The secret to bodyweight strength training for runners [4min read]

Bodyweight strength training for runners is so simple – no equipment, no set-up required.

We all know we should do it…but we’d rather go for a run instead.

We’ll do it when we get back…if there’s time…right?

And that’s why strength training is one of the best, and most underutilised, additions to any running program.

But what if there was an easier way to slip it in to your current program without affecting your running sessions?

No more excuses, right?

Well, here it is!

A program for home-based, equipment-free bodyweight strength training for runners.

It’ll take just 15 minutes, 1-3 times a week (depending on how much you’re running) and it won’t leave your legs sore for the next run.

What are the goals of bodyweight strength training for runners specifically?

Obviously any strength program is designed to build strength.

But running isn’t just about strength – it’s a complex combination of attributes that all contribute to the end goal.

A well-rounded exercise program should also improve stability, mobility and connective tissue quality.

If you get all those elements right, you’ll be able to keep running consistently and with better performance (faster pace, lower heart rate, etc).

What’s the key to building strength?

Improving strength is achieved by training to muscle fatigue.

That doesn’t mean training to muscle exhaustion, literally unable to squeeze out one more rep.

It’s about training to the first signs of loss of form or loss of movement speed, indicators that your muscles are beginning to fatigue.

I personally use loss of speed as my best indicator – as soon as the movement slows down, that’s the end of the set.

How about improving stability?

Stability improvements will come from focusing on good technique and quality of movement.

The brain learns better ways of coordinating the muscles to achieve a particular movement.

Over time, it controls the movement to use less energy, less muscle force and improved efficiency.

The learned control only applies to the movement that you’re doing though.

Squats will improve your muscle patterns for squats. There’s no carry-over effect to running technique (although it can still be a benefit as it builds strength in some key muscle groups).

So it’s vital that any bodyweight strength training for runners has some exercises that actually LOOK like a running movement.

It’s also very important to note that stability isn’t balance – being able to balance on one leg, on a Bosu ball, with your eyes closed is a great party trick.

But will it improve your running? Not in a million years, unless you’re running on Bosu balls…with your eyes closed!

Tricks for getting better mobility?

Mobility is often misunderstood – it isn’t the same as stretching or increasing joint range.

Mobility is about good quality, smooth movement through the required range.

The “required range” is dictated by your sport – some need more movement, some need specific movements, and others don’t need much at all.

For running, the faster you run, the more range you need in hips and ankles.

If you’re jumping over things (eg. hurdles, steeplechase, trail running), you’ll need more hip and lower back range.

A majority of the quality of movement comes from connective tissue.

It’s the body’s way of restricting and guiding movement and storing energy.

Too tight and your muscles have to fight extra resistance.

Too loose and it can’t effectively store energy at specific ranges (more flexible distance runners are actually less efficient than their less flexible counterparts).

So your bodyweight strength training for runners should also move through the required range for your type of running, and target any aspects of movement that have more resistance than they should.

Do I need to add plyometrics?

Plyometrics, or “plyo exercises” or simply “plyos”, refers to faster or bouncy movements that are designed to load and unload the body’s energy storage system – connective tissue (mainly tendons).

Loading tendons makes them stronger, and loading/unloading them quickly improves elasticity.

Performing fast, lightly loaded movements improves tendon bounce and load tolerance for more efficient running.

Again, these movements should replicate running actions, so there’s a big focus on Achilles and quads (knee) tendons.

But plyo exercises rely on strong muscles to brace the movements so the tendons can work effectively.

So I wouldn’t add plyos to a program designed for beginners or those restarting strength work after an extended break.

But after you’ve move through an early strength-building phase, they’re a great addition to any bodyweight strength training for runners.

Bodyweight strength program for runners - no equipment needed!

How much and how often?

As a runner, strength is great but tired legs aren’t.

Too little loading and you don’t get all the benefits.

Too much loading and you’ll compromise your running sessions.

So here’s our guide to getting the right dosage for your bodyweight strength training for runners.

  1. Sessions per week
    • During higher running volumes, aim for 1 session per week
    • Regular volume weeks have 2 strength sessions per week
    • During lower running volumes, 3 sessions per week works best
    • If you’re not running (eg. injured), you can train 3-5 sessions per week
  2. Repetitions per set
    • It’ll be different for each exercise so don’t aim for a random number (just count to 10, right?)
    • Perform repetitions until you can’t maintain good technique or consistent speed of movement
    • Don’t try to hit the same number of reps every time – some days will be better than others based on fatigue and other factors
  3. Number of sets
    • As a guide, a more experienced strength trainer should perform more sets
    • Experienced trainers can perform 4-6 sets per exercise
    • Novice (or time-limited) trainers can perform 2-3 sets per exercise

More exercises to add to bodyweight strength training for runners

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