Q: Weight Training for Distance Runners?

Hi Lauren,

I am a collegiate runner preparing for cross country season.  What type of lifting do you do if any?  I’d love to know some tips for what I should do on that front to prepare for the fall, and for running in general.





Hi Danielle!

This is a popular question lately. Hope this answers it, but feel free to ask follow ups in the comments.

“Lifting” is a small part of my overall “strength and conditioning” program. S&C includes drills, barefoot strides, weights, uphill sprints, plyos, core, and even yoga. Its important to recognize that all of those things help accomplish the same goal (as does running itself!) and you can do whichever ones are the most fun and the least risky for your body characteristics. Basically, when it comes to getting strong, there are many methods of accomplishing the same goal.

The best thing you can do in the fall for cross country is focus on the theme of functional core strength. When people think of “core,” they often think abs and six packs and all that. For distance runners, our core doesn’t need to be strong while laying on our back rolling into a ball; we must be strongest when we are on one foot, gliding through the running motion over uneven terrain. You may or may not get a six-pack from this type of core, but as many African’s I’ve raced have shown me, you don’t need a six-pack to run world records. The strength shows in the way you run, rather than in your stomach.

So when you are lifting weights, or doing abs, or sprinting up a hill, you should be incorporating “functional core strength.” If you do that, the specifics of what exercises you do (lat pull downs, single leg squats, seated row, etc) doesn’t matter much. It’s the WAY you do the exercises. Its learning how to MOVE properly that matters, and you can add more and more weight, or obstacles, to make it more challenging.

Some people are really into only doing exercises that mimic running form, which is functional strength at its most extreme.  They would say bench press or squats are a waste of time, but I think we benefit from a little variation in movement since we spend sooooo much time in the running position.

Try this first:

  1. bosu ballStand on a balance board or bosu ball with your legs shoulder width apart and try to squat without wobbling. Practice that until you can do it properly.
  2. Physio BallTry to kneel on top of a physio ball and balance. Once you can do that, try to do bicep curls with 5 lb weights while balancing there.

Every exercise starts with getting your balance first, deep down in your gut, and then doing a movement. Your lower abs hollow out and pelvic floor lifts in order to balance. Once you get the feeling right, you can apply that to ANY gym exercise. Even old-fashioned bench press is a totally different exercise if you engage your core properly and pretend you are doing it on a waterbed.

avorite S&C exercises for fall:


chicken wings 🙂

In the weight room:

  • Lat pull downs with 70-80 lbs (not letting the torso lose the position it would have while running). 2 sets of 8.
  • Single-leg squats with the bar over my shoulders. 2 sets of 10 each side.
  • Walking on my hands. 2 sets of about 20 seconds.
  • Seated Row with 50 pounds with a focus on controlled torso position and relaxed shoulders. 2 sets of 8.
  • Various gymnastics exercises for body control (i.e. hanging from a bar and bringing my opposite foot to my opposite hand and slowly coming down. 2 sets of 6 each side)
  • Kneeling on physio ball and doing various arm exercises to challenge balance.

On the turf/grass/track:

  • Various drills with extreme attention to detail and body position.
  • Barefoot exercises (walking on all parts of the foot slowly, i.e outsides, insides, toes, heals).
  • Sprints or Strides (4-6)
  • Walking lunges, forward, sideways, backwards.
  • Good old fashioned abs, pushups, and planks (no more than 5-10 minutes total, done properly!)


  • Runs that incorporate hills where I focus on my form while climbing.
  • Hill sprints of various distances
  • Running on trails that challenge my lower leg and ankle strength.

Everything you do: sitting in class/work, walking down the street, can be done with functional awareness.  You can do exactly the same weights program you already have, but do it with this deeper awareness and you’ll get an entirely different result.  The better you get and moving from your core, the less effort your limbs use through the running motion, and all your workouts, runs, etc will get faster without added effort.