New Perspective on Strength Training for Runners

Training with heavy weights or explosive motions may intuitively have less in common with the demands of running, but, according to two recent studies, these techniques are very effective for endurance athletes (long distance runners). These methods of training improve he communication between your brain and your muscles. Such “neuromuscular” adaptations may allow athletes to recruit more muscle fibres with each contraction, and ultimately translate into more efficient running.

One study, from researchers in Chile and Spain, examined plyometrics (abstract) .

The other, from researchers in Italy, compared low-weight, high-rep strength training with high-weight, low-rep routines (abstract) .


In this study runners did two sessions a week, immediately before running.
The routine studied:

  • started with a warm-up (5 minutes of running, then 20 submaximal vertical jumps and 10 submaximal forward jumps).

Followed by the actual plyometric exercise:

  • six sets of 10 “bounce drop jumps”: (you step off a ledge and then as soon as you land, jump as a high as possible while minimizing the amount of time your feet spend on the ground (i.e. you don’t do a big knee bend before jumping)

Followed by:

  • 2 sets from a 20-cm box, 2 from a 40-cm box, and 2 from a 60-cm box.
A concern about plyometrics is the potential for injury, so they’re usually recommended only for advanced athletes. Lead author, Dr. Mikel Izquierdo of the Public University of Navarra, says that “it may be that in these particular group of endurance athletes the benefits of plyometric training would be higher.”

During his study, Izquierdo recruited athletes with no previous plyometric training, and says they reported little muscle pain after training. Izquierdo used controlled plyometric training.

  • _It is important to point out that if athletes want to add a strength training program to their running schedule they need the supervision of an informed (i.e. in endurance running) coach or _trainer.

The Weights study

This study involved a six-week weight-training routine for masters runners, twice a week, doing a variety of lower and upper body strength exercises under the guidance of a trained coach.

The high-reps group did three sets of 10 reps of each exercise, at about 70% of one-rep max, with 2-3 minutes of rest between sets. The low-reps group did four sets of 3-4 reps at 85-90% of one-rep max, with 3-4 minutes of rest between sets. Only the low-reps group saw significant gains in strength and running economy, presumably due to neuromuscular adaptations rather than the addition of muscle.

In this study subjects were “master” amateur runners, who train 4 to 5 times per week, and include intervals, tempo runs, races and long endurance runs, and who also squeezed in their training with work, family and social obligations.

These studies support the idea that endurance athletes can make significant improvements to their running efficiency using heavier weights and focusing more on power and max strength than on muscular endurance

Read more about these studies in the “Globe and Mail article by Alex Huthinson, How the right strength training can bring big rewards to runners.

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