7 Best Strength Training Exercises For Distance Runners

Seven Best Strength Training Exercises for Distance Runners

Straight distance running alone won’t help you cross the finish line any faster. It’s going to take a complete fitness approach, one that includes a measure of weight training exercises as well in order to improve your strength and times.

Note: The below exercise program should be performed at least three times a week.

There’s no denying that a distance runner’s legs get a great workout when pounding the asphalts and terrains of the world. So adding these specific weight training exercises for your quadriceps, hamstrings and gastrocnemius will only help strengthen and rejuvenate those particular muscles even further in between your daily runs. This will help you cross the finish line faster than ever before while possibly reducing the possibility of injury.

Leg Extensions (Quadriceps)

On a leg extension machine, set an appropriate weight that challenges you without compromising form.
Make sure your legs and back are aligned properly with the machine, with the rolling pad placed between the fold of your ankle and shin. Move the weight up by extending your legs out, squeezing at the top of the repetition. Slowly lower the weight to the starting position. Perform 12-15 reps, 3-4 sets.

Leg Press (Quadriceps)

Place your feet shoulder width apart, midway on the platform of the machine. Grab onto to the side handles, and gradually push out while exhaling. Slowly lower the weight to starting position while inhaling. This will help build up strength of the quadriceps. Perform 12-15 reps, 3-4 sets.

Leg curls (on an angled bench; Hamstrings)

Lie on your stomach, with the machine adjusted to your height and selected weight on the rack. Make sure the lever is a few inches below your calves. Slowly curl your legs up to your buttocks without losing contact with the padded lever. Proceed to gradually return the weight down to the starting position. Perform 10-12 reps, 3-4 sets.

Standing Calf Raises (gastrocnemius)

Stronger calf muscles will allow you to push off the ground with more vigor, helping your leg muscles to propel your body forward with a little more ease. Strengthen the calves can also help avoid injury by improving ankle stability when combined with other ankle exercises.

With either dumbbells at your side or a barbell on your shoulders, raise up on the balls of your foot, with your knees locked, to work the gastrocnemius, the larger muscle located in the back of your lower leg. Perform 20-25 reps, 4-5 sets.

Seated Calf Raises (soleus)

Using a seated calf machine, place the machine’s pad securely on your knees with the souls of your feet flat on the floor. This will allow your thighs to be parallel to the floor, and take the gastrocnemius out the equation, with only your soleus left to do the work.

Lift your heels off the floor, just like in the standing calf raise exercise, to move the weight. Gradually return to the starting position. Perform 15-20 reps, 4-5 sets.

Upper Body Exercises

It’s important to include some upper body work (bicep curls, bench presses, lateral shoulder raises and tricep extensions), so your arms, chest and shoulders are working harmoniously with your legs to help you snap the tape in record fashion.

Non-Gym Exercises

For people without access to a gym, jump squats and lunges (one of the best overall lower body exercises), with or without dumbbells, will help you build strength for the rigors of distance running.

Jump squats – watch video

This exercise is a plyometric staple, helping to build explosive quadricep power needed to overtake challenging hills and other hellish inclines, and is also useful for sprinters.

Use something like an aerobic step or another high, flat surface. Start out with one or two, depending upon how high each measures. Go down as low as possible into a deep knee bend, and jump as high as you can onto that area.
As your leaping ability, and explosive strength, develops, challenge yourself with higher planes.
Perform as many repetitions as possible, even to complete exhaustion, if you can. It’s a great way to end a leg workout.
10-12 reps, 3-4 sets for each leg.

Basic Lunge watch video

With your hands on your hips or dumbbells in your hands, lunge one leg forward a few inches off the ground, landing on heel. It’s important to remember not to extend your knee pass your ankle, as it may cause an injury over time.

Switch legs, and perform the same sequence as above. 10-12 reps, 3-4 sets for each leg.

Written by Jerry Del Priore for bodono.

Jerry Del Priore has worked as a certified personal trainer, and received his degree in Physical Education from Brooklyn College in 1991. Jerry is also a veteran print and digital Sports Writer-Reporter-Author experienced in writing in-depth profile stories on a variety of high school, college and professional athletes and teams.

Additionally, Jerry has developed a presentation based on his book, Running Through Roadblocks, which encourages children to overcome obstacles and never give up…no matter what!

Specialties: Baseball, football, hockey and basketball writing. Jerry also has covered lacrosse, soccer, golf and track and field, with ample experience cover women’s sports. Jerry is also a Food Writer/Blogger experienced in venue write-ups and reviews. 

In addition, Jerry has ample experience working with medically fragile children, children with behavioral challenges and children with cognitively impairments. 

Read Jerry Del Prior’s book: Running Through Roadblocks and view his blog at