Can it help?
In short, the evidence suggests yes it can. A systematic review by Yamamoto et al (2008) including 5 studies on various strength training methods on performance in highly trained runners concluded positively for the inclusion of a strength training program for maximising running performance.
These results were mirrored and expanded upon by a later systematic review by Denadai et al (2016) which also reviewed the effect on explosive (power) training on running performance. This study included 16 studies. Once again, power training, as well as strength training were recommended based on the available evidence.
Finally, a study by Beattie et al (2016) that looked at a 40 week strength training intervention with 10 competitive distance runners (plus 10 controls) also concluded positively for the inclusion of a strength training program for improving running performance.
What can it help?
The systematic review by Denadai et al (2016) showed that Running Economy was improved by an average of 4% after a strength training program or an explosive training program. The effects upon running economy increased as the duration of the training intervention extended.
The 40-week Beattie et al study (2016) also showed an improvement in Running Economy of approximately 3.5%, as well as an improvement in velocity at VO2max of approximately 4% over the 40-week training period.
On top of the improvements to Running Economy, the review by Yamamoto et al also found improvements in 3km and 5km time trial performance after a strength training intervention.
It should be noted that the improvements to running performance reported in these publications were seen despite the fact the V02max was not changed at all in any of the studies, and body composition also remained the same (importantly from a runner’s perspective, the participants in these studies got stronger and ran better without increasing muscle bulk!).
So whether you are a sprinter, middle-distance or long-distance runner, weekend warrior or elite, the evidence is clear: Strength Training must be part of your training regime. But what is strength training exactly?
Strength Training vs Resistance Training
These two terms are frequently (and incorrectly) used interchangeably. They may appear very similar from a distance- however they are crucially distinct.
Resistance Training can be defined as the act of using a form of repetitious resisted exercise to benefit overall health and well-being.
Strength Training on the other hand can be defined as a systematic training strategy aiming to increase the maximal force one is able to generate.
Whilst resistance training can yield many worthwhile benefits for a runner, if you want your time devoted to weight training to translate to improved running performance, your goal should be to get stronger.
Strength Training Safely
A mantra that iNform preaches is ‘you have to earn the right to lift heavy’. Someone has ‘earned the right’ to lift heavy under our guidance when they can demonstrate adequate joint control, dynamic mobility and muscle firing so that we can safely increase loads.
These three traits (in relation to the needs of runners) can be evidenced through the performance of a Single Legged Squat. The performance of this apparently simple exercise offers great insight into the runner’s ability to:
- Move freely through the hip, knee and ankle joints in the sagittal (back and forward plane).
- Control the joint position, and the rate of motion through these joints.
- Apply adequate strength across the core, glutes, quads and calves to complete the movement.
Beattie, K., Carson, B. P., Lyons, M., Rossiter, A., & Kenny, I. C. (2016). The Effect of Strength Training on Performance Indicators in Distance Runners. Journal of strength and conditioning research/National Strength & Conditioning Association.
Denadai, B. S., de Aguiar, R. A., de Lima, L. C. R., Greco, C. C., & Caputo, F. (2016). Explosive Training and Heavy Weight Training are Effective for Improving Running Economy in Endurance Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine, 1-10.
Yamamoto, L. M., Lopez, R. M., Klau, J. F., Casa, D. J., Kraemer, W. J., & Maresh, C. M. (2008). The effects of resistance training on endurance distance running performance among highly trained runners: A systematic review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(6), 2036-2044.