’re practicing safely.
One area you may enjoy working on is your upper body, which many runners ignore. By improving upper body strength, you can improve your balance and posture, which may improve your running form. This can also help improve endurance by ensuring your body doesn’t tire out as quickly.
What Does Running Strength Training Involve?
The core of running strength training concentrates on exercises that tone your major muscle groups — the arms, legs, shoulders, chest, back, and abdominals. By developing total-body strength, you can become a more efficient runner, have more energy during runs, and reduce your risk of injury.
You should strength train at least twice a week, and many runners like to do this on their rest days. However, if you have a really intense workout one day, you should wait at least 24 hours before doing any strength training exercises.
As for the exercises themselves, you can focus on toning specific areas or do compound exercises. Many runners find that mixing and matching their routines keep things interesting while also ensuring they give enough attention to each muscle group.
And if you’re worried about gains, don’t be. You can build strength without weights by using your body weight. This is called calisthenics. If you do incorporate some weights, your objective isn’t to constantly scale up how much you can lift. Instead, you’re focusing on giving your muscles a nice challenge while maximizing their ability to do their job.
Train for Strength
As a runner, you don’t need a super extensive strength training plan. Start off with 10 reps of each exercise, and work up from there. Within two weeks, you may be able to do 20. Keep working on each exercise until you can complete the reps easily. That’s when you know you’re ready for more weight or an additional set.
Remember, the goal is to give your major muscle groups a workout, and use them in ways you don’t while you’re running. Doing so can give you an edge on the track and help prevent strain and injury as well. Plus, strength training can be incorporated into cardio workouts that make good cross-training exercises for runners.
How Much Strength Training Do Runners Need?
The good news is that runners don’t need to dedicate half their week to building strength. Just two to three 10-minute training sessions a week is a good start. And if you build your strength workouts into your cardio, it can be even easier to maximize the benefits without spending too much time working out.
You can easily strength train just 20 to 30 minutes a week and experience great results. Go at your own pace, and remember that it’s not a race. Adopt a new mindset toward strength training that allows you to do it without feeling the need to speed up or consistently do more for the sake of it. Long term efforts yield the greatest results.
How Heavy Is Heavy Enough?
Start small, perhaps 1-5 pounds for women and 5-8 pounds for men. Test each weight out and see how it feels — you want a weight that you can comfortably lift but offers some tension. You should be able to perform your first 10 reps and feel good about it; moderate difficulty is always best. Never try to lift anything that’s a genuine struggle as this can lead to painful tears and long-term injuries.
Get More Running Tips from Fixx Nutrition
Thanks for reading our guide! If you’d like more tips on how to become a better runner, check out our blog for additional tips and recommendations from the experts behind Fuel X and CrampFix.