How I Finally Stuck with a Strength Routine as a Runner

how i stuck to a strength routine as a runner

It’s a fact, runners don’t like the strength train. We’d rather be running, of course. I struggled for years with trying to stick to a workout routine. I’d be relatively consistent in the winter/off-season, but as soon as it started warming up, I’d drop the gym for the roads. With the knee diagnosis, I’m now likely paying the price for all those lopsided years of running and riding without proper strength training. Ironically, it’s only in the last year that I’ve found a strength routine that works for me. Maybe it will work for you. Trust me, it’s better than arthritis.

Just going to the gym and lifting weights didn’t work for me. I found the recovery time and lack of cardio a turn-off. HIIT with Tabata circuits turned out to be a great hybrid routine for me. It made me get the lifting in, but allowed for some high-burn cardio time as well. It was effective and efficient. 

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a training technique in which you give all-out effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short recovery periods. This type of training gets and keeps your heart rate up and burns more fat in less time.

Tabata refers to how you time or structure the HIIT intervals. One tabata cycle consists of eight rounds of exercises in a specific 20-seconds-on, 10-seconds-off interval. It may only take four minutes to complete a Tabata circuit, but those four minutes may well push your body to its absolute limit.

(Note: Tabata training was named after Japanese scientist Izumi Tibet based on his study comparing the results of moderate intensity training and HIIT.)

Now when I hit the gym for strength workouts 1-2 times a week, I’ll combine 4-5 Tabata cycles of running/triathlon specific lifting exercises with 4-5 cycles of cardio, typically on the treadmill or rowing machine. I get the lung-busting burn I want with the strength work I need.

Both the iPhone and Android app stores have plenty of simple tabata timers. You should be able to find one that works for you.


Here is what a typical HIIT workout would look like for me:


Dynamic warm-up and foam rolling for 5-10 minutes

5 minutes light jogging on treadmill


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1. Treadmill tabata (8 rounds – about 4 mins)

20 second sprint @ 8.0 with incline starting at 4% / step off and recover 10 seconds

20 second sprint @ 8.0 increase incline to 5% / step off and recover 10 seconds

Continue to increase the incline each time till the end of the cycle


2. Strength tabata (8 rounds – about 4 mins)

Bulgarian split squats with dumbbells (alternating legs each cycle)


3. Rowing machine HIIT set

If I do the rowing machine, the typical tabata timer doesn’t work that well as it takes some time to get up to speed on the rowing machine, so I do a HIIT interval of (60 seconds on / 60 seconds recover ) x 4. 


4. Strength tabata (8 rounds – about 4 mins)

Single arm dumbbell swings (alternating arms each cycle)


5. Repeat the Treadmill tabata (8 rounds – about 4 mins)

You can keep the incline steady and increase the speed for variety

20 second sprint @ 8.0 with incline starting at 4% / step off and recover 10 seconds

20 second sprint @ 8.1 with incline steady at 4% / step off and recover 10 seconds

Continue to increase the incline each time till the end of the cycle


6. Strength tabata (8 rounds – about 4 mins)

At this point my legs are usually burning, so I mix in some active recovery with the strength. So in effect, only 4 rounds of lifting here and 4 rounds of active recovery to keep the heart rate up.

Squats with dumbbells

Active recovery by jumping rope or doing jumping jacks


Active recovery

Repeat till end of cycle


7. Repeat the rowing machine HIIT


8. Strength tabata 



Repeat till end of cycle


Those 8 cycles should take about 50 – 55 minutes with the warmup and leave you dragging if you do it right. But it will get quickly improve your endurance, get your metabolism cranking and build muscle. Not much more you can ask for a workout done in under an hour. You could easily do it without weights or equipment and the exercises are easily mixed and matched so you don’t get into a rut. If I can stick with it, you can, too.