For years, the belief has been that the best way to improve your running is by running. In the past, it was simply unheard of for runners to lift heavy weights.
But does this long-held belief of running to improve running hold true?
Or is strength training the missing link that runners have been searching for?
What is Strength Training?
Strength training simply means performing an activity against a resistance. And there are multiple types of resistance-based exercises including bodyweight, elastic bands, and external weights.
More specifically, push-ups are examples of bodyweight exercises, and using dumbbells or barbells is an example of external resistance.
All of these are essential to building and maintaining muscle mass. The style of resistance you choose depends on your goals, fitness levels, and the sport you're training for.
Law enforcement and the military have understood the benefits of weight training for years. Navy SEALS undergo rigorous weight training to improve their running speed, which for them, can mean the difference between life and death.
Should I Lift Weights to Run Faster?
Tremendous aerobic and functional capacity are necessary in determining a runner's success and lifting weights plays an essential role in improving both areas.
Runners often overlook weight training and are stuck in the mindset that the best way to improve their running is to run.
Weightlifting builds muscle, reduces the chance of injury, and corrects muscular imbalances, resulting in increased power and speed.
Reduce Risk of Injury
According to a recent study, running can place up to three times your body weight on each leg. The study concluded the impact and stress caused by running might be reduced by improving muscle stability and strength.
Incorporating weight training into your running program increases stability and muscle strength, vital for minimizing impact and reducing injury. 
Lifting weights is an excellent way to recruit and enhance the activation of muscles typically neglected when running.
Designing a program that includes isolation, compound, and running-specific exercises will recruit different muscles and improve your running speed.
An example program might look like this:
- On Monday, you perform a compound movement such as squats.
- On Wednesday, you perform an isolation movement like the glute bridge.
- On Friday, you choose running-specific exercises like pistol squats or speed skaters.
Running Efficiency and Biomechanics
The term “biomechanics” refers to how you perform a specific activity or movement. Incorporating weightlifting exercises that are specific to running will improve your technique, making you much more efficient. When running techniques are poor, it results in wasted energy and ultimately slower times.
One study concluded that experienced athletes who undertook a weight training program increased running performance and efficiency by nearly eight percent. 
Lifting Heavy vs. Bodyweight Exercises for Running
When it comes to the type of resistance training that is best for running, most sports scientists would agree that the benefits of lifting heavy far outweigh bodyweight exercises.
I'm not saying there isn't a place for bodyweight exercises. If you're new to weight training, bodyweight exercises are an excellent way to build strength and improve your technique. Once you're confident with your technique, you can progress to lifting slightly heavier weights.
Lifting heavier builds overall strength, increases stability, and lowers your chance of injury. Once you progress to running-specific weight training, you'll see a substantial improvement in speed and power.
How Often Should Runners Lift Weights?
The number of times you should lift per week will vary greatly and requires several factors to be considered, such as:
- How long are your runs?
- How many days per week do you run?
- What type of runner are you?
- How many rest days do you have?
If you're a runner specializing in distances like marathons, setting aside blocks of time for strength training is critical. This way, you can increase strength without interfering with your running.
Generally speaking, two to three days of weight training per week should be enough to start seeing improvements in overall strength and running power.
Ideally, to see the greatest benefit, try to perform your weight training on low-volume running days.
Should Runners Lift Heavy?
Many runners shy away from lifting weights as they fear it will negatively impact their running, but they fail to see that the opposite may ring true.
One study from 2018 found evidence that strength training can improve sprint times; however, results were inconclusive, and further investigation is needed. 
Compound exercises like squats and deadlifts are excellent ways to increase overall body strength. These movements also target the core muscles, which are critical for correct running technique.
If you're recovering from injury or are new to weight training, lifting with lighter weights is recommended. Lifting lighter is a safe and effective way to build strength while reducing the risk of further injury.
Exercises for Faster Running
There are no shortages to choose from when selecting training exercises but nailing down the best ones is critical for performance.
Some of the best exercises for increasing running speed are:
- Single leg squats
Exercises like squats and deadlifts are perfect for runners because they activate and recruit muscles not typically used while running, such as the hips, glutes, and hamstrings.
Improved core strength is another significant benefit as it supports posture and proper technique.
Plyometric movements are also an excellent way to improve strength and power; exercises such as box jumps, side hops, and burpees increase your power and running speed.
Upper body exercises like bench press, military press, and upright rows also play an essential role in improving balance and stability; both correlated to faster running times.
Things to Consider
With all this extra training, there are some things you need to consider.
Ensuring that you're fueling correctly to account for the extra training is a must. Increasing your protein and carb intake is essential for performance and, more importantly, recovery.
Most people loathe stretching, but unfortunately, it's a necessary part of fitness, so don't neglect it. Stretching immediately after exercise helps reduce injury and promotes a speedy recovery allowing you to get back to training quicker.
Weight Training and Running
It's clear to see that the benefits of weight training far outweigh the negatives when it comes to running performance.
Increased strength, stability, muscle activation, and reduced injury are all significant benefits of incorporating weight training into your running program.
Finally, make sure not to neglect areas like nutrition and stretching, and plan your rest days carefully to mitigate the chance of overtraining.
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- Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. & Hayes, P.R. Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med 48, 1117–1149 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7