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Training

How to use strength training to improve your running recovery

A runner does a forward lunge on a sidewalk as part of her strength training routine.

When most runners think about their recovery workouts, they're dreaming of foam rolling and stretching. And while these are both super helpful (and feel great), it's also important to incorporate some strength-building exercises into your post-run routine. Here's a strength training plan you can follow to improve your run recovery and help prevent injuries down the road.

Now, when I say strength training, I don't mean those all-out, iron-wielding sessions that leave your muscles sore and shaking. I mean the kind of gentle resistance training that gets your blood moving, takes your joints through their full range of motion, and shores up any muscle imbalances.

After all, running relies on a lot of forward motion, so it's easy to let your side-to-side stability muscles fall by the wayside. The impacts range from slower performance to an increased risk of running injury. In fact, as I found in my Strength and Conditioning Journal review, strengthening your "side glutes," which running itself doesn't do too well, helps slash the risk of IT band syndrome and runner's knee.

A 4-week strength training recovery plan

To help feel your best, dedicate four weeks to this strength training recovery plan, performing the below workouts at least three times per week. They are short, sweet, and gentle enough to do as a part of your warm-up or cool-down routine. They are also perfect for active recovery days — those times when you aren't running or cross-training but feel like your body could use some TLC.

Each exercise has a recommendation for the number of reps and sets to do, but more important than hitting a quota is listening to your body and giving it what it needs (even if that's a break). That's what running recovery is all about. Ideally, during each move, you should feel like you're working at about a six out of 10 on the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. At a six, you're working, you're moving, but you could still easily sing along to your favorite Spotify station.

If any exercise starts to feel more challenging than that, take a break, regroup, and try doing fewer reps during your next set.

From week to week, you'll gently build strength, stability, and endurance by progressing each of your moves. And, of course, you'll improve your running workout recovery. Let's get started!

4-Week Strength Training Recovery Plan Update by BrooksRunning on Scribd

Week 1

Start out with gentle moves that use your body weight to activate and fortify your hips, core, and shoulders

Glute bridge

Do three sets of 8–12 reps, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

If you have one, loop a mini band around your knees and lie face-up with your back, hips, and feet flat on the floor. Brace your core, then press through your heels and squeeze your glutes to raise your hips toward the ceiling until your torso forms a straight line. The band will try to pull your knees toward each other. Don't let it.

Arms-only bird dog

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Get on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly over your wrists. Without letting your torso sway, extend one arm in front of you until it's parallel with the floor. Pause, then lower your hand back to the floor. Do all reps, then switch sides. (If this feels "too easy," you're likely sitting back into your hips. Make sure your shoulders stay over your hands and your hips stay over your knees.)

Side squat

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Stand with your feet about double shoulder-width apart, toes turned out slightly, and your arms straight in front of you for balance. Push your hips back behind you and bend one knee, lowering to that side as far as possible. Focus on sitting back so your weight is in your heel. Pause, then press through your bent leg's heel to stand back up. Keep your feet in place at all times. Do all reps, then switch sides.

Week 2

Now that you have the basics down, build on them with these progressions.

Glute bridge with hold

Do three sets of 8–12 reps, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Once your hips are fully raised, hold the position for three to five seconds. Focus on keeping your glutes squeezed.

Single-side arms-only bird dog with weight

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Do the exercise with a light item, such as a two-pound hand weight or bean bag, in your working arm's hand.

Goblet side squat

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Instead of extending your arms out in front of you for balance, hold a weighted object such as a dumbbell against your chest.

Week 3

This week ups the work on your body's stabilizer muscles.

Glute bridge march

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Rise into a glute bridge. Then, holding this position, raise one heel and then the other as if you're marching. Try to keep your hips up and stationary (no wobbling!) with each rep.

Bird dog

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Get on your hands and knees without any weight. Then, in addition to raising one arm in front of you, raise the opposite leg behind you. At the top, your body should form one long, straight, non-wobbly line. Keep your shoulders over your wrist and hips over your knees. Do all reps, then switch sides.

Goblet side lunge

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Instead of keeping your feet wide at all times, start with your feet together. For each rep, take a giant step to that side. Then, bring your feet back together as you stand up.

Week 4

Glute bridge hold with external rotation

Do three sets of 8–12 reps, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Get into a raised glute bridge. Then, press your knees out to the sides away from each other, pause, then bring your knees back in line with your feet. Your legs should look like a butterfly flapping its wings. Keep your hips raised the entire time.

Bird dog with weight

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Do the arms-and-legs bird dog with a light weight or object in your working arm's hand. Do all reps, then switch sides.

Dumbbell side lunge

Do three sets of 8–12 reps per side, resting 30–90 seconds between sets.

Rather than hold one dumbbell against your chest, hold one in each hand and let your arms fall to your sides. Your palms should face your body at all times.

Ready, set, strength!

Strength training doesn't have to — and shouldn't — always be about pushing yourself to the max. By moving your body against gentle resistance and through your full range of motion with controlled form, you can help round out and recover from your runs and prevent running-related injuries going forward. For more training plans to take your running journey to the next level, visit the Run Happy Blog!

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

Written By
K. Aleisha Fetters

Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Headshot of Aleisha Fetters

I'm a quirky (aka nerdy) strength coach with a passion for science and sweat. I love to help people meet their body goals, but it's their mental and emotional gains that make me do a happy dance. My flirtation with running includes two half marathons and, someday, I will run 26.2.