Build strength and power for running with these short weight circuits.

Running faster race times requires more than just running further or choosing the right shoe. The scientific literature supports the addition of heavy weight lifting and explosive jump training to endurance running training as a way to improve running performance (Beattie et al., 2014).

Strength and plyometric (a.k.a.  jump-type exercises) training can improve neuromuscular efficiency (e.g. brain muscle communication ability), increase force production capacity, delay the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers and help convert plastic fast-twitch type IIx fibers into fatigue resistant type IIa fibers (Ronnestad & Mujika, 2013). The benefits to running are expressed as improved running economy, running speed and time to exhaustion (Beattie et al., 2014).

RELATED: 6 Plyometric Exercises For Runners

Time-Efficient Training

As little “free-time” tends to be available to the average runner, juggling runs, work, friends, family—and now strength and jump training—can be difficult.

Enter dumbbell complexes.

Complexes are a type of circuit training where a series of exercises are performed in succession. A complex differs from a traditional exercise circuit in that only one piece of equipment is used for all of the exercises, e.g. a pair of dumbbells, a barbell, a pair of kettlebells or a medicine ball.

A dumbbell complex can be an efficient means of strength and plyometric training for the busy runner because a ton of work can be performed in a short amount of time—and typically with minimal equipment.

Your Go-to Dumbbell Complexes for Faster Running

The dumbbell complexes below include important strength training moves combined with explosive lower body drills that have been chosen to maximize lower body strength and explosive power development potential. Explosive exercises are placed at the beginning of the complex so you can generate as much force as possible while you’re “fresh” and also at the end of the complex to challenge you while you’re tired. This will simulate being tired at the end of a race when you’re looking to kick past your competitors. Keep ground contact times as short as possible and land lightly when performing the plyometric exercises.

Perform Complexes A and B on separate days and on non-running workout days (Schumann et al., 2015).



Complex A

A1. Jump Squats / dumbbells held at sides / 5 reps

A2. Alternating Reverse Lunges / dumbbells held at sides / 5 reps per leg

A3. Lateral Step Romanian Deadlift / dumbbells held in front of thighs / 5 reps per leg

A4. Crossover Lunge / dumbbells front loaded / 5 reps per leg

A5. Running High Knees / dumbbells held at sides / 10 reps per leg

A6. Butt Kickers / dumbbells held at sides / 10 reps per leg


Complex B

B1. Alternating Split Squat Jumps / dumbbells held at sides / 5 reps per leg

B2. Dumbbell Front Squats / dumbbells front loaded / 5 reps

B3. Lateral Lunge / dumbbells front loaded / 5 reps per side

B4. Crossover Deadlift / dumbbells held in front of thighs / 5 reps per leg

B5. Tuck Jumps / dumbbells held at sides / 5 reps


Complete the complex 3-5 times taking 2-3 minutes between sets.

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Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc, CSCS, CEP is a runner, strength coach and Managing Director of JKConditioning in St. John’s, NL, Canada. Jon specializes in strength training endurance athletes and is currently in the middle of preparing a strength training resource for runners. Stay in touch by checking out and finding him on Twitter at @JEKawamoto.



Beattie, K., Kenny, I., Lyons, M., & Carson, B. (2014) The effect of strength

training on performance in endurance athletes. Sports Med, 44, 6, 845–865.


Rønnestad, B.R., & Mujika, I. (2013) Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scand J Med Sci Sports, 2013 Aug 5 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1111/sms.12104

Schumann, M., Mykkänen, O.P., Doma, K., Mazzolari, R., Nyman, K., & Häkkinen, K. (2015) Effects of endurance training only versus same-session combined endurance and strength training on physical performance and serum hormone concentrations in recreational endurance runners. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 40, 1, 28-36. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2014-0262