Strength Training for Runners, Part 4: Application

Now that you have been bitten by the strength training bug, let's go over some application specifics regarding the amounts of resistance and repetitions to use for your desired gains.

The strengthening goals for each muscle group don’t need to be the exactly the same. You can challenge each muscle group in a way that encourages certain results, all within the same workout.

You must decide whether the specific motion you are working would benefit from:

  • awareness, skill, and control
  • endurance
  • strength endurance
  • pure strength
  • power
  • any combination of these factors

For instance, you can work the lateral gluteals (gluteus medius, gluteus minimus) for 1-2 sets of 15-30 repetitions for awareness and fatigue resistance on the same day that you perform heavy squats in 2-3 sets of 6-10 repetitions to increase strength of the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Plus, the lateral gluteals are still going to do a little work during the squats.

Progressive strength training phases

The repetition values provided are based upon certain percentages of a concept known as a “one repetition maximum,” which is the amount of weight you can move for a single repetition only.

You can use an online calculator like the one found here ( to determine your one repetition maximum for the major lifts, like squats, if you are really curious.

A strength coach in a power or strength sport like football would really be concerned with one repetition maximum values. Sprinters or jump athletes could benefit from that information too. But as a distance runner, you don’t need to perform true one repetition maximum tests if you are just trying to supplement your run training for injury prevention and moderate performance gains.

And that’s for a few reasons:

  • A one repetition maximum value can easily be estimated from something like an 8, 10, or 15 repetition maximum, hence the above online calculator.
  • Distance running never uses maximum force muscle contractions so it is less critical to know exact repetition maximums for 1 to 5 repetitions.
  • I’d rather you keep it simple and at least do the strength training than have yet another deterrent to doing it.
  • Someone that’s just beginning strength training may be alone while training and you should never perform that type of maximal test alone.
  • Early on, a single maximal lift should be avoided if the technique isn’t excellent. Technique trumps force any day.
  • Most people don’t want to do a maximal lift anyway.
  • Runners need to emphasize core stability exercises, and those aren’t the types of exercises where you try to find a one repetition maximum. The best core exercises are those that you progressively make unstable by varying the positions or simply holding the stable positions for longer periods. That’s also a great way to multitask. A basic plank from the forearms can be progressed to a plank with the arms straight to a plank with arms straight while doing leg raises. For core work, you need to emphasize strength endurance and stability, at the hardest.
  • It’s easy to use the “do it until you can’t do anymore” method as a beginner for the big muscle groups like the quadriceps and hamstrings. If you are able to do more than 15 reps of squats then clearly you are working more of an endurance component. Armed with that information in the next session, if you wanted to focus more on strength endurance, you can add a reasonable amount of resistance and perform the exercise again. Let’s say this time you just can’t do anymore at repetition number 14. If you went by the ranges in the training phase chart, you would fall in the 65-70% of one repetition maximum range. That’s a good sign because you are now at least working in the strength endurance realm. A little more weight and you will find yourself in the strength building range, which is very difficult at 80-85%.

Major running muscle groups and suggested training progression

The muscle groups in the orange rows progress from awareness/skill and tend to be those that you can isolate to work frequently with high repetitions. These are the muscles that often need to be addressed in the clinic because they are poorly utilized and under-trained.

The other muscle groups in the red rows are those that runners commonly use so they primarily need challenged for endurance, strength endurance, and strength. These are the big, primary movers.

After strength training for a month or two, you will have a better idea of where you are in the training phases table. Assess each exercise and then adjust the resistance accordingly to change phases based upon the strength goal you want to achieve. For the big muscles, early on, you want to linger in the endurance range and then try to progress to the strength endurance range. There is a ton of benefit in most people by just staying in the strength endurance range for a month or two. For the smaller muscles there is no shame in staying at the awareness or endurance levels for many months. Even if you chose to add resistance to challenge the small stabilizing muscles, it should be minimal. 

If you really want to optimize performance from the large muscle groups, then by all means, progress into the true strength building resistances after you have a couple months of experience. But most people don’t want or need to push that limit with high frequency. Most runners that have previously avoided strength training are going to find benefit in focusing on strength endurance capacity.

Next week, for the last article in this series, I will share a few of my favorite exercises. 

Please let me know if you have any questions at If you enjoy reading these articles and applying them to your training, please “like” the Mountain Ridge Physical Therapy Facebook page.