Weightlifting Training for Distance Runners

Strength and conditioning programs are key in distance running programs to increase leg strength, correct muscular imbalances and asymmetries, and improve overall performance. Weightlifting, in the form of snatches and clean and jerks offer distance runners a unique opportunity to tap into more muscle tissue and increase muscular power.

Therefore, in this article we will set out to discuss the following aspects to help coaches gain a deeper insight on the pros and cons of using the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean, and jerk) with distance runners and aid in the decision process:

  • Benefits of Weightlifting Training for Distance Runners
  • Weightlifting Exercises for Distance Runners
  • Leg Training for Distance Runners

  • Sample 3-Day Off Season Program

  • Sample 2-Day In Season Program

Benefits of Weightlifting Training for Distance Runners

It’s not secret that resistance training is beneficial for runners. Researchers correlated an 8% increase in running efficiency with runners who trained regularly with weights, many of which performed strength and power exercises (1). Below are three (3) reasons why performing cleans and snatch with distance may lead to increased performance of general athleticism.

Posterior and Kinetic Chain Development

Running, and most human locomotive endeavors, is highly dependent on posterior chain muscles (hamstring, glutes, and erectors). Weightlifting movements offer runners the ability to not only strengthen and increase development of these muscle groups, but also reinforce synchronization of muscle contractions at higher speeds which could improve firing rates and patterning during locomotive movements (2).

Improved “Athletic” Power

While distance running doesn’t rely upon high amount of power outputs, athletes can benefit from incorporating weightlifting movements into their training program due to the overall stimulus it can have on overall muscular development. Olympic lifts offer distance runners, who are primary made up of slow twitch muscle fiber, to tap into more athletic potentials by targeting muscle fibers (fast twitch) that may not be getting trained efficiently. The ability to tap into more muscle fibers, regardless of composition, could give the runner a competitive edge at higher intensities or under high amounts of fatigue.

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Enhance Muscle Coordination

The snatch and clean are dynamic movements that require great amounts of strength, power and synchronization of muscular contractions. Movement like the snatch and clean can help athletes increase coordination of muscle contraction, proprioception, and movement. Enhancing muscle coordination can improve firing patterns and potentially allow runners to react to external forces and eccentric loading of running in a more efficient manner; ultimately improving running efficiency and performance (3).

Weightlifitng Exercises for Distance Runners

Below are weightlifting variations that can be used with distance runners to increase lower body power and general athleticism. Note, that most distance runners will receive a benefit from moving moderate loads at high speeds, therefore the overall goal should not be to lift the most amount of weight but rather the move weight as fast as possible. Lastly, athletes can perform non-barbell based weightlifting movements to increase unilateral coorndiariom and power as well.

Hang Clean

The hang clean is a posterior chain dominant movement that has a lifter perform a clean (either full squat or power) with the barbell from a hanging position. In doing so, coaches can increase the eccentric loading and stretch shortening cycle capacities of the hamstrings and glutes to improve overall hip extension abilities. Locomotion, such as running, is dependent on these interactions, therefore making the hang clean viable option to enhancing these performance properties.

Power Clean

The power clean is a clean variation that can be done to incorporate more pulling strength into the program, as this clean is done from the floor (rather than the hang). This can also be done to demand athletes to create more power since the cannot simply squat lower clean the load.

Clean Pull

Clean pulls are an exercise that allows an athlete to produce high amounts of power without having to turn the barbell over into the clean receiving position. This can be done to also simplify the movement to allow an athlete to attack heavier loads with confidence and power.

Power Snatch

Like the power clean, the power snatch can improve the power output capacities of an athlete, yet also increase upper body involvement as the end with the load overhead.

Non-Barbell “Olympic Lifts”

Non-barbell “Olympic lifts”, such as dumbbell snatches and cleans can be used to increase unilateral performance, offer training variability, or allow athletes who may have restrictions (mobility) to partake in power training.

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Leg Training for Distance Runners

In the below sections we offer coaches and athletes lower body strength training exercises to improve strength, hypertrophy, and muscular endurance (unilateral and bilateral) and posterior chain development.

Squat Variations

Below are a few bilateral and unilateral squat styles coaches can use to develop leg strength and posterior chain musculature; both of which are necessary for running speed and efficiency.

  • Back Squat: The back squat is a basis for building leg strength and posterior chain development.
  • Front Squat: The front squat can be used to increase quadriceps development, enhance anterior core strength, and decrease load upon the lower back in times looking to decrease training volume.
  • Split Squat: The split squat is a unilateral exercise than can be done to increase unilateral leg strength, power, and function. Note, this exercise still allows for a lifer to place the other foot on the floor, decreasing the balance needed when compared to the Bulgarian split squat.
  • Bulgarian Split Squat: The Bulgarian split squat can be done to increase unilateral strength, power, muscle development, and challenge balance needed in single-legged sports.
  • Step Up: The step up can be used to increase unilateral leg strength and increase unilateral balance and movement under load. The joint actions of the step up are nearly identical to running.

Deadlift Variations

Below are a few bilateral and unilateral posterior chain exercises to increase the strength, muscle, AND explosiveness necessary for powerful movements.

  • Conventional Deadlift: The conventional deadlift can increase strength, muscle hypertrophy, and endurance of the hamstring, glutes, and erectors; all of which are primary muscle groups used in human locomotion (running).
  • Romanian Deadlift: The Romanian deadlift can be swapped to increase hamstring and glute development due to the positioning of the less and the slight knee bend.
  • Sumo Deadlift: The sumo deadlift can be done to increase general hip and hamstring strength, muscle mass, and develop the posterior chain. Additionally, this can help increase hip mobility and strength.
  • Trap Bar Deadlift: The trap bar deadlift can be used to increase lower body strength and muscle mass while lifting lower back strain/stress, a common overuse and injury prone area for lifters.
  • Single Leg Deadlift: The single leg deadlift is a unilateral deadlift variation that can help to increase development of the hamstrings, glutes, and establish greater knee, hip, and core stability.


Sample Off-Season Distance Running Strength Program (3-Day)

Below is a sample 3-day off-season program that includes power and strength movements, along with accessory exercises. For the sake of simplicity, let’s also assume that the power and strength exercises are progressed in linear fashion, with the loading being increased 5lbs per week, or 1-2% of max. Note, that the power and strength blocks per training session are in bold.

Within this phase, the athlete should focus on addressing muscle asymmetries, increasing lean body mass, and developing maximal strength and power. Training volumes are higher, with intensities increasing as the weeks progress.

Day 1

  • Hang Power Clean 5 sets (3 reps) / 60-65%
    • Hurdle Hops 4(6-8)
  • Bulgarian Split Squat 4(8/)
    • Pallof Press / Rotation 4(12-15)
  • Kneeling Dumbbell Overhead Press 3(10-12)
    • TRX/Suspension Row 3(10-12)
  • Single Leg Glute Bridge 3(12-15)
    • Hanging Leg Raise 3(12)

Day 2

  • Clean Pull 4(5)/80%
    • Single Leg Box Jump 4(3/)
  • Double Kettlebell Squat 4(8-10)
    • Push Up 4(8-10)
  • Landmine Push Press 3(8/)
    • Weighted Plank 3(45-60sec)
  • Nordic Curl 3(6-10)
    • Medicine Ball Rotations 3(10-12/)

Day 3

  • Hang Power Snatch 5(3)/60-65%
    • Single Leg Running/Bounding 4(6-8/)
  • Barbell Thruster 4(8)
    • Pull Up 4(8-10)
  • SL RDL 3(10-12/)
    • Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press 3(8/)
  • Calf Raises 3(20-30)
    • Sit Ups 3(20-30)

Sample In-Season Distance Running Strength Program (2-Day)

Below is a sample 2-day in-season program that includes power and strength movements, along with accessory exercises. Unlike the off-season training, the in-season goal should be on maintaining or strength and power, however this can be limited due to meet scheduling and recovery from meets/travel/training. Training sessions may be lower in overall volume which can allow for similar training intensities to be done (when compared to the off-season) without impeding recovery.

Day 1

  • Hang Power Clean 3 sets (3 reps) / 60-65%
    • Hurdle Hops 3(6-8)
  • Bulgarian Split Squat 3(8/)
    • Landmine Rotation 2-3(12-15)
  • Bent Over Row 3(10-12)
    • TRX Push Up 3(10-12)
  • Single Leg Glute Bridge 3(12-15)
    • Hanging Leg Raise 3(12)

Day 2

  • Clean Pull 3(5)/80%
    • Single Leg Box Jump 4(3/)
  • Single Kettlebell Squat 3(8/)
    • Push Up 3(8-10)
  • Z-Press 3(8)
  • Nordic Curl 2(10)
    • Medicine Ball Rotations 2(10-12/)


  1. Jung, A. P. (2003). The Impact of Resistance Training on Distance Running Performance. Sports Medicine, 33(7), 539-552. doi:10.2165/00007256-200333070-00005
  2. Hedrick, A., & Wada, H. (2008). Weightlifting Movements: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 30(6), 26-35. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e31818ebc8b
  3. Arabatzi, F., & Kellis, E. (2012). Olympic Weightlifting Training Causes Different Knee Muscle–Coactivation Adaptations Compared with Traditional Weight Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2192-2201. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31823b087a

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