3 Best Strength Exercises For Runners

Recently, I was asked what I thought the 3 best strength exercises are for runners. These questions are always fun and of course we realize a proper strength program would typically be more comprehensive.  But, if we follow the 80/20 rule, which states something like "80% of the results come from 20% of the work", perhaps we can think of the moves that make up the 20%.

So, if I HAD to pick 3 strength training exercises for runners, I'd pick the Hip Thrust, Single Leg Deadlift, and the Suitcase Carry.  I'm sure there's PLENTY of room for debate here, so comment below if you like!

Now, before I discuss why I honed in on those, we have to realize that strength training is a skill and you absolutely must demonstrate competency in basic moves before more advanced exercises are attempted.  So, be patient, and work up to more advanced movements as you become proficient and confident.  That said, I picked two relatively easy moves and one that is harder.

Since the average runner is typically sedentary a majority of the day, I'll focus on strengthening the hips and core.  But make no mistake, one can develop a decent amount of strength throughout the whole body by doing these.

Hip Thrust

This relatively basic movement pattern is nearly unrivaled for backside development and simplicity.  Starting with your upper back across a bench, you simply hinge at the hips to lower yourself then squeeze your butt muscles hard to rise up and finish.  The Hip Thrust and the Single Leg Deadlift (described below) are fantastic choices for runners because they develop strength in your hip extensors (your butt) which are so crucial for producing a powerful stride AND controlling unwanted motion at the knee. I like to focus on building some endurance and coordination first before progressing to strength.  Try 2 sets of 15-20 reps in the first month before progressing down to 3 sets of 6-10 reps.

What's strong? I'd say 2x bodyweight is getting there...


Single Leg Deadlift

I chose this type of deadlift because I feel that if a runner can demonstrate beautiful, symmetrical form, then they are likely someone who is functioning at a high level.  By that I mean that they have excellent mobility AND control over their body.

While I love the classic deadlift for the total body strength it builds, the single leg version is more specific to runners because a) you're standing on one foot, just like in running b) the legs are scissoring, just like in running and c) there is a strong rotational component and we need to be able to control that rotation.  Additionally, when you hold a weight in the non-weight bearing arm you amplify the "anti-rotation" core challenge; the weight wants to pull you into a flexed, twisted spine.  Your challenge is to resist that.

Once you've mastered the form (and that may take a while - start unweighted at first), shoot for 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps per side.

What's strong? 1 strict form rep with a half-bodyweight (men) or one-third bodyweight (women) dumbbell in one hand.


Suitcase Carry

Finally, I love the suitcase carry for it's simplicity (just hold a weight in one hand at your side and walk!) and awesome core challenge to the side of the body which is a plane of motion in which runners are notoriously weak.  A couple of easy to follow rules here:

  1. Maintain perfect posture as you walk
  2. Crush your grip
  3. Don't let the weight rest on your body
  4. Do NOT allow your feet to cross paths.  Sometimes I'll lay down a long stretch of rope and straddle the rope as I walk to "remind" myself not to cross my steps.

Try walking for 30-50 paces or 20-30 seconds.  The goal is to carry as much weight as you can with perfect form.

What's strong? I'd say for men half-bodyweight and women one-third bodyweight for 30 seconds is pretty good.


If these exercises aren't in your program, consider subtracting something and adding one or more of these. Contact me or a local fitness professional to help teach you proper technique. Videos are great and all, but nothing beats live instruction!