Muscle training for Runners

Do you want to improve your time on races? Regardless of whether you want to improve at 3 km or a marathon, the same strength training will give you progress. This is how you should train to become a better runner 👇


Stronger muscles use less energy

When your muscles get stronger, preferably without getting bigger, it takes less energy to run at the same speed. If you use less energy at the same speed, it means that you can run faster with the same endurance, i.e. the same maximum oxygen uptake.

Important muscle groups to train

It is important to train the entire extensor system in the legs. The stretching apparatus consists of calf muscles, thigh muscles and gluteal muscles. To strengthen these muscles, squats are the standard exercise of all athletes. Down to 90 degrees in the knee joint is sufficient for most people. If you are not used to weights on your neck, the leg press is a good replacement exercise.

One to four strength sessions a week

We often get questions about how often you should do strength training during a week. The answer is that anything goes, but every other day is the most common to train strength for the legs.

Lift heavy with few repetitions

My recommendation is to lift 4x4, i.e. four repetitions to exhaustion, in four series. In a squat, you should slowly go down, stop briefly and then try to move the weight up as quickly as possible. Preferably all the way up to your toes. Four repetitions with a heavy enough load is far more effective than several repetitions. It also increases muscle size less than 10-12 repetitions.

Moving the weight quickly is effective training for the brain/central nervous system. It is the ability to produce and send nerve signals from the brain to the muscle that is the biggest limitation for power development. The muscle is pretty much a slave to your nervous system.

Recommended strength training

At a fitness center you should train squats or leg presses 4x4 repetitions. If you are not particularly well strength-trained before, you can expect a 2% increase for each training session.

If you do not have access to a fitness center or want to train at home, we recommend that you support yourself with one hand against a wall. Do one-legged squats as deep as you can in 4x4 repetitions on each leg, all the way up to your toes. Put something heavy in a backpack or in one hand if you need more load.

There is no difference in which strength exercises you should train, regardless of whether you are training for 5 km or a marathon.

Endurance training is most important for your running performance

There is little doubt that endurance is most important for performance in the 3km to marathon. The condition, measured as maximum oxygen uptake, means by far the most and explains more than 80% of your result. Enter periods of 2 strength training sessions per week and other maintenance periods of 1 strength training session per week. People who exercise a lot of endurance have been shown to be muscularly weaker than the average for their age group.

Maximal oxygen uptake together with running economy, which is improved through strength training, explains on average 90-95% of a 3km to marathon race performance. The strength training is completed in 15 minutes. You should probably have at least 3 endurance exercises for each session of strength training. Some people may feel stiff in their muscles the day after strength training. Then add the strength training to the last training session before a day off.

Strength training gives better results

In studies, we have shown that competitive runners who did not systematically do maximal strength training could run 5% faster after 3 strength training sessions a week for 8 weeks. That means 3 seconds faster per minute run. If you are going to run for a long time, the differences will be big. Those who do not usually train leg muscle strength can expect even better results.

Research has also shown that age matters little for strength training. The effect is the same regardless of age. It is therefore never too late to start.