A Simple Effective Gym Program For Runners

 In Running

Gym Program

Strength training has great benefits for all levels of runner. Strength training, particularly heavy resistance training and explosive training have been shown to improve many running related variables; including improved running economy, increased time to exhaustion, increased strength, increased speed at VO2Max and reduction in injury risk. Here we outline a simple beginner level gym program so you can see some of the benefits of strength training for your running.

We have previously blogged about the evidence of strength training for runners here. It is no secret that a key to great running is running consistently and strength training can be a great adjunct to this. The addition of two to three supervised ST sessions per week is likely to provide a sufficient stimulus to be beneficial without having adverse effects on development of aerobic capacity. Other important parameters include first getting technique correct and comfortable before progressing towards weights rep 80% of 1RM (repetition maximum or maximal amount lifted in 1 rep). Most studies on resistance training for runners initially used 1–2 sets and progressed to 3–6 sets over the course of the program. Participants were often instructed to move the weights as rapidly as possible when performing the concentric phase (muscle shortening phase), which increases the likelihood of maximising neuromuscular adaptations and slow 2-3 seconds during the eccentric phase. Typically repetitions are between 6-10 per set and were not performed to failure.

It is no secret that a key to great running is running consistently and strength training can be a great adjunct to this #physiowithafinishline @pogophysio Click To Tweet

Level 1 Program

Exercise: Split Squat

The split squat is a great exercise to work almost all lower leg muscles (lesser extent the calf complex). Start by taking a large step forward, keeping a slight forward lean at your waist lower your back knee down towards the ground. When you reach the ground there should be roughly a 90 degree angle at both your hip and knee. Then push back up into the start position predominately with your front leg. Try to minimise your front knee moving both inwards past your big toe and forwards past your big toe. To progress add weight with a barbell on your shoulders or dumbbells/kettlebells in either hand.  Another similar version is a walking lunge, in which when pushing back up both feet are brought together, then the other leg steps forward and the action is repeated.

Gym Program Gym Program
Gym Program Gym Program

Exercise 2: Single Leg Seated Leg Press

Available in most gyms is a seated leg press. Sitting with your back comfortable against the seat, place both feet in a position comfortable for your knees and hips (roughly shoulder width apart). Perform a couple for trial repetitions with double leg to familiarise yourself before progressing to complete with a single leg. A lever on the side of the leg press will need to be adjusted to modify the range in which tension is felt.

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Exercise 3: Knee Extensions

A seated knee extension machine enables strengthening of the quadriceps muscle group. Adjust the seat forwards or backwards so that to begin you are sitting comfortable with your bottom back in the seat and knees bent at 90 degrees. Some machines enable adjustment of the pad across the shin so it is positioned over the lower shin. Perform a straightening of the knee upwards against the resistance so that tension is felt in the quadriceps. Slowly lower back to the starting position. If you have patellofemoral or kneecap pain this exercise can be painful if performed too heavy. This can be reduced by only straightening to two thirds or three quarters of range (so the knee isn’t completely straightened), reducing forces on the patellofemoral joint.

Gym Program Gym Program

Exercise 4: Smith Machine Banded Hip Thrusts

To perform a hip thrust, set up a bench in front of the smith machine and a pad across your hips or surrounding the bar. For additional glute activity a band can be placed around your knees. Set yourself underneath the bar, with the middle of your shoulder blades across the bench and the padded bar just below the bony prominences at the front of your hips (ASIS). Knees should be bent to 90 degrees and weight kept in the heels. Keeping your head up (chin tucked down) and still, lower from the hips towards the ground, then push through your heels to return to the starting position, the exercise should be felt in your glutes. Ensure you keep your knees out places tension into the band and don’t arch your back as you lower (keeping your ribs from flaring up).

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Exercise 5: Standing Calf Raises

A standing straight leg calf raise will work one of the prime movers of running propulsion; the calf (gastrocnemius). Heavy calf raises can be performed again with the smith machine or alternatively with a single dumbbell/kettlebell or even a bag full of assorted weighted items. Single or double leg options can be used. Standing on a small step with the (padded) barbell across your shoulders, push through your first and second toe raising your heels as high as you can, then lower slowly below the height of the step, then repeat. This exercise can be very helpful for those with midportion Achilles pain, caution for those with acute Achilles pain, particularly at the insertion.

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Exercise 6: Seated Calf Raises

Seated calf raises target the soleus muscle, one of the calf muscle complex. I have previously discussed the importance of this muscle here. It takes loads 6-8x body weight when running, has a major role in achilles pain/tendinopathy and calf pain (particularly in the aging runner). Sitting on a bench positioned in front of the smith machine. Feet placed on a small step if possible. Perform a calf raise by pushing up into padded bar (extra padding may be needed for some), the smith machine bar will need to be rotated to ‘unrack’ the bar, then lower your heels below the level of the step. Perform repetitions then re-rack the bar at the top of the final repetition. Ensure you don’t try lift up the bar with your arms as the weight necessary to load the calf sufficiently will be quite heavy.

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Above we have a simple strength program for runners. If you need extra guidance on technique, loading variables, progressions or regressions please don’t hesitate to ask.

Happy running, happy lifting.


Lewis Craig (APAM)
POGO Physiotherapist
Masters of Physiotherapy

Featured in the Top 50 Physical Therapy Blog


  • STØREN, Ø., Helgerud, J. A. N., Støa, E. M., & Hoff, J. A. N. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(6), 1087-1092.
  • Mikkola, J., Vesterinen, V., Taipale, R., Capostagno, B., Häkkinen, K., & Nummela, A. (2011). Effect of resistance training regimens on treadmill running and neuromuscular performance in recreational endurance runners. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(13), 1359-1371.
  • Beattie, K, Carson, BP, Lyons, M, Rossiter, A, and Kenny, IC (2017). The effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. J Strength Cond Res 31(1): 9–23.
  • Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. & Hayes, P.R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7

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