How to Strength Train for Your 5K (and Why You Should)

Want to be a better runner? Don't forget the lifting.

To get better at running, you need to run.

And to get stronger, you need to lift weights and when you combine the two, you’ll get even better at both.

(Especially at running. Strength makes you better at running more than running makes you better at strength.)

A lot of runners are turned off by resistance training because they didn’t want to get ‘bulky’ or they thought running was all they needed to strengthen their legs. However, strength training is essential for runners for it strengthens the muscles and joints, which can improve the race times and decrease injury risk.

Benefits of Strength Training For Runners 

  1. It helps prevent injuries by strengthening the muscles and the connective tissue that surround the joints.
  1. It helps correct muscle imbalances that occur from running. For example, a common imbalance with runners is that they’re stronger and tighter through the quadriceps than the hamstrings. This leads to muscle strains.
  1. Helps you run faster by improving your neuromuscular coordination, power, and VO2 max.(1)
  1. Improves running economy through better movement coordination and stride efficiency.(1)
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The Muscles Used When Running

Running is more than the legs, lungs, and heart. The core and upper body play a big role in running efficiency also. Here are the main muscles used when you’re running and the functions they play.

The Main Lower Body Muscles And Functions 


Bend and extend the knee and help absorb the shock with each foot strike.

Hip Flexors

Stabilize the pelvic and hip region while keeping the hips level with each foot strike.


Help keep the trunk stable and upright and maintains good knee alignment.


Works as a hip extensor and assists in extending the quads by moving the upper leg backward.


Propel the body forward and provide a spring in each step. And the calves help absorb contact with each foot strike.

running athlete
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The Main Core/Upper Body Muscles and Functions

Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Erector Spinae and Transversus Abdominis

Provide stabilization of the entire torso, which allows for the smooth transfer of power from the lower and to the upper body. Core strength and endurance is essential for good running posture.


Assist in flexing the elbows and rotating the forearms, which helps swing the arms back and forth to increase balance and forward momentum.

Upper Back (Trapezius and Rhomboids)

Supports good running posture and allows for the smoother back and forth motion of the arms.

[Related: 5 TRX exercises to build a rock solid upper back]

running guy
Carlos R. Hernandez/Shutterstock

A Sample 2-3 Day Strength Training Program For Runners

The following is an A/B workout structure, with one workout being upper body focused and the other lower body focused. The upper body training is for tired legs (after your long run) and the lower body training is for when your legs are fresh.

This is a 30-minute program, so you can save your energy for what matters most. If you have the time or energy, the last superset is optional. And if you choose to strength train 3 days a week, follow the A/B/A or B/A/B, depending on your running schedule.

The workouts have giant sets, or tri sets: run through each of three exercises in a set, then repeat.

Warm Up

  • Deadbug: 6 reps on each side
  • Passive Leg Lowering: 10 reps each side
  • Hip Extension with 3-second pause: 10 reps
  • Spiderman With Rotation: 6 reps on each side
  • Squat To Stand: 6 reps

Training A (Upper Body Focus)

1A.  Half Kneeling Single Arm Row: 2-3 sets, 8-12 reps

1B.  Push Up Variation: 2-3 sets, 8-12 reps

1C. Suitcase Carry: 2-3 sets, 40 yards each side 

2A. Standing Single Arm Shoulder Press: 2-3 sets, 8 reps each side

2B. Band Pull A Parts: 2-3 sets, 15 reps

2C. Hollow Body Hold Variation: 2-3 sets, 20-20 seconds


3A. Hammer Biceps Curls: 2 sets, 8-12 reps

3B.  Lateral Shoulder Raises: 2 sets, 8-12 reps

[Related: Why Olympic weightlifting will make you a better sprinter]

Training B (Lower Body Focus)

 1A. Goblet Squats: 2-3 sets, 8-12 reps

1B.  Single Leg Hip Thrust: 2-3 sets, 8 reps per side

1C.  Tall Kneeling Overhead Pallof Press: 2 sets, 8 reps

2A. Sprinter Step Ups: 2-3 sets, 8-12 reps each side

2B. Stability Ball Hip Extension Hamstring Curl: 2-3 sets, 10 reps

2C. Stability Ball Front Plank: 2 sets, 5 deep belly breaths


3A. Lateral Band Walk: 2 sets, 15 reps each side

3B.  Hammer Biceps Curls: 2 sets, 8-12 reps 

Wrapping up

Making a small investment in strength training will have a huge pay off for the beginner and hardcore runner. You’ll run more efficiently, keep the injury bug at bay and look great also.

This is a win-win for when you step up for your podium picture.

Featured image via Jesus Cervantes/Shutterstock


  1. Br J Sports Med. 2005 Aug; 39(8): 555–560. Effects of intra-session concurrent endurance and strength training sequence on aerobic performance and capacity. M Chtara, K Chamari, M Chaouachi, A Chaouachi, D Koubaa, Y Feki, G Millet, and M Amri