3 Common Strength Training Mistakes Runners Make

Jason Fitzgerald
by Jason Fitzgerald
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3 Common Strength Training Mistakes Runners Make

Strength training is such a critical piece of a runner’s training that it shouldn’t be considered cross-training: It’s just how runners prepare to run fast.

When you consider the enormous benefits of lifting weights, it’s a no-brainer to include it as part of your training. Here is a short list of positive results:

  • Reduced likelihood of injuries
  • More power and strength
  • Higher levels of neuromuscular coordination
  • More mitochondria and a faster finishing kick
  • Better running economy

Unfortunately, most runners don’t structure their strength training appropriately, which undercuts their progress, increases the risk of injury and results in less impactful results.


It’s far more exciting to train appropriately so you can race faster. Let’s discuss three of the biggest mistakes runners make with their strength work.

Bodybuilders have one goal: To build muscle. And they train accordingly, with several distinctions in how their lifting is structured:

  • Frequency: Hypertrophy demands 4–6 days of lifting per week
  • Duration: Bodybuilding workouts are typically 1 1/2–2 1/2 hours
  • Intensity: Lifts often go to failure and include isolation exercises for specific muscle groups

Runners don’t need to lift this way. We can lift less frequently, for shorter workouts and don’t need to single out individual muscles.

The goal of lifting for runners is runner-specific strength (that translates well to running) and power (not size). Isolating muscle groups won’t confer these benefits.

USA weightlifting national coach Randy Hauer, who is also a strength coach to several elite runners in Colorado, agrees noting that runners should not “lift distinct body parts on certain days (like ‘chest day’). As a runner, you don’t care about ‘bi’s and tri’s.’ You care about how strong you are. The body is not a bunch of parts that work separately but rather it functions as a unit.”


Many runners mistakenly believe that lifting for endurance is smart because endurance is most runners’ main goal. They ask themselves, why not lift for even more muscular endurance?

So these runners lift lighter weights for high repetitions. It’s a common mistake, but it undercuts the actual goal, which is building power and neuromuscular coordination.

To achieve those goals, runners need to lift relatively heavy weights with complete recovery. Adding explosive lifts like Olympic weightlifting movements builds neuromuscular responsiveness for added efficiency and speed.

After all, runners gain endurance when they run. Time in the weight room is time building other skills such as power, coordination and strength.

There’s no shortage of wobble and balance boards, exercise balls and single-leg drills to test your sense of balance in the weight room. They’ve surged in popularity as runners try to gain “functional stability.”

Of course, many of these exercises have a good place in injury rehabilitation programs. But they fail the ultimate litmus test because they don’t deliver on the top goal of strength training for runners: building strength.

Hauer has clear thoughts on this issue. “Avoid wobble boards or swiss balls. They really don’t serve any useful function when learning to produce force. The goal is strength — or the ability to produce a lot of force against the ground. This makes you run faster!”


Unstable surfaces don’t spur the neuromuscular adaptations that boost power and speed. And if we don’t practice something, we’re not going to improve it.

This form of strength work is best used during injury rehab or as accessory exercises that complements your main lifting movements.

Simply knowing what mistakes to avoid gives you a competitive advantage as a runner.

Lift heavy, recover fully, train the entire body and don’t overdo it. You’ll be closer to your next personal best in no time!

About the Author

Jason Fitzgerald
Jason Fitzgerald

Jason is the founder of Strength Running, a USA Track & Field certified running coach and 2017’s Men’s Running’s Influencer of the Year. Learn more about how he can help you run faster.


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