Tailoring Strength Training to Runners


Strength training can be a potent tool for runner’s to add to their training regimen to reduce their chances of injury, put themselves in the best position to deal with challenging training and perform their best on race day. Unfortunately, many runners struggle with what to do, how to do it or when to fit it in their training cycle. Here are a few things I think are key when we go to write a strength program for an endurance athlete.

Chris Johnson and I talked about this topic in our very first podcast episode listed below.

Today, I want to highlight a few things I feel are important when developing strength programs for runners.


The foundation of every program I write is the fundamental movements of squat, hinge, push, pull and carry. I was first exposed to this idea by the readings of Dan John. This idea has been discussed in numerous blogs, articles, videos and texts by many different authors. Runner’s are athletes are athletes and should be treated as such. These specific movements challenge the entire body and we have to use our whole body when we run. Before a runner needs to focus on anything “running specific” in the weight room they should be competent in these movements with external load (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbells, etc).


No two athletes are set up the same. For this reason, I believe every runner’s strength programming has to be individualized. If I have an athlete with retroverted hips, a history of high risk stress fractures and limited ankle mobility, their programming should reflect that. Simply getting a runner to goblet squat, bridge, carry and plank will do wonders for most novice lifters. To really squeeze all of the juice out of lifting we can, we have to adapt our programming to each individual.  We don’t want to strive away from the idea of incorporating those foundation movements, but those are categories of movements not specific exercises. We have lots of options within each specific movement.  Along with specific assessments, a thorough injury and training history is vital for us to optimize our programming to the athlete as it helps us guide both what types of exercises to include and how to determine appropriate loading strategies.


There has be a lot more vigor recently around the idea that runner’s should be lifting heavy. Endurance sports require high levels of resiliency due to it’s high volumes of training and lack of immediate improvements. Heavy resistance training provides a host of benefits from improvements in neural function, bone strength and muscle/tendon resiliency allows runners to hold faster paces, deal with higher volumes of training and have a mental edge. If I had a runner who runs ten miles per week and wants to run a marathon, simply adding volume would probably be beneficial. Working on high intensity intervals might be in their future, but might not serve as a great of a purpose during the initial block of training. The same thing goes for lifting. We need to start with basic movements and gradually add load over the time. This gives the body time to adapt to the training stimulus as we progress them to heavier lifts and more challenging exercise variations. Much like with injuries, it’s not about how much you lift (weight, reps/sets), it’s about how you can get there. One goal I have for all my athletes is that we get their lower body lifts (squat variations, deadlifts, etc) to at least their bodyweight for a 5 RM. This does not mean we just throw weight on the bar and tell them to push through. Their should be a steady progression starting with understanding the basic mechanics of a lift over time. A runner can easily put 50# on a their split squat or deadlift in a few weeks, but they have to understand technical proficiency and the goal of each movements before we just start throwing more weight on the bar. 


Running places a very specific set of demands on the body. If a runner has a history of a specific injury it has a direct impact on our strength programming. If we know a runner has trouble with a certain muscle, movement or joint position, keeping them comfortable loading those areas is important. Whether this means incorporating specific activities in their warm up, tweaking their heavier lifts, or including specific loading drills to an area, we can tailor our programming to an athlete’s specific history.

For example, if I have a runner with a history of hamstring strains or hamstring tendinopathy, I’ll often incorporate these variations in their programming along with squatting and deadlifting.


One of my biggest pet peeves is when runner’s come back to training after extended competition substantially weaker than they were the previous offseason. Any time we are transitioning to the competitive season, running is always more important than lifting. During periods of less training or competition, building up a big volume of lifting allows us to cut our volume of lifting while keeping the speed of movement and weights used high.

Thanks for reading!

Nathan Carlson DPT, USATF

Nathan Carlson