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Strength Training is Good for You, Runners—Here’s Proof

You've heard the reasons—now hear the science.

By now, I know that you know (or at least have heard) that strength training is beneficial to runners. So, what’s stopping you? After reading (or skipping over) article after article about resistance training and runners, why have you still not drank the Kool-Aid and crossed over to the dark side?

Whether it’s lack of time, fear of gaining too much muscle, doubt in the relevance of strength in an endurance sport, or you flat out don’t buy it, there seems to be plenty of reasons to stick to the old “tried and true” method of simply running to become a better runner. But I challenge you to, at least, consider the idea of adding some strength training; look at the facts, even give it a try for a few months before deciding whether or not it’s an efficient way to spend your training time.

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Some Evidence to Ponder

Let’s first take a look at research from the Stone Age (1980); moderately-trained runners displayed a 13-percent improvement in treadmill running after completing a combination of strength and endurance training for 10 weeks. Fast forward a couple of decades to a study that looked at the effects of eight weeks of concurrent maximal strength training and endurance training on well-trained distance runners. Here, the results spoke for themselves: a 26-percent increase in rate of force development (how fast your foot leaves the ground), 5-percent increase in running economy (how efficiently your body produces and uses energy while running) and a 21.3-percent increase in maximal aerobic speed.

But, what I’m most interested in sharing with you is a very recent study set to be published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Researchers took 20 competitive distance runners and divided them into two groups. One group continued on with their regular endurance training while the second group added strength training to their training routine for 40 weeks.

At week 0, 20 and 40, each subject’s physiology, vVO2 max (velocity at maximal oxygen uptake), running economy, strength and body composition were assessed. Researchers found the intervention group (those who strength trained) showed significant improvements in maximal- and reactive-strength qualities, running economy and vVO2max at 20 and 40 weeks.

Yes, it does sound similar to the other studies. However, this study also found that despite all of these significant improvements in performance, there were no significant changes in body composition – meaning the runners did not gain extra muscle mass. Another interesting point in this study is the fact that the runners only strength trained two times per week for the first 20 weeks (preseason) and once per week for the last 20 weeks (in-season) – that’s two hours per week max spent strength training, a pretty meager time commitment. Most of the improvements were attained in the first 20 weeks and then maintained for the remainder of the study.

For those of you still on the fence, thinking I’m happy with where I’m at and not hitting the weights isn’t going to affect my performance, here’s one more element to consider. In this study, the runners in the control group, the group who did not strength train, displayed a 7.9-percent deterioration in reactive strength throughout the 40-week racing period. They actually lost strength during the course of the running season.

RELATED: 6 Useful Variations to Traditional Strength Exercises

Is The Dark Side Looking a Little Brighter?

The fact that strength training has been shown to improve running economy in well-trained and competitive distance runners speaks volumes. At this elite level, most runners are already at the top of their game – which means if it’s able to up their performance, you can bet it will do wonders for the rest of us sub-elite runners. If you’re looking to optimize your running performance, weather you’re running your first 5K this year or shooting for a sub-three hour marathon time, you may want to consider upping your weekly dose of strength work.

One note of importance, your strength training program should complement your endurance training, not hinder it. Therefore, your programming needs to be on point. If you’re not equipped to determine when, how much, and at what intensity to lift, or how to incorporate weights into your current training plan, seek professional guidance. There are plenty of strength and conditioning coaches out there who would be more than happy to set you up for success.

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