Strength Training for Beginner Runners

This is the fourth post in my Running Tips for Beginners series. This particular post is great for seasoned runners who are looking to start strength training in addition to beginning runners. 

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-7-17-45-amToday I’m really excited to share an interview with my friend Cori from She’s Going the Distance.

I’ve known Cori since high school, and yes she has always been this smart, pretty and cool! Today she’s going to share her best strength training for beginner runner tips (which also work for experienced runners just getting into lifting).

Cori has a list of credentials a mile long. Here are just a few:

-NCSF Certified Personal Trainer
-USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach
-Functional Movement Systems Certified
-TRX and TRX RIP Trainer Certified
-Boston Qualified marathon runner
– Ultramarathoner

She is definitely well qualified to share training advice. Let’s dive into the Q&A!

1. Now that I’ve started running, what are some basic strength training exercises I should do to make my legs stronger?

YAY for beginning to run and for wanting to strength train!

Training your legs and body with workouts other than running will make you a much stronger runner. And who doesn’t want to be a strong runner? Strong legs help crush those hills and help you become a faster more efficient runner.

Start with the basics: Squats, Lunges, Box Step Ups or find stairs to climb!

2. Are there specific things I should do to make my core stronger, and why do I need a strong core?

Core exercises are extremely important for runners because the core stabilizes your spine and helps keep you injury free.

file_000-456If your core (which includes abdominals, lower back, glutes & hips) are weak you can develop all kinds of imbalances that lead to injuries or pain.

An easy way to strengthen your core on a daily basis is to stand up and sit down with better posture. Make sure your chest is up, shoulder blades are down and back (imagine putting them in your back pockets), belly button pulled into your spine and your glutes are tight. It might be a little uncomfortable at first, but doing this posture check multiple times a day can make a difference.

A few traditional exercises you can do to strengthen the core are to squat & press a medicine ball or weight overhead or perform “wood chops” (squat and raise a weight diagonally).

Full body movements work the core better than crunches! Another good exercise is the “superman” which you lay flat on your stomach, then raise and lower your arms & legs at the same time.

3. Do I need to do exercises to make my upper body stronger for running? Which ones and why?

file_000-429YES YES YES. I always tell my runners, triathletes and clients that running is a full body sport! Every part of you is moving (except the strong stable core, of course!).

A strong upper body can hold good running form and keeps the core tight which leads to running efficiency, meaning less effort is needed and you run smarter not harder! Plus, when you think of how many steps it takes to run a 5k (thousands!) or the marathon (tens of thousands!) people often forget that your arm swings forward and back at the same rate. It comes in handy to have a strong upper body to swing arms for the duration of an endurance race.

Work your upper body by doing pushups, bench tricep dips and rows with weights, machines or resistance bands. The pushups and dips will work full upper body without equipment and the rowing exercise will reinforce back muscles for good posture and all the arm swinging that comes with running.

4. If I’m afraid of using dumbbells or a barbell, what are some effective bodyweight exercises I can do to support running?

You can never go wrong with the 4 basics: squats, lunges, pushups and planks (bonus core exercise). However, in about 12 weeks of body weight exercising you will more than likely plateau (stop seeing results) and you honestly should start incorporating weight bearing exercise. Resistance bands go a long way if you want to take baby steps.

If you’re still at a loss for what to do with weights, hire a personal trainer to get comfortable and learn proper form.

It never hurts to ask someone for help, especially when it comes to lifting weights. Learning from a professional (not youtube) for proper form will give you the confidence and skills you need when you tackle the weights on your own.

5. How many days should I strength train?

Start with 2 days a week which will allow plenty of time for recovery and your body to start getting used to the extra training days.

6. How heavy should I be lifting?

Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 8.10.54 PMHeavy is relative to the individual, kinda of like your pace for running! If you’ve never strength trained before, stick with body weight for 6-12 weeks and then start slow.

When you use weights if you can get through 15-20 repetitions of an exercise it’s way too light for you. Aim for repetitions somewhere between 8-12 and the last 3 should be hard!

If you’re an advanced runner don’t be afraid of lifting heavy. Every step you take during a run puts the force of 3-4x your body weight on your legs during impact.

If hundreds of pounds of impact happens during each step of your runs, seriously don’t be afraid to make your legs lift heavy in the gym. Ask Kristina, it’s fun and makes you an extremely strong, balanced runner.

7. HELP! I’m so sore the day after lifting that I feel like skipping my run. What should I do?

First, ask yourself if it’s muscle sore or actual joint pain. If it’s “ouch” pain, take a day off and reassess the next day.

If it’s just muscle soreness go run and give yourself some slack if it takes a bit to warm up or you need to adjust your pace slower than usual.

In my experience, running on fatigued legs helps with race day muscle fatigue. And going for a walk when you’re super sore goes a long way to help recover faster.

At the end of the day listen to your body, take a day off or cut a run short if you need it. If you’re constantly battling with soreness, make sure your recovery is on point. Sleep, nutrition, stretching, days off, they are all part of training!

Thanks so much to Cori for sharing her wisdom with us today! I’ve been reading Cori’s blog since the day she launched it and cannot recommend it enough. It’s got running, it’s got lifting and it’s got her super cute dog, LE!


You have got to follow Cori on Instagram @ShesGoingForSpeed for daily inspiration. You won’t regret it! 

Do you have any questions for Cori? If so please leave them below! 

Have you ever worked with a personal trainer or thought about working with one?


  1. January 27, 2017 / 5:19 am

    Awesome info! Strength training is so important. It can definitely be intimidating to start but like you said starting with body weight and taking baby steps will go a long way!

    • January 28, 2017 / 8:07 am

      so important! bodyweight is always a good place to start for form and safety purposes 🙂 And of course you and I have had our fair share of issues that are often corrected with strength!

  2. January 27, 2017 / 8:19 am

    Great post! I recently went through a personal training certification class and really enjoyed it. I still have lots to learn, but it’s been interesting to see the whole aspect of fitness I was missing out on by only focusing on endurance sports!

    • January 28, 2017 / 8:09 am

      Congrats on getting certified! And yes, it’s a whole different world, but soak everything in and be your own experiment. Strength training will seriously help the endurance side of you!

  3. January 27, 2017 / 8:35 am

    Thanks so much for posting these! I feel kind of lost with strength training. I’ve previously done a lot of the leg machines at the gym but I can tell that I get a much better workout when I do full body exercises. I actually really like the Kayla Itsines workouts for that reason. Have a great weekend!

    • January 28, 2017 / 8:11 am

      awesome! and yes you probably like the Kayla workouts better because machines tend to be boring, her workouts are intense!

  4. January 27, 2017 / 4:48 pm

    I think all runners should strength train. Heck, I think all people should. I hope this post inspires people to get started! Or to keep up with good habits they already formed.

    • January 28, 2017 / 8:14 am

      i can totally stand up on a soapbox about this for the next post haha- you are entirely right!! all people should/need to strength train. The only way to build and maintain bone density is by pushing and pulling weight around so if you keep these good habits as you age you will benefit!

  5. January 27, 2017 / 5:04 pm

    Hi Cori! thanks for this post. How do you alternate what I call the “high intensity runs” (speed, tempos, and long runs) with leg strength training on a weekly basis?

    • January 28, 2017 / 8:19 am

      Hi Nathaly! OK so my rule is to ask yourself what workout is more important that day? If you have a scheduled high intensity run, do that first when you’re fresh so you get the most out of your run. Then you can do strength, and maybe do bodyweight/core or upper body that day in case your legs are too fatigued for anything else. Basically scale down your “strength” portion. And on the flip side, you can do a heavier strength day followed by an easy run (which may not feel super easy, but again, adjust the pace/distance as needed). It’s a tough balancing act, and you probably won’t feel fresh for every workout or run, but getting used to training on tired legs is okay every now and then– it will help you be prepapred for those last miles during race day!

  6. January 27, 2017 / 8:32 pm

    I didn’t know you went to school with Cori and knew her personally! How cool 🙂 Thanks for these tips; even though I’m not a new runner I love to be reminded of the basics of weight training!

    • January 28, 2017 / 8:21 am

      Hahah Kristina and I go waaaay fighting over Justin Timberlake and drooling over our first cell phones with a camera on it!

  7. January 27, 2017 / 10:36 pm

    Question…what do you suggest if i hate strength training?!??! Lol

    This was a great post. I’ve actually been doing a great job strength training and I’ve seen huge improvement in my long runs. Why did i wait so long lol

    • January 28, 2017 / 8:24 am

      I think most runners wait so long because it’s already hard to run, let alone add a whole other type of exercise to their routine. And you LOOOOOVEEE strength training don’t lie!

  8. Susan
    January 28, 2017 / 7:39 am

    Thank you so much! I appreciate the blog post Cori and Kristina! I started weights about 5 years ago. Last year I was lifting 5-6 x per week but my yoga took a back seat so this year back to 3 days so I can fit in my yoga (running, swimming, cycling). My biggest challenge is not getting in a rut. I will do the same exercises over and over and I just need to take some time to research other ways to work certain body parts!

    • January 28, 2017 / 8:30 am

      yes! if you find yourself doing the same things day in and day out make sure to take the time to adjust. Your body adapts very quickly, so the time you spend training needs to specific so you can get to the yoga and running and stuff you love doing. Maybe try keeping notes or a journal of your strength training days to see how you can change it up week to week?

  9. January 28, 2017 / 7:12 pm

    Great post (and very inspirational pictures)! I really want to do more leg strength training, but doing things like squats just make my glutes hurt more and it seems like a vicious cycle. I spent last year visiting PT and sports massage therapists without much luck trying to calm down my glute/hamstring pains. Any thoughts on other things to try? I’m open to any suggestions! 🙂

    • February 2, 2017 / 7:01 pm

      Being sore, especially when you try a new activity is normal, but what you’re describing doesn’t sound like normal soreness… I’m wondering if you’re overdoing it when you’ve tried the strength stuff?
      It’s hard to say what could lead to glute/hamstring soreness. Maybe try foam rolling, then a short easy run and then try adding body weight exercises afterward, when your glutes and hamstrings are completely warmed up and fired up. Hope this helps!

  10. February 1, 2017 / 8:09 am

    Thank you for this post!
    I totally agree. I started running when as I think – I didn’t have muscles to do that 😀 That may sound a bit ridiculous. But after a short time, I realized that my legs are swelling and are so tired that I even can’t walk like a normal person anymore.
    So then my friend suggested the gym. And after a while, the pain just got away. Of course, it didn’t happen in 5 days and not even a month. Why? Well, because I had to work out with my trainer to strengthen my muscles. And this also is not an easy job.
    But yeah, I had to do planks, squats, pushups… And work with dumbbells. Before that, I even didn’t know they can be so helpful.
    And after about 3 months I realized I was running faster and without fatigue (at least not like before). And then my trainer explained that if you want to run, then you need to strengthen your muscles. Otherwise running will be just a big pain in the a..

    • February 2, 2017 / 7:06 pm

      I try my best to tell runners they need to strength train. It’s always hard at first, but the benefits, like you described, faster running/ less fatigue- that should have runners, RUNNING to the gym asap! I know the reason I’ve been successfully getting faster and going longer over the years is directly related to consistent strength training! I’m so happy you’ve had a good experience with it, and it sounds like you have a smart trainer! Virtual high fives!