The Best Strength Training Exercises For Distance Runners

Squats, lunges, and other strength training exercises for distance runners can enhance your performance and reduce injury risk. Weightlifting increases muscle strength and muscular power (via the Strength and Conditioning Journal). Moreover, it allows runners to maintain proper form and prevent injuries. Some exercises can also improve balance in the gluteal area and stabilize the knee joint, reports Sports Performance Bulletin. Others can strengthen your core muscles and minimize trunk rotation during running.

Running engages nearly every muscle in your body. Your arms, shoulders, quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes, and back muscles all work in coordination when you're on the track. Even the slightest imbalance can affect your performance and lead to painful injuries. For example, runners with weak or tight hamstrings are at higher risk for muscle strains, explains the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Compound exercises, such as barbell back squats and deadlifts, can increase hamstring strength and improve your conditioning.

Build lower body strength with the power clean

The power clean and its variations strengthen the posterior chain and increase explosive power. This compound movement hits your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and other major muscle groups, leading to greater strength and endurance. "Muscle groups in the posterior chain — your glutes, hamstring, back, etcetera — will be heavily involved during the initial lift, while the anterior component of the body — abdominals, quads, deltoid, and so on – become heavily tied in during the 'catch' position," explains trainer Arby Keheli (via Men's Health)

As a rule of thumb, start with lighter weights and increase the load gradually. Doing too much too soon can result in injuries. For best results, try to move the weight as fast as possible. Use your glutes and leg muscles to control the movement. If you're a novice lifter, practice the hang clean, front squat, and clean pull before attempting the power clean. These full-body movements can improve your balance and coordination, making it easier to maintain good form. 

Incorporate squats and deadlifts into your training routine

The squat and deadlift, two of the best strength training exercises for distance runners, can build lean mass and boost physical performance. Both exercises strengthen the muscles around your knee, leading to a lower risk of injuries. Your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hip muscles all come into play. "These are the biggest and most important muscles for runners because they power your stride," said certified coach Jason Fitzgerald in an interview with Runner's World.

Squatting also develops core strength and stability, which may help improve running economy. Fitzgerald recommends performing different squat variations with moderate to heavy weights. The heavier the load, the fewer reps you should complete. Ideally, perform this movement after a run or on your non-running days.

Deadlifts are just as beneficial for long-distance runners. This functional exercise strengthens the posterior chain and builds core stability, making it easier to maintain your balance (via Women's Running). Moreover, it can improve shoulder blade rotation and increase upper body strength, allowing you to maintain good running form for longer, explains Training Peaks. Your workout routine may also include lunges, hip thrusts, glute bridges, and plyometrics, such as jumping jacks, burpees, squat jumps, or mountain climbers. These movements engage all the major muscle groups while increasing full-body strength.