Gym Workouts for Runners: Functional Strength

The importance of gym workouts for runners have been gaining attention over the years. This type of training can dramatically improve your running and help to prevent injuries. In this post, you can see how I used to approach gym workouts and my new outlook on strength training.

The How and Why of Gym Workouts for Runners

gym workouts for runners

Once per week, I head to the gym for a quick lifting  session. I believe gym workouts for runners are important, but I don’t think you need to do a lot. Most of the strength benefits can be realized in just two training sessions per week.

I perform two sets of the same workout – I rarely deviate from it. I do think that I should vary the workout sometimes, but I stick to basic movements that benefit me greatly. Minimal rest is taken between sets – a simple transition to the next exercise with maybe an additional 15-30 seconds to catch my breath.

Alternatively (if they were available), I would use kettlebells as a full-body strength exercise. They’re effective for building muscular strength while being functional enough for runners.

Every set is challenging and places a great deal of stress on the body. This is important because the workout is short. I need very difficult exercises or else the workout would have to be longer. I intentionally keep the gym session short, intense, and perform every set with a fairly slow cadence. My goal is to stress my system hard enough to increase testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) production.

Numerous studies have shown that these workouts (much like hard 200’s or hill sprints) increase beneficial hormone production like HGH and testosterone. These hormones aid in muscle development and recovery. Since endurance activity like distance running can actually decrease testosterone, it’s important to maintain healthy levels of these key hormones with gym sessions that stimulate their production.

The Lifting Routine

I tend to lift more slowly than most people simply because it is more effective. By eliminating momentum and ensuring a constant muscle stress, I am getting more out of the workout. Since I’m only doing one session per week, it’s important that every exercise is as productive as possible.

You will also notice that I don’t do any tricep extensions, bicep curls, or targeted muscle lifts. My goal here is to train movements, not muscles, and focus on compound exercises that require multiple joint movements. I’ll leave the calf raises and quadriceps extensions to the bodybuilders. They are not function enough for my needs as a runner.

The following evolves based on how I feel week-to-week but generally stays the same. I perform two sets of:

  1. 10 walking lunges with a 25 – 35 lb plate held above my head.
  2. 15 reps on the bench press at 95 lbs.  Alternatively, will do 15 reps of chest press with 35 lbs. dumbbells.
  3. 15 dead lifts at 85 lbs.
  4. 6-7 pull-ups with full extension.
  5. 8 pistol squats (one-legged squats) holding a 10 lb weight.
  6. 12 body weight dips.

Update on Gym Workouts

Lifting for runners

This post was first written in early 2010. Since then, the science of strength training for runners has evolved (as has my coaching!).

Now, it’s clear that runners need to lift differently. Their gym workouts should not:

  • Be the same routine every week
  • Never increase in weight or difficulty
  • Never change in focus

Instead, a solid strength program for runners is periodized (just like your running), progressive (you’ll get stronger and more explosive throughout the program), and runner-specific (not for bodybuilders or other athletes).

To learn exactly how to lift – just like the elites – sign up here. You’re going to like how you feel after lifting consistently.

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  1. Great article! Cheers!

  2. AMAZING, Thank you Jason!

  3. Great post Jason, I have had great success incorporating kettlebells into my training program. I love turkish get-ups for core and for identifying specific weaknesses.

    I am also a big advocate of the compound exercises, push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, squats, deadlift, kettlebell swings and shoulder press, the list goes on…

    I completed my first half marathon earlier this year and have my first marathon coming up this weekend, I think the kettlebell training helped me a lot.

  4. kishore kannan says:

    hi just i want to now how to run 5 km and in gym what type of excerise i want to do

  5. Ok, so I have been a runner for 40 years. Everything ever been written on the subject always talks about how good it is for your overall health and especially your heart. Lately, I have been reading about new evidence that refutes this completely and says that running long distances can actually be bad for the heart and cause damage. It says you should be doing short, interval type running for the fast twitch muscles. So, what do you think about all this?

  6. I’m interested in why you still do bench press. With all that sitting we do, the last thing we need is an exercise that compounds our already too-short front. Dips make it worse too, shortening the lower pecs. Far better, surely, to work the upper back as this opens up the chest for better breathing and posture. The pull-downs, or chins, don’t accomplish this as they work the lower lats. And shortened lats pull on the pelvis accentuating the lordosis so prevalent in runners.

  7. I am wondering what your thoughts on a Power Yoga which works in all planes of motion, works to develop core & hip strength and works strength & flexibility at the same time.

  8. Good article. Thanks for posting it. I like that it seems aimed at helping our running. My “gym” workout has only three exercises:, triceps, biceps and pushups. None are aimed at helping me as a runner but my upper body tends to waste away if I don’t give it something to build on.


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