Written By: Kyle Will
We are all runners…we all want to improve….and none of us has any extra time to add anything to our training regime. We are Moms and Dads, Husbands and wives, college students, and business professionals. So what can we do?? Strength Train!! Although there has been significant research and empirical evidence to support strength training for endurance athletes for years, it seems that the running community is just now finally coming around with an open mind to strength training. I think in the past, and still today, runners think if they strength train they will gain mass and bulk and that is the absolute last thing any runner wants! However you can strength train without gaining mass and bulk and still get the benefits from strength training. Newer research has proven that by implementing some sort of strength training into your workout routine, runners can increase VO2 max, decrease injuries, and increase their overall running performance. So why are runners still avoiding strength training? I believe it is because they cannot figure out how to add it into their routine and they are not willing to sacrifice mileage in lieu of strength training. For most runners we have been raised to believe that to be a better runner, you have to run more miles. In the last 20 years or so, we have realized that not just any type of miles count, they should include quality miles, intervals, hill workouts, tempo efforts, etc. But nonetheless to be a good runner it is widely believed you have to run more miles.
Here are a just a few examples of what studies show about strength training for runners:
“The preponderance of peer-reviewed research suggests that strength training improves running performance, whether that’s running economy or time to exhaustion.” - Luke Carlson, CEO of Discover Strength and strength coach for many of the elite runners of Team USA Minnesota. - Running Times, January 2011.
In a study published in 2005, researchers assigned participants different training schedules to be performed twice a week for 12 weeks. The groups included running endurance training on its own, strength circuit training on its own, endurance and strength training together and a control group. The group that combined endurance and strength training improved an average of 8.6 percent in a 4K time trial, increased their V02 max by an average of 10.4 percent and ran to exhaustion 13.7 percent longer than the other groups. This study emphasizes the importance of concurrent strength and endurance training. British Journal of Sports Medicine; 2005 August; 39(8): 555–560.
In 2008, a study was published that assigned well-trained runners to either a control group or an intervention group — both groups performed a series of half-squats three times a week for eight weeks. Both groups continued their regular running regimen. The strength training group’s time to exhaustion at maximal aerobic speed improved by an impressive 21.3 percent. - Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2008 - Volume 40 - Issue 6 - pp 1087-1092
The benefits of resistance training in both competitive and recreational athletes have been well documented over the past 20 years. Improvements in muscle strength and power, increase in muscle size, and improvement in sports performance are common benefits resulting from resistance training programs. In addition, resistance training has also been suggested to reduce the risk for musculoskeletal injuries, or reduce the severity of such injury. The physiological adaptations seen consequent to resistance training on bone, connective tissue and muscle implies enhanced protection against injury for individuals who participate in such a training program. Reducing the incidence of injury by engaging in a resistance training program is as beneficial for the noncompetitive beginner as it is for the professional athlete. The most important step, after medical clearance, is to locate a qualified individual (exercise scientist/ physiologist or sport trainer) to develop a safe and effective resistance training program. - Written for the American College of Sports Medicine by Jay Hoffman, Ph.D., FACSM
Don’t get me wrong to be a good runner, you still need to put in the miles. And I am a firm believer that the more mileage you can put in, the better your body will be prepared to train and race hard. But if you have the time, adding a strength workout can be the quickest and easiest way to make that next significant improvement. And if you don’t have the time, then cut back on your mileage to make the time. It will make a difference.
And take heart, the strength training doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. You don’t even need a gym or weights. Your body is weight enough and only a couple of exercises done properly and consistently can make the difference. Simple lunges, body weight squats, step ups, push ups, and pull ups combined with some core exercises are easy to do, and could get you well on your way. If you are a bit more experienced you can add weight and some other more complicated exercises, but you don’t have to. And finally if you are a short distance runner, less than 5K, then some (notice the word is SOME) power type lifting (Power Cleans, Hang Cleans, etc.) could be beneficial to build more power and strength. However for endurance runners, lifting more than 25-30 lbs. will not ever be necessary.
Before you get started make sure you have no significant skeletal injuries that would prevent you from strength training. Consult a Personal Trainer or Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach to make sure you learn the proper form to prevent injuries. And find a trainer/coach that is also a runner, so that they can guide you on weights, reps, sets, etc. The last thing you want is someone that is creating a strength program that is counterintuitive to your running goals. After you have learned the proper form and the proper program, then get after it! Sign up for that next race and feel confident that a PR just may well be at the next finish line!
Kyle Will is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach, Registered Strength Coach both through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He also owns WillPowerTraining Studio and coaches both recreational and competitive runners as well as the Bend High Track and XC teams. He has been in Central Oregon for 14 years teaching people about the benefits of strength training and running. Although he doesn’t always follow his own advice, he has seen the benefits of adding strength training to a runners program over and over with his clients and runners. Although he never made any money running, he has some respectable PR’s in the 5K 16:43. 10K 34:27, ½ marathon 1:16, and marathon 2:46. Since starting his business and his family in 2005 he enjoys helping make other runners faster more than running fast himself