As a runner, you likely do multiple run workouts each week, mixing up your pace and intensity. Adding in strength training days to that weekly schedule, however, may feel intimidating or overwhelming, making it easy to avoid. But that’s a mistake.
Grabbing a set of weights for a quick strength workout can support your miles in an abundance of ways, and you don’t need to dedicate a lot of time to it. You just need the right dumbbell workout for beginners to get you started.
The Benefits of a Dumbbell Strength Workout for Beginners
Research shows that you can gain some serious performance advantages from adding strength workouts to your training plan. For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2016 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reveals that high-intensity resistance exercises and plyometric moves done two to three times per week for eight to 12 weeks improves running economy in highly trained middle- and long-distance runners. The better your running economy, the more efficiently you can convert oxygen into the energy you need to move forward with speed and ease.
“Runners who strength train are stronger on hills, have more stamina on hard workouts, sidestep injuries, and are able to find that fast kick toward the finish line,” explains Runner’s World coach, Jess Movold.
This dumbbell workout for beginners, created by Coach Jess, makes your strength workout more efficient by incorporating supersets. Supersets include two exercises performed back to back for a set number of rounds. Then you move onto the next superset.
The pay-offs of programming your strength workout as a superset? “More endurance, more power, more strength,” Coach Jess says. Supersets also improve your muscular endurance, which means your body can better withstand longer miles.
Another function of supersets is that you get a lot of work done in a shorter amount of time, so you have more time to hit the road and clock those miles, Coach Jess says.
How to Perform This Dumbbell Workout Successfully
Focus on form
If you’re brand new to strength training, it’s always best to perform exercises with just your bodyweight to start so you can learn the movement patterns before adding load, Coach Jess says. “Form must come first,” she adds. “Don’t rush through the movements and get sloppy.”
Pick the right footwear
It’s best to avoid running shoes when doing a strength workout, Coach Jess says, as the cushioning can get in the way of performing moves properly and feeling the right muscles working. You want a solid connection to the ground through each exercise. Instead, go for a set of training shoes with minimal cushioning under foot, like the Nike Metcon or Reebok Nano.
Choose a challenging, but doable weight
When choosing the right amount of weight to use for these exercises, go for one that feels challenging, but doesn’t mess with your form. “You need the weight to be significant enough to actually create tension and load on your muscles,” Coach Jess says.
As you progress through the workout—try repeating it week to week—increase the weight you lift. “There’s a false pretense about lifting heavy and getting bulky, but that won’t happen,” she adds. “Lift heavy!”
Your Dumbbell Workout for Beginners
How to use this list: Aim to perform this workout three times a week. “As mileage goes up, time demands increase, and therefore, strength training days will need to come down,” Coach Jess explains. As you get close to race day, you can do this workout one to two times per week. But in the off season, “strength training should be a large amount of your training,” she says.
You’ll find three supersets below. Perform 10 reps of each exercise in the superset. Do the first exercise, rest as needed, then perform the second. Repeat for 3 total sets. Rest for 60 seconds before moving onto the next superset.
You will need a set of dumbbells for this workout (unless you’re brand new to strength, then go for bodyweight only). An exercise mat is optional.
Coach Jess demonstrates each exercise in the video above so you can learn proper form.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out, holding one dumbbell with both hands at chest height. Send hips down and back to lower into a squat. Then, drive through feet to stand up. Repeat.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell in each hand down by sides. Step back with right foot, bending both knees about 90 degrees, so back knee hovers just off the ground, and front thigh is parallel to floor in a lunge. Drive through feet to stand up, stepping right foot forward. Repeat with left foot stepping back. Continue alternating. Do 10 reps per side.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand in front of legs. With back flat, core engaged, and shoulders down and back, hinge at the hips by sending butt straight back to perform the deadlift. Lower until you feel tension in the legs, keeping back flat and weights close to legs. Then drive through feet to stand back up. Repeat.
Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, racked at shoulders. Bend knees and send hips back for a shallow squat, and as you stand up, drive weights overhead, biceps by ears. Make sure core is engaged and spine neutral. Lower weights back to shoulders. Repeat.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned slightly out, holding a dumbbell in each hand, racked at shoulders. Send hips down and back to lower into a squat. Then, drive through feet to stand back up, and as you stand, drive weights overhead, biceps by ears. Lower weights back to shoulders. Repeat.
Single-Arm Bent-Over Row
Stand with right foot back, left foot forward, dumbbell in right hand. Hinge at hips and rest left forearm or hand on left thigh. Pack shoulders down and back, engage core, and maintain a flat back. This is your starting position. Pull dumbbell to hip for the row, keeping elbow close to body and shoulder packed. Then straighten arm to return to starting position. Repeat for reps. Then switch sides.
Mallory Creveling, an ACE-certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified run coach, joined the Runner's World and Bicycling team in August 2021. She has more than a decade of experience covering fitness, health, and nutrition. As a freelance writer, her work appeared in Women's Health, Self, Men's Journal, Reader's Digest, and more. She has also held staff editorial positions at Family Circle and Shape magazines, as well as DailyBurn.com. A former New Yorker/Brooklynite, she's now based in Easton, PA.