If you want to get better at running, you’re supposed to, well, run, right? But here’s the thing: If you spend all of your designated workout time racking up the miles, you may be missing out on an opportunity to improve your running performance through weight lifting.

Strength training may be just what you need to get that edge and achieve your PR. While it may seem counterintuitive, replacing some of your runs with resistance training sessions can enhance your running skills.

The benefits of building muscle can’t be denied. But you’ve got a lot on your plate, so what’s the perfect training plan? How do you log miles while building muscle? We tapped real-life runners and PTs to share how they fit resistance training in and all the benefits of weight lifting for runners.

Benefits of weight lifting for runners

Even amateurs can enjoy the science-backed benefits running has to offer1: better cholesterol, improved mental health2, cardiorespiratory fitness, longer life3, etc. But adding in weight training can further boost outcomes and make you a better runner. Here are some more reasons to lift weights:

Improved running economy

Running economy is an important metric. It’s basically how much oxygen your body uses to run at a specific pace. You want your body to use oxygen as efficiently as possible so you can go faster and longer. Some runners are worried that building muscle will slow them down, but research has shown the opposite is true.

According to a study done on runners4, when you lift heavy (≧80% of your 1 rep max) for 6 to 14 weeks, 2 to 4 days a week, you have the potential to gain strength and better running economy. Regularly squatting and deadlifting can change the rate at which your muscles fire and improve muscle recruitment.

Basically, you’re allowing your muscles to work in your favor—reducing the energy cost of running. It makes running easier. You’re more fuel-efficient and more likely to cross that finish line a bit quicker if you strength-train.

Injury prevention

Ever had an injury derail your training? Common running injuries include5 knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and IT band syndrome. You run long enough and you’ve likely experienced pain somewhere. But experts agree: Weight lifting for runners may reduce the likelihood of injury6.

That’s been the experience of Stephanie Darby, RD, a registered dietitian for female runners. “I went through a season of injury after running through two pregnancies,” she says. “I found that the best way to heal and prevent further injury is having strong, well-functioning muscles to support my endurance activity. This also means sufficient rest, mobility work, and proper strength training for my body to run with optimal form and feel my best.”

Better running mechanics

But isn’t running making your legs strong enough? Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, an avid runner and dietitian with Nutrition for Running, says no. “Consistent strength training helps strengthen auxiliary muscles that aid in running.”

Weakness in certain muscles7 strains your joints and changes your running mechanics. For instance, IT band syndrome is often linked8 with weak hip abductors. These muscles move your legs to the side and running alone may not be enough to strengthen them. Strengthening the hip and knee also helps with knee pain9—a thorn in many runners’ sides.

How runners can work in weight lifting

Squeezing in that long run is already a challenge, so successful weight lifting for runners is all about balance. You want to prevent soreness (like that can’t-sit-on-the-toilet-after-leg-day soreness) on your important run days, while still working hard enough during strength training to see progress. The secret? It’s all about planning.

Combine strength-building with speed work

Claire Morrow, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Hinge Health and a runner who has specific days she likes to do her resistance training. “I like to do them the same day as speed work and then have my easy days really feel like recovery days,” she says. “Most importantly, you don’t want to feel sore for your most important run workouts during the week—probably your long run on the weekend and your intense speed day mid-week.”

When you complete your strength training on your speed days, it frees up more days for rest.

Also consider stacking mobility and strength into one workout to help save time and ensure you do both.

Make sure you’re resting

Your schedule can change to suit your training needs. But no matter what, you need to include rest days.

“When I switch into longer distance training seasons, I reduce strength training to three days [a week],” says Darby. “[This] allows for longer weekend runs without further exhausting my body and still having space for at least two full rest days.”

Overtraining is a real thing. “As a dietitian who works with a lot of runners, I have seen firsthand how easy it can be to push through burnout and further fuel burnout with too much training,” Darby says. “I do believe it is possible to strength train, run and race to reach PR goals, and support stress levels and nervous system needs—if done properly.”

There are many factors influencing your running performance10, including nutrition, sleep, stress, and rest. Rest days allow your muscles to recover from training and come back even stronger.

Balance your running week

So how do you fit it in? Darby says her week of training looks like this:

How often do you need to strength train?

To build muscle, you’ll want to train consistently. How often you should lift depends on whether you’re actively training for a race or not.

Morrow says when you’re training for a race, “…it is best to decrease the intensity of your strength training but continue strengthening two days per week. These workouts should be focused more on injury prevention and endurance.”

Are you in race-prep mode? Schlichter shares her split: “When I’m in a training cycle that has me running four to five days a week, I’ll work to find the time to fit in two 20-minute strength training cycles a week.”

In the off-season, you can focus on muscle-building. “This is a good time to think about running fewer days in the week, like maybe only two days, and replace those runs with strength training or cross training,” says Morrow. “I like to do strength training three days per week during this time.”

What are the best weight-lifting exercises for runners?

You’ve probably noticed your legs getting strong with running. But you’ll perform better if you strengthen your whole body.

“Runners benefit from both upper-body strength training to fuel form and alignment as well as lower-body strength to support the foot, hip, and core connection,” says Darby.

Compound movements are a great place to start. “It’s important to incorporate full body strengthening to help with efficiency and posture while running,” Morrow says.

Upper-body moves

For upper-body exercises, stick with multi-joint exercises. These strengthen multiple muscles in your upper-body more functionally. Morrow likes these:

Core exercises

Don’t ignore your core. “Core strengthening is also crucial. Practice a variety of exercises to keep your abdominal and back muscles strong throughout the year,” Morrow adds. Consider adding these to your weekly workouts:

Lower-body moves

The off-season is a great time to push your body, strength-wise. “You can do more double-leg exercises with heavier weights and fewer reps,” says Morrow.


Plyometrics are one of the most important aspects of training for power. Morrow recommends using plyometrics to boost your running during all seasons. “Plyos are great for helping improve your body’s capacity for the repeated impact of running,” Morrow says.

Weak areas

If your races are a long way out, it’s a terrific time to target your weak areas. “Single-leg exercises are great for working on muscular endurance and helping reveal any side-to-side imbalances you may have,” Morrow suggests.

She says these exercises are also useful for race training.“During race prep, I like to perform more single-leg exercises (single-leg RDL, lunges, step-ups/downs, etc.) with lower weight and higher reps (3 to 4 sets of 15 repetitions on each leg).”

Whether you’re jogging for fun or looking to PR your next race, strength training and running are a winning combo for preventing injury and improving your performance.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.

  1. Hespanhol Junior LC, Pillay JD, van Mechelen W, Verhagen E. Meta-Analyses of the Effects of Habitual Running on Indices of Health in Physically Inactive Adults. Sports Med. 2015;45(10):1455-1468. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0359-y

  2. Oswald F, Campbell J, Williamson C, Richards J, Kelly P. A Scoping Review of the Relationship between Running and Mental Health. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(21):8059. Published 2020 Nov 1. doi:10.3390/ijerph17218059

  3. Lee DC, Brellenthin AG, Thompson PD, Sui X, Lee IM, Lavie CJ. Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity. Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2017;60(1):45-55. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2017.03.005

  4. Llanos-Lagos C, Ramirez-Campillo R, Moran J, Sáez de Villarreal E. Effect of Strength Training Programs in Middle- and Long-Distance Runners’ Economy at Different Running Speeds: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis. Sports Med. Published online January 2, 2024. doi:10.1007/s40279-023-01978-y

  5. Kakouris, Nicolas et al. “A systematic review of running-related musculoskeletal injuries in runners.” Journal of sport and health science vol. 10,5 (2021): 513-522. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2021.04.001

  6. Šuc A, Šarko P, Pleša J, Kozinc Ž. Resistance Exercise for Improving Running Economy and Running Biomechanics and Decreasing Running-Related Injury Risk: A Narrative Review. Sports (Basel). 2022;10(7):98. Published 2022 Jun 24. doi:10.3390/sports10070098

  7. Koldenhoven RM, Virostek A, DeJong AF, Higgins M, Hertel J. Increased Contact Time and Strength Deficits in Runners With Exercise-Related Lower Leg Pain. J Athl Train. 2020;55(12):1247-1254. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-0514.19

  8. Foch E, Brindle RA, Pohl MB. Lower extremity kinematics during running and hip abductor strength in iliotibial band syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Gait Posture. 2023;101:73-81. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2023.02.001

  9. Na Y, Han C, Shi Y, Zhu Y, Ren Y, Liu W. Is Isolated Hip Strengthening or Traditional Knee-Based Strengthening More Effective in Patients With Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome? A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. Orthop J Sports Med. 2021;9(7):23259671211017503. Published 2021 Jul 29. doi:10.1177/23259671211017503

  10. Silva M, Ready LV, Etzel CM. Foundational Health for Runners: Is it the Key to Minimizing Injury?. R I Med J (2013). 2020;103(7):54-58. Published 2020 Sep 1.

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