Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner, USA Track & Field certified coach, and the founder of Strength Running where runners go to get faster and prevent injuries.
There aren’t many runners who would turn down the opportunity to gain more speed. But anyone who’s ever trained for a PR knows that getting faster is easier said than done. To knock precious seconds off that mile time, you may need to incorporate some serious strength training into your routine. Yup, it’s time to move from the roads to the weight room.
“Strength work increases stride power, helping you cover more ground with each step,” says Scott Jones, an exercise physiologist and host of the Athlete on Fire podcast. “This is when you really start to see your pace increase.” Jones is adamant about the importance of core strength for runners, saying, “If you want to get faster, you’ll need a more powerful core.”
“Remember that strength training should complement your running, not detract from it.”
How to Fit Weights Into Your Routine
But what type of strength training is best? And how can you squeeze it into your (already hectic) schedule? Well, if you’ve never done any strength training, start with bodyweight exercises and work progressively toward weighted movements. And yes, you will need to start lifting heavy. It’s the best way to improve efficiency and power, which will allow you to exert greater force in the push-off phase of your stride.
When it comes to scheduling strength training, always remember this essential rule: Keep your hard days hard and your easy days easy. In other words, don’t schedule an intense weight session on the same day as a recovery run. Plan to do your strength training on the same day as medium or high-intensity runs to maximize results.
If you’re strapped for time, don’t worry: You only need to do heavier weight sessions one to two times per week. Make these sessions short and focused. Remember that strength training should complement your running, not detract from it. If lifting leaves you so sore that it compromises your running workouts, reduce your intensity, frequency, or both.
5 Strength Training Moves to Amp Up Your Speed
Step away from the gym machines — you can avoid wasting time on exercises that are overly specific and don’t support your running. Instead, try these compound movements that target multiple muscle groups. Lifting with free weights better simulates functional, real world movements and will help maximize muscle recruitment.
For the workout below, complete two to three sets with four to eight reps per set, and allow adequate rest (two to three minutes) between exercises. Keep the intensity high and the duration short: 30 minutes of heavier lifting once a week is plenty. Not such which dumbbells to grab? Always master your form with lighter weights before progressing to something heavier.
1. Dumbbell Squats
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes straight ahead, dumbbell in each hand (a). With arms bent 90 degrees, hold dumbbells at shoulder-height (b). Sit back like there’s a chair behind you, until your thighs are parallel to the ground (c). Driving through your heels, return to the standing position, ensuring your lower back stays in a neutral position (d). Perform 10 reps.
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How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed forward (a). Squat down to grasp your barbell, hands shoulder-width apart (b). With your lower back in a neutral position (not rounded) and arms straight, drive through your heels and lift the bar straight up, clenching your glutes throughout the movement (c). Hinge at the hips with knees slightly bent to lower the bar to shin-level, maintaining a neutral back, shoulder and chest position (d). Perform 5-10 reps.
3. Bench Press
How to: Lie with your back on the bench, grabbing the bar with your palms facing away from you, grip slightly wider than your shoulders (a). Brace your abs while squeezing your glutes and shoulder blades to lift the bar off the rack (b). Slowly lower the bar to your chest, then raise it back to the starting position. Look straight up and use a spotter for safety. Keep the motion slow and controlled (c). Perform 4-8 reps.
How to: Start with your palms facing away from you, shoulder-width apart (a). Engaging your back, arms and core, pull yourself up toward the bar until your chest touches the bar (b). Lower yourself down to the starting position and repeat (c). For assisted pull-ups, use an exercise band to help propel you upward. Repeat for 4-8 reps (or however many you can complete with good form).
5. Weighted Lunges
How to: Stand with a dumbbell in each hand, feet shoulder-width apart (a). Step forward with your right leg, and lower your body down until your right knee is positioned over your ankle and your left knee kisses the ground (b). Always maintain a neutral spine and remain as stable as possible. Step back and repeat with the opposite leg (c). Perform 8-12 reps.
Once you have successfully made strength training a part of your schedule, don’t let yourself get too comfortable in your routine. Whether you’re lifting to prevent running injuries or to gain speed, be sure to challenge yourself over time. That PR you’re chasing will be so worth it.