You're smart and already know:
Strength training makes you a more injury-resistant, stronger, and faster runner.
Then how come it's not "working"?
You're trying all the instagram workouts from different running or fitness gurus.
Maybe you've even already tried and bought a routine from one of them. *gasp!*
But you were either left underwhelmed...
You didn't see or feel any difference.
You committed to it for months!
But it became too long.
With too many exercises.
And it was becoming a "I guess it's working" moment accompanied by a shoulder shrug instead of a "wow! That hill felt effortless!" moment.
Back this bus up.
YOU DESERVE BETTER.
I've done it all too: getting distracted by the fancy, cool, wild-looking instagram-worthy exercises too.
But now, I know better.
So please…LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!
Don't go another year shorting yourself, stopping yourself from reaching your full running potential!
Let's dive into what a running performance strength routine for runners *should* look like.
Because you might find out, you're searching and ready for that next level and you just need a way to make it happen.
START WITH THE BASICS
When you're putting together your running and strength schedule, what you're actually creating is a concurrent training program.
"Concurrent training, defined as resistance training sessions programmed alongside endurance training sessions during the same cycle".
The Good news: this method your using is well documented in the literature as a means "to augment performance"!
Specifically, resistance training that is progressive...
meaning you gradually use heavier and heavier weights over weeks of workouts, building "increasing maximal strength, rate of force development and muscular power".
What does this have to do with running?
3 ways we consistently measure performance in competitive distance running are running economy, maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max), and lactate threshold.
But I want to focus on running economy for this blog. The other ones are important, but as you run and become more efficiently, you can actually feel your running economy improving.
"Running economy is defined as the metabolic cost or energy demand for a given velocity of submaximal running to cover a given distance"
Translation: running economy is how much work your body has to do to run at X pace during X mileage.
But again, why do we care about running economy?
"improved running economy allows a runner to run faster over a given distance or to run longer at a constant speed due to reduced consumption of oxygen."
Translation: better running economy means you're a more efficient runner as far as your body/metabolism are concerned. And because it's a well-oiled machine, your body doesn't need as much energy so it can now devote that "surplus" energy to either picking up the pace OR running greater distances.
That seems like a pretty good reason to me.
So why do we care about progressive resistance training?
Because it IMPROVES running economy FASTER (and what runner doesn't want a competitive edge?).
Here's one of my favorite examples, because it's INSANELY simple and "easy":
One research study "found improvement in running economy without changes in body weight or Vo2max after 8 weeks of strength training…Running training was performed as usual and the intervention group added 4 sets of 4RM half squats with 3 minute rest for 3 sessions per week with progressive overload using free weights."
This is exciting and here's why:
In this group, runners added 1 EXERCISE to their training program.
And they improved their running economy.
It wasn't a fancy instagram exercise.
They didn't use wild-expensive gym equipment.
They didn’t spend hours strength training.
They got REALLY good at lifting heavy for ONE exercise.
And they stuck with it for 8 weeks; 3x a week.
Want to know how it works?
WHY LIFTING HEAVY IS GOOD FOR RUNNERS
Remember when I told you your body is smart?
Can I give you more proof that it's freaking amazing?
"positive adaptation in Running economy are likely influenced by…an increase in muscle cross-sectional area and absolute strength, which contribute to distance running at a lower relative intensity, recruitment of lower threshold motor units in submaximal running efforts, and increased Achilles tendon stiffness."
Translation: From lifting heavy, you become more efficient at running because your muscle fibers get larger which makes they stronger. When your muscles are stronger and more efficient, it takes less work to run...ta da!
Improved running economy.
Not to mention, lifting heavy not only makes your muscles stronger, but also strengthens and improves the health of your tendons. (loading and strengthening tendons is its own blog post…trust me.) But, the stronger the load your tendons can bear and the greater the energy they can return, the more efficient a runner you are.
HOW TO LIFT LIKE A RUNNER
Jumping right into it, the BEST way to lift like a runner includes:
"training variable that have the greatest impact on RunE (running economy) include the prescription of
Multi-joint free weight exercises as compared to machine and single-joint exercises
Exercises with progressive and sufficient overload,
Exercises specific to the task of running,
And increased frequency of resistance training sessions."
Let's unpack this.
To make the biggest and quickest improvements in YOUR running economy you need to get comfortable with:
"full" body exercises like different squat & deadlift variations (front squat, split squat, lunges, single leg deadlift etc…)
Just sitting on a machine a doing knee extension or hamstring curls will make your muscles stronger, but they're not serving the running performance goals you have
Gradually using heavier and heavier weights
(Note: you don't have to ALWALYS be increasing your weight, but to get stronger, you have to lift heavy stuff)
This my FAVORITE: your strength exercises NEED to be specific to running!
My rule of thumb: if it looks like running, it's helps you get stronger for running.
Increased frequency: lift 2x a week minimal; up to 3x's a week
Not going to lie, you probably already knew all that.
Here’s the BIGGEST way to REALLY improve your running economy and overall running performance:
"greatest improvements in RunE, strength and power output, plyometric reactive strength, and timed running performance were found in the complex training group, followed by the heavy resistance training group."
Key words: complex training group and heavy resistance training group.
What this particular research study did was create a concurrent training program for multiple different groups (we're focusing on just 2 to not get lost in the weeds).
The group with the greatest improvements: a complex training group.
Meaning, this group used:
"complex resistance training…a method of alternating 2 modes of exercise prescription in one training session…alternating heavy resistance strength exercises and explosive strength exercises within a given concurrent resistance training session."
Heavy resistance strength:"resistance training greater than or equal to 85% 1 RM load, 2-6 reps, with at least 2minute rest intervals"
Explosive strength exercises:"described as medium to high load (75%-95% 1 RM) high velocity plyometrics"
THE SECRET: Lift heavy and do plyometrics- all of which are specific to runners.
Pretty cool, right?
I've only *just* started to lift like this in the past 12months.
Yuuupp….I've made the mistake of relying on old literature.
I've trained low load, high reps. And it didn’t break me. It did still help my running, but not as much as my more recent lifting.
I've also done the heavy lifting only, without any plyometrics.
This helped even MORE than the low load, high reps version, resulting in my best season ever!
And now, I've added in plyometrics. The truth: I don't have access to heavier and heavier free weights. So I do what I can and focus instead on the specificity of the exercise as it relates to running. And I'm still seeing gains!
Further (personal) evidence that there are huge benefits from doing what strength work you can do, when you can do it.
For now, learn from my mistakes and EXCEL!
Don't be afraid to lift heavy.
And don't be afraid of adding in plyometrics.
Remember: Let these exercises be easy. Let them be simple.
Simple is not wrong.
Simple gets the job done!
Drop it down below: what strength work do you do right now? Do you love it or is it frustrating, confusion or overwhelming? I can't wait to chat with you in the comments!
Until next time….
Dare to Train Differently,
Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit
P.S. want to know where to start when it comes to lifting like a runner? Check and grab your copy of my FREE Running Guide!
Barrie, B. (2020). Concurrent resistance training enhances performance in competitive distance runners: A review and programming implementation. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 42(1), 97-106.