Can Strength Training Make You Run Faster?
Running and fitness journals across the globe often focus their attention on why strength training is important for runners. In fact, Beattie, et al at the University of Limerick, Ireland, did a 40-week study on British collegiate national-level distance runners in 2020. The research revealed that the intervention group, which did strength training, showed improved explosive strength, enhanced aerobic capacity, and better maximal aerobic speed.
Strength training has become imperative for athletes in power and speed sports. But how effective is strength training for distance runners? It is a well-known fact that aerobic fitness improves the body’s ability to absorb oxygen and deliver it to the muscles. If you want to improve your running performance or economy, you must have higher maximal oxygen uptake or VO2max. VO2max is the maximum amount of oxygen you can use when doing an intense exercise.
However, not all research confirms that strength training for runners can improve VO2max. That said, resistance training may help you get faster simply because increasing strength translates to increasing power. Strength training workouts for runners can also improve neuromuscular coordination (interaction of the nervous system with muscle activation) and stride efficiency.
In a survey of 667 runners, Blagrove, et al in their paper titled “Strength and Conditioning Habits of Competitive Runners”, reported that 62.5% performed resistance training and 35.1% performed plyometric training. In a further study by Blagrove, et al on “Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle-and Long-Distance Running Performance”, there was evidence that strength exercises for runners improved performance in 800m runners to ultra runners in time trials.
How does strength training affect running?
Several studies have shown that resistance or weight training strengthens the lower limbs and core muscles. It helps improve and maintain running form, and reduces the risk of injury. Core strength training for distance runners also results in improved running economy (RE), which means you use less oxygen to maintain a running speed. Thus, if two runners have the same speed, the one with higher VO2max will perform better. In other words, the faster runner uses oxygen more efficiently.
Explosive forms of strength training, such as plyometric training, help in the development of muscular power. These types of exercises involve a rapid eccentric movement followed by an explosive concentric movement like in a jump squat. The training results in neuromuscular adaptations and force development. Each time you take a stride when running and you land on the foot, the “push-off” is a form of plyometric movement. Studies show that plyometric training reduces foot contact time and enables faster running speeds.
|Mode||Frequency||No. of exercises||Load||Volume|
|Strength||2 – 3 x/wk||3-4 lower limb exercises|
2-3 upper body exercises
|> 85% 1RM||3 sets; 6-8 reps|
|Plyometric||2 – 3 x/wk||5-8 plyometric exercises||Body weight||3 sets; 8-10 reps|
Strength exercises for runners
- Barbell squat
- Barbell deadlift
- Walking dumbbell lunge
- Calf raise
- Leg press
- Bench press
- Barbell rowing
- Barbell shoulder press
- Lat pull downs
- Single leg hops
- Double leg hops
- Alternate leg bounds
- Squat jumps
- Split jumps
- Box jumps
- Depth jumps
- Double leg hurdle jumps
- Single leg hurdle jumps
|Running 5 times a week||Rest||Morning: Quality run (eg: speed interval)|
Evening: Strength workout
|Easy run||Tempo run||Strength workout||Easy run||Long run|
|Running 4 times a week||Rest||Alternate: speed intervals/ tempo run||Strength workout||Easy run||Strength workout||Easy run||Long run|
It is always recommended that you lower the volume and intensity of strength training routines before initiating explosive plyometric training. Lifting heavier weights and performing too many sets can lead to fatigue, which can interfere with your training runs.
Also, explosive exercises such as depth jumps and hurdle jumps can cause transmission of large forces through your muscles, tendons and bones, which may cause injury if you begin such a program without first developing adequate strength. Lastly, it is better to take up strength training after speed workouts or on days when you have a recovery run planned.
1. Blagrove RC, Brown N, Howatson G, et al. Strength and Conditioning Habits of Competitive Distance Runners. J Strength Cond Res 2020; 34: 1392–9.
2. Karp JR. Strength Training For Distance Running: A Scientific Perspective. Strength Cond J 2010; 32: 83–6.
3. Blagrove RC, Howatson G, Hayes PR. Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Med 2018; 48: 1117–49.
4. Lum D. Effects of Performing Endurance and Strength or Plyometric Training Concurrently on Running Economy and Performance. Strength Cond J 2016; 38: 26–35.