By Jessica Bank

Are you an endurance runner who may be missing something in your training? Are you constantly suffering from overuse injuries? Have you considered adding strength training into your running program to improve your running performance, running economy and reduce your risk of overuse injury?

By adding in strength training session into your running program you can obtain:

  • Faster running performance
  • Improved running economy
  • Reduced risk of injury by up to 50%

Strength training has been mainly overlooked as an integral part of an endurance runners training and the evidence behind the value of it is only growing. There is strong evidence of heavy weight training improving running speed and decreasing the amount of oxygen you require to run at any given pace (running economy) with a twice weekly program for 6 weeks or more. It is important to note that if you stop your strength training from your running program than some loss of your running performance is likely expected. Which is why it is important not just to do your strength training for 6 weeks, but to stay consistent with it.

Strength training has also been shown to reduce your risk of sustaining an overuse related injury by up to 50%. Regular heavy strength training improves tissue strength and resilience against the high loads experienced while running. This in turn creates adaptations in your bones, tendons, muscles and connective tissues that reduces your risk to overuse injuries. Such adaptations can only be achieved through strength training.

 

Strength training

What is it?

Strength training differs from endurance training or weights lifted in a circuit class as you are aiming to increase your force production of a muscle. This is done by fatiguing the muscle during 3-4 sets of 8-12 sets. To achieve this you will need to lift heavier weights.

Some health professionals, running coaches or runners believe that strength training for runners should be high in repetitions and low in resistance/weight to mimic the endurance demands of running.

This is incorrect.

Improvements in endurance are specifically achieved by running, not strength training. Which is why endurance should not be the focus or the goal of a runners strength training program. This includes partaking in endurance type circuit classes. Performing high repetition and low weight strength training will not get you the same running benefits or reduced injury rates as a heavy weighted strength training program described above.

Get the details of your strength program right

To get the most benefits out of your strength program It is important to consider incorporating it twice a week into your current running routine. Exercises that focus on building strength around the hip, thigh and calf muscles should be included. If you are just starting off chose 3-5 exercises that target these areas. Complete 3-4 sets of 8-12 slow repetitions of an exercise, making sure that you have enough resistance to fatiguing your target muscle at the end of each set. Recovery time in between sets is also important. Take 2-3 minutes of resting or recovering in-between sets.

When it comes to strength training for endurance runners there is no one size fits all. Exercise selection, weight, sets and reps depends on your individual needs, injury history, goals, ability and experience. A good program should not negatively impact other running sessions. Speak to your physiotherapist or a strength and conditioning coach who has experience with runners to ensure that you start your strength program safely and that you get the most out of it.

References:

  • STØREN, Ø., Helgerud, J. A. N., Støa, E. M., & Hoff, J. A. N. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(6), 1087-1092.
  • Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. & Hayes, P.R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7
  • Mikkola, J., Vesterinen, V., Taipale, R., Capostagno, B., Häkkinen, K., & Nummela, A. (2011). Effect of resistance training regimens on treadmill running and neuromuscular performance in recreational endurance runners. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(13), 1359-1371.
  • Beattie, K, Carson, BP, Lyons, M, Rossiter, A, and Kenny, IC (2017). The effect of strength training on performance indicators in distance runners. J Strength Cond Res 31(1): 9–23.