To figuratively be a strong runner, you must literally be a strong runner, too. “If you have a body that has strong roots, you’re going to be able to endure for the long miles ahead,” says Sally McRae, a professional mountain runner for Nike who just won the Badwater 135, a ultra race through the grueling heat of Death Valley.
For McRae, injury prevention was the impetus for starting a strength routine. “We’re constantly breaking down our bodies,” she says. “Whether you run 5Ks or 100-mile races, there’s always something that you can work on.” But beyond staying healthy, a stronger runner is faster and more powerful. And, McRae notes, strength training helps you ward off the loss of muscle mass, bone density, and decline in metabolism that accompany aging.
The good news is that you don’t have to start going to the gym for two hours at a time. And you don’t have to do anything fancy. “When it comes down to it, the most basic exercises—squats, presses, lunges, deadlifts—still deliver the best results,” she says. That’s why she includes variations on those in the workout that follows. To keep it super-efficient, they’re all compound moves, meaning they each target more than one body part at a time. Bonus: All you need is a pair of dumbbells.
“The biggest advice that I can give is start simply and stay consistent,” says McRae. “If I say to do this two to three days a week, a lot of times people will do it once, or not at all, because the week gets away, and especially for runners, we’ll always choose to run first.” So, do this strength workout as often as you can as part of a pre-run warm-up or after your run, she says.
Strength Workout for Runners
Start with 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps of each exercise. (As you get stronger you can increase the reps or weight.) Remember: Form is far more important than the number of reps you can do. “If you build up gradually, you’re more likely to stick to strength training than if you go super hard right away and end up sore and frustrated,” says McRae.
Squat to Overhead Press
Start standing with two dumbbells at shoulder height. Slowly lower into a squat, then rise up quickly, pressing the dumbbells overhead as you do so. Return the dumbbells to shoulder height and repeat.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Start with your weight balanced on one leg, knee slightly bent, the other foot lifted off the ground, and a dumbbell in each hand. Maintaining a slight bend in your standing knee, slowly hinge at the hips to lower the dumbbells toward the ground. Return to start and repeat. Do all reps on that side, then repeat on the other.
Seated Ab Twist with Legs Elevated
Start seated on the ground with one dumbbell held at chest height. Lift your feet off the ground, balancing on your glutes. From the core, twist to one side, taking the dumbbell with you. Return to center, then repeat on the other side. That’s 1 rep. Continue alternating sides until you’ve completed all reps.
Walking Lunges with Bicep Curl
Start standing with a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Lunge forward with one foot, then curl the dumbbells up toward your shoulders. Return to the dumbbells, then bring the back foot forward to stand. Repeat on the other side. That’s 1 rep. Continue alternating sides until you’ve completed all reps.