Strength Training Every Runner Should Do To Build More Power In Their Push Offs, Straight From Nike Pro Runners and Running Coaches

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WWhen we think of running faster, the emphasis is almost always on speed training. But another route to faster times is to focus on your time strength. In the context of running, strength is a measure of how quickly you can apply force to the ground and propel yourself forward, explains Nell Rojas, a Nike-sponsored professional runner and running coach who offers strength training programs for runners. Or, more simply, the equation is power = force x speed.

Why every runner should build on their strengths

“When running, we’re only on the ground for about 0.25 seconds,” says Rojas. Which means you want to be able to generate a lot of power, very quickly. A strong move comes with great benefits:

1. Time is faster

“Speed ​​doesn’t come from faster rotation; speed comes from applying more force to the ground,” says Rojas. “Strength allows the runner to apply more force to the ground with each stride, which allows you to go further in less time.”

2. Improved acceleration

Rojas says that building strength as a runner allows you to accelerate more quickly from standing, or after a turn, and gain momentum and reach a faster initial speed as you run.

3. Efficient step mechanism

“As runners develop strength, they increase their ability to generate force and transfer it effectively through muscles, tendons and bones,” says Rojas. “This efficiency minimizes energy wastage and allows for a smoother, more economical run.”

4. Injury prevention

Like regular strength training for runners, strength training that increases a runner’s strength strengthens muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which reduces the risk of imbalances and weaknesses that Rojas says can lead to overuse injuries. He adds that strength training also increases bone density, which is important for maintaining healthy bones and preventing stress-related injuries.

How the lack of power during push-off reduces your speed

While all parts of a running stride can be energized with effective strength training, Rojas says developing strength in the push-off phase of running (also called the pushing phase) is especially beneficial if you want to maximize your speed. This is the point in the running stride where one foot leaves the ground as you prepare to lift that leg into the swing phase so that both of your feet are off the ground and you are briefly suspended in the air.

Expert In This Article

  • Nell Rojas, American triathlete, long-distance runner, and Olympian

“When the push-off is underpowered, the force applied to the ground is insufficient, resulting in a shorter stride,” says Rojas. “Shorter stride length means the runner covers less ground with each stride, which causes a decrease in overall speed.”

Without enough force to push off, our feet also spend more time on the ground before we’re airborne, reducing efficiency and speed. And it can also interfere with the transfer of energy through the kinetic chain. This causes an “energy leak” and reduces the effectiveness of each step, Rojas added. “This inefficiency hurts overall running speed and performance.”

How to train strength in running

So now that you’re dying to build on that strength, how exactly can you do it? Through plyometric exercises. “Plyometrics will increase the explosive recruitment of muscle fibers, train rigidity and elastic flexibility of tendons and ligaments, and improve running efficiency,” says Rojas.

Rapid muscle contractions and explosive movements also improve neuromuscular coordination. “This exercise trains the muscles to quickly switch from eccentric (lengthening) to concentric (shortening) contractions,” says Rojas. “Better neuromuscular coordination improves the efficiency and effectiveness of muscle recruitment during running, resulting in greater power.”

Additionally, plyometric exercises have been shown to target the cycles of muscle and tendon shortening, which helps provide energy stores. “The Achilles tendon is an important example of a tendon that stores and then reflects energy back, providing 30 percent of the energy to move you forward. This energy is then released as a strong contraction,” says Rojas. We tend to think of having stiff tendons as a bad thing, but Rojas says this stiffness in the connective tissue actually helps it function as a kind of spring.

Finally, Rojas adds that plyometrics are especially beneficial for runners because they are designed to increase the rate of force production, which is the ability to generate force quickly—and the equivalent of a more explosive push-off.

What are the best strength-building exercises for runners?

Rojas has three basic plyometric exercises that he recommends starting with.

Pogo jump

This exercise, also called the pogo hop or ankle hop, targets the muscles in your calves, ankles, and lower legs. It helps improve lower body strength, ankle strength, Achilles stiffness and elasticity, and reactive ability.

How to do it:

  1. Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, back straight, shoulders relaxed and core engaged.
  2. Use quick, springy motions on your ankles to do a slight up and down bounce, like you would a pogo stick.

“Focus on pushing off the balls of your feet, tapping into the strength and elasticity of your calf muscles,” says Rojas. “As you perform ankle movements, allow your body to lift off the ground in a controlled, rhythmic manner. Keep the jump relatively low, focusing more on speed and quick rebounds rather than trying to reach maximum height.

You want to spend as little time on the ground as possible between jumps, so the emphasis should be on fast, explosive thrusts so you develop strength and reactive power in your lower legs.

Jump depth

This exercise focuses on increasing your strength, explosive power and reactive abilities. “Deep jumping increases stiffness and elasticity in the Achilles tendon and increases pre-activation of the stability muscles that act on the ankles and knees,” says Rojas. “This involves stepping off a raised platform, quickly absorbing the impact on landing, and immediately exploding into a jump or other explosive move.”

How to do it:

  1. Stand on a platform with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes close to the edge (start about a foot high). Keep your arms relaxed at your sides or in front of you for balance.
  2. Step off the platform with one foot and quickly bring the other foot to meet it, ensuring that both feet land simultaneously.
  3. As soon as you land, focus on absorbing the impact by bending your knees and hips and lowering into a squat position. Maintain good posture with your chest lifted and your core engaged.
  4. Immediately push off the ground and jump vertically or do any other explosive move you want, such as a wide jump or tuck jump. Emphasize fast and powerful upward motions.


Bounding is basically over-jumping. This plyometric exercise helps improve single-leg hip strength and control, and the explosive quality of hip extension while increasing the cycle of tendon and ligament shortening.

How to do it:

  1. Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart and arms relaxed at your sides.
  2. Take a big step forward with your right foot while simultaneously swinging your left arm forward.
  3. Bring your right leg out and jump into the air, moving your left knee up and forward while swinging your right arm forward for balance and coordination. While airborne, maintain a tall, upright posture, aiming to achieve maximum height and distance with each strap stretched and using your explosive power.
  4. Land on your left foot. Flex your ankle, knee and hip joints to absorb the impact.
  5. As soon as you land, immediately push off with your left foot and repeat the jump sequence.
  6. Switch legs with each repetition, working with strength and rhythm.

How should runners incorporate strength training into their routine?

Rojas is a big proponent of doing strength training and plyometric training as separate sessions from your run to allow targeted training of specific muscle groups and energy systems without the added fatigue from running. Of course, how much strength training you do can vary based on your training goals, current fitness level, and overall training schedule. But he does offer some general guidelines for beginners:


Doing two or three strength training exercises once or twice a week is generally a good frequency for most runners, according to Rojas. This allows sufficient recovery between sessions while still offering sufficient training stimulus to promote improvement.

Repetitions and sets

“Generally, plyometric exercises involve explosive movements that must be performed with proper quality and form. A typical starting point for plyometrics could be two to four sets of four to six repetitions per exercise,” says Rojas. “As proficiency and strength increase, the number of sets or repetitions can be gradually increased.” The point is to listen to your body, progress at a manageable pace, and avoid overexertion.

rest intervals

Rojas emphasizes that performing adequate recovery is essential for optimal performance during strength training. He advises runners to rest about two to three minutes between sets And between workouts to allow for partial recovery so they can reach the intensity needed for strength training to be effective (and safe).

Progressive advantage

Finally, Rojas tells all the runners he trains that to continue building strength, it’s important to progressively overload the muscles so you’re challenging your body enough for the adaptation to occur. “This can be achieved by gradually increasing the intensity, volume, or complexity of strength training over time,” says Rojas. “It’s important to strike a balance between pushing boundaries and avoiding injury.”

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